The bicycle chief

11th April 2014 at 01:00

With anxiety rising and my heart pounding, I willed the first arrival to swing around the corner. My gaze fixed on the wall of a bungalow, the end of a block of modest homes lining an otherwise empty suburban street. I held my breath and counted as a whipping gust of wind sent a shudder down my back. Then they came - the laughing, wobbling class of 10-year-olds whose cycling I was struggling to raise to proficiency.

Two of the lads raced up the road towards me. One student absent-mindedly held her arm-out signal for 100 metres. Another pushed his bicycle with oil-covered hands, thanks to mechanical issues.

After a few minutes, all 25 of them were back and demanding to know what their next two-wheeled adventure would be. But there would be no more today. That first solo trip around the block, out of my sight for a shade more than three minutes, was enough for my nerves.

By the end of our course, my young charges had gained confidence and skills on their bikes. And the journey that brought me to that street corner certainly taught me an important lesson about managing meetings.

Six weeks earlier, a neophyte on the governing body, I had asked what provision the school made for training students in safe cycling. There was none. "Why?" I demanded, reeling off a few half-remembered facts about cycle instruction in childhood correlating with the propensity to ride a bike in later life.

The headteacher let out a long sigh. Cycle training in the county was largely provided by volunteers. The man who used to run lessons at our school retired some time ago and his shoes remained unfilled.

"Perhaps you could step in", suggested the headteacher. "We learn better from teachers who are committed to their subjects and I can see that you really care about this." My fellow governors all craned their heads, looking expectantly in my direction.

It was a textbook example of meeting brilliance. The headteacher had managed to flatter me while also implying that if this really was a cause I was committed to, then surely I should step up to the plate.

So for three years in a row I took time off work to coax the children along the streets around our school. Waiting nervously for them to circumnavigate the block gave me time for reflection - not least on the genesis of my predicament.

In meetings of any kind, research and planning are key, unless you are content to personally deliver any initiatives that you are lobbying for. In my case, I should have enquired what pressure the school had put on our local authority to insist on professional cycle training for the children. It would have saved me a lot of nervous minutes on windblown pavements.

Now that I've hung up my highvisibility vest, I am glad to have also discovered the more important truth in the headteacher's clever retort. Spotting the now-teenage graduates of my cycling courses speeding by on their bicycles, I am persuaded that there really is a connection between effective pedagogy and personal passions.

Tim Dawson is chair of governors at Castle Hill Junior School in Ipswich, England

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