Creativity for control freaks

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: This little light of mine

You'd better watch out, it's nearly Christmas! I haven't counted the number of shopping days or school days, but it's exciting isn't it?

Even when I worked in a school where a very tiny minority of pupils marked Christmas itself, the countdown to the end of the first term against an increasingly icy backdrop infused excitement in everyone, building up to reach final day frenzy. This countdown coincides with Advent, beginning officially four Sundays before Christmas but traditionally on December 1.

Ever since my first class, I have marked this time of year not with chocolate-revealing doors on cardboard cartoon characters, but a candle.

Lighting a candle in a primary classroom is always a jaw dropping moment for pupils. Turn off the lights, pull the blinds, get them quiet, then strike the match. That burst of flame somehow invites the weight of history, the majesty of the natural world, the wonder of light and the universe into the space you have made. I believe that all Sats targets would be reached if instead of being given bland stimuli, pupils were asked to gaze at a candle for five minutes before writing. Advent is the time when candle gazing becomes a daily event as we contemplate the season. In so doing, pupils draw on so many other festivals of faith at this time of year, such as Diwali and Hanukkah. In a way that only candles can, it draws on the spirituality of every child, irrespective of culture and background, channelling this collective anticipation into a daily moment that is a highlight of my year.

Questions are the key. As we gather around a single candle, Christmas music playing in the background, I ask a question. Some are obvious, "What is your favourite Christmas song?" Some encourage stories, "What is the earliest you have got up on Christmas day and what happened?" Some are sombre, "Some people find Christmas hard. What would you say to them?" Some are more speculative, "In Australia Christmas is in the middle of summer.

What would you miss and what would be better?" The questions are like fine chocolates, flavouring pupils' minds as they roll slowly around, releasing their sweetness. After a time, answers are shared by those that want to but most of the pleasure comes in the hearing of others' replies.

Creativity relies on taking little steps each day. After the first few days, the session never needs to take longer than 10 minutes, but as the time requirement shrinks, the enthusiasm grows and pupils bring with them the accumulating experiences of the sessions before, wondering what will be added next. In a time of busyness, it brings the creative minds of pupils to the fore and the classroom, even if just for a few minutes, is a better place for it. Merry Christmas.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester. Write to

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