Inspiration can come in many strange guises. This month I found it in a rusty filing cabinet. Being the kind of guy who likes to push the boat out and get a bit wild at the weekends, I spent a recent bleak Saturday clearing out an old filing cabinet that had scarcely been opened since the days when there was quality drama on television and the word "celebrity" was still faintly pejorative. Predictably, it was an eye-opener.
In a musty file that, were I organised enough, might have been titled "Crazy dreams", I found a whole sheaf of yellowing CVs that bore testament to some fairly surreal job applications that, thankfully, were never realised, and beneath that was a bundle of papers from a range of long forgotten in-service courses.
One of these contained a poem about "The Average Child", pointing out that average expectations will produce average results:
"I don't cause teachers trouble My grades have been OK I listen in my classes And I'm in school every day . . .
I'm part of that majority, That hump part of the bell Who spends his life unnoticed In an average kind of hell" In an adjacent folder I came across excerpts from Nelson Mandela's inauguration speech: "As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same", encouraging us to make the most of our abilities.
These tracts reawakened for me the recurring concern of teachers that, while we fight to include the challenged pupils, and support and fast-track the high-flyers, we are always aware that the majority of pupils - that "hump part of the bell" - have the possibility of sliding through school without being noticed, celebrated or encouraged. Miscreants and high achievers will always have the ability most easily to grab the spotlight, but that doesn't mean that others are not deserving of it.
Praise systems that recognise the achievements of the majority are time-consuming and intensive in their application but they have the overwhelming merit of putting into practice the values, explicit or otherwise, of every school: that every child is special, every child is unique and they only have one school career. Personal bests have to be recognised if we are to get the most out of our pupils and prepare them to achieve in the community.
The day after my early spring cleaning exercise, our local priest's sermon provided the perfect soundbite for these concerns: "Maybe, just maybe," he suggested, "we all have a wee bit of a miracle in us."
Teachers can't be expected to be miracle workers, but, by finding time to make the "average" pupil special, we can lay the groundwork for the fulfilling of individual potential - for every pupil.