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Slow crescendo to firm self-belief

Children - and teachers - are being taught a very important lesson: believe in yourself and you can achieve your dream. Eleanor Caldwell reports.

Sixteen P7 pupils at Hallglen Primary in Falkirk sit entranced as David Richardson, director of Peak Performance Partnership, launches rombustiously into a two-hour workshop on positive thinking.

"I'm fantastic! I'm unique! I'm going to make a difference! I'm going to follow my dreams," he cries.

These "Do the Right Thing" sessions are finely honed to boost self-esteem and confidence, raise attainment and achievement, develop team-building and give boys, in particular, a positive male role model through a power-packed mixture of music, dance, puzzle-solving and quiet reflection.

Mr Richardson, a former history teacher, runs time management, confidence building and other adult training courses with teacher colleague Sandra Brown. He was enlisted last year by Falkirk Council's integrated learning community as part of the Langlees and Bainsford new community school development. Since then he has also worked with nine schools in the Falkirk area.

"Ricka", as he is known by the pupils, is a big man with an equally big personality who engages the children from the moment they come into the room. A quick name check proves he has remembered all but one girl's after only one previous session.

After a quiet moment listening to the music of Bruch - correctly identified by the children as a German composer - the session tumbles into an astonishing and ever-quickening cadence.

"If I write 'fantastic', what does it mean to you?" Lots of hands fly up.

The children think it means brilliant and great. One boy pipes up: "We can all be fantastic." Every answer is complimented, the last getting the most praise.

"Yes, we're gonna be the most fantastic we can be!" cries Ricka.

The next phrase on the board is "Make a difference" and the pupils' hands fly up with examples: helping the elderly, doing something you don't usually do, trying not to make mistakes but always apologising if you do.

Ricka has 100 per cent of their attention, even from the slightly more reluctant participants.

Next everyone is on their feet, listening to Rossini's William Tell overture. On a shout from Ricka, they turn into frenzied cowboys, riding in time to the music. Suddenly, at the sound of his "magic hammer" (a tap on the table creates the sound of breaking glass), the children sit straight down on to the floor, with eyes set on Ricka for the next instruction.

It's song time and the children are dying to sing the song they learned last week about the piper who couldn't play, complete with sound effects.

This is followed by a rendition of "Will ye go, lassie, go".

The children remind him of a story he told last week about his meeting with Irish folk singer Francie McPeake as a child. He had kindled Ricka's earliest dreams to be a singer. "And just look! I've followed my dreams!"

He tells the class about being dragged as a boy along to his sister's dance sessions until one day, when approached by two girls, he decided to learn to dance too. " I became world champion and won 500 medals in Irish dance."

Now the children are on their feet, arranged in lines, watching an energetic demonstration of an Irish reel before performing it themselves.

The foot work is intricate but, with looks of concentration, the boys and girls create a spirited River Dance routine.

At the sound of the magic hammer they sit down again and are thrilled to watch Ricka's solo performance of a hornpipe on a wooden board, complete with clicky Cuban heeled dance shoes.

Then the pace slows. The children set up tables and split into sets of three. It's time for team building, first working on Chinese tangrams. They arrange different shapes to form a square. Some ask Ricka for "one of his wee clues" to help them along.

Work with magic triangles follows. The teams are given the numbers one to six to arrange in triangles with all the sides adding up to nine, 10, 11 or 12.

"That's really difficult. I don't think I can do it," mutters one boy.

"If you want to do it, you can," his friend tells him summarily.

As the last group finishes its triangle, the focus returns to Ricka and it's back to an energetic pace as the class learn the actions for "The Twelve Days of Christmas". The squatting geese a' laying cause particular hilarity.

On the last hammer sound, the children are back on the floor and the session's pace drops. It's time for quiet reflection. The children listen attentively. What are their dreams?, Ricka asks. This class is thinking big: to be an Olympic champion runner, dentist, actress, join the marines I For each child, Mr Richardson is full of praise and offers serious advice about practising, believing in yourself and aiming for the top. As the children leave the room, he sounds a cautionary but encouraging note:

"Everything you've done here today translates back into the classroom.

Remember, each of you is unique. Don't let your behaviour spoil someone else's unique dreams."

As follow-up to the four two-hour sessions, Mr Richardson spends two full days working with the teacher in class. He also runs courses for headteachers and advisers in the Central Scotland Partnership on "Coping with Cultural and Organisational Change". Confidence for senior managers is equally important, he says. "If you don't master change, change will master you."

Peak Performance Partnership, tel 0131 652 1518

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