Creativity for control freaks

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: In this together

When I started visiting schools as a student, it wasn't always the most encouraging of environments. You would be sitting in the staffroom, trying not to make a fool of yourself in case you wanted to apply for a job there one day. At some point, someone would come in, gaze in your direction and say: "Why would you want to become a teacher? You must be mad!"

On one memorable occasion, a very flustered teacher stormed in. "This really is a most thankless job." "Why's that?" I asked, in my most sympathetic way. I was enquiring what had upset them, but they gave a more generic answer that was much more to the point: "It's thankless, because no-one ever says 'thank you'."

Since then I've personally found a correlation between the extent to which staff feel "thanked" and their general state of well-being. Creative staff find ways of letting each other know that they are appreciated. Nothing picks you up like the extended hand of a colleague who knows exactly how you are feeling.

An excellent example of this is the tradition of Secret Santa, which pops up in many staff-rooms at Christmas. Names are drawn from a hat, secrecy sworn and then the challenge is on. You know that as you are sweating to buy the right thing for the person you chose, someone else is doing the same for you. The spirit can live on well beyond the season. My Secret Santa is still sticking chocolate bars in my pigeonhole and my gratitude extends well beyond my chocolate addiction.

Try thinking about different things that staff can do to support each other when things get tough, to see whether we can teach the younger members of our school community any tricks.

So how about setting kiddies up with a good support system? The seriousness, frequency and structure would depend on the age of the pupils and the context of your school, but in principle, a "SATs buddy system" provides clear opportunities for kids to support each other. What they do can range from talking together in scheduled slots about thoughts and feelings, to doing nice things for each other after input and encouragement from the teacher. So why not suggest they make a card for their buddy, invite them for tea, pay them a compliment, lend them their lucky rubber - whatever is going to make a difference to them. You could even go down the "secret" line and challenge them to make their buddy smile, while keeping their identity secret for as long as possible. All of these approaches give pupils a good reason to be nice to each other, at a time when they won't necessarily be nice without good reason! Is taking SATs a thankless task for our pupils? It will be if no-one says "thank you".

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email:

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