Magic moments in everyday classroom life

31st October 2008 at 00:00

Let's play a little game of Guess the Acronym. I was on a course not so long ago and the presenter was talking about ITLAs. An ITLA is, apparently, an Inspiring Teaching and Learning Activity.

Of course! A not much older, but much wiser, colleague simply said to me" "So ... a good lesson then."

As the second half of the autumn term beckons, there may be times when the I in your TLA is proving a little harder to find. We can only inspire our pupils when we ourselves are feeling inspired.

It's essential then to build into our everyday lives the opportunities that lift our spirits and motivate us, whether that means seeing great movies, going to concerts, walking on windswept hills, or whatever else lifts your eyes above the rigours of the day.

Even happier though, is the teacher who somehow manages to combine the two. Can you think of a way to bring what inspires you into the classroom? A way that allows you to share that inspiration with a whole new generation? I can think of a few times it's happened, and then last year I had two spectacular successes that have left a lingering afterglow.

The first time was nothing unusual: a letter-writing project with Year 3. The internet has made it much easier to send purposeful letters, because addresses can so easily be found.

We were writing to people who inspired us. Throughout the project, I modelled this by writing to a musician I was really enjoying at the time called Josh Ritter. I joined in each stage of the writing process. When the class wrote their final copy, I wrote mine too. Pupils received replies from those responding on behalf of Thierry Henry, David Tennant and countless other celebrities. Every reply inspired the class to believe in the power of writing. But the day a postcard from Idaho landed on my doormat, with a message of thanks from Josh Ritter, I bounced around my classroom.

I had the chance to meet him while he was touring Britain a few months later. Face to face, I made an absolute tongue-tied fool of myself when he told me he remembered the letter I'd sent. An absolute top guy and an adventure that has spawned a thousand assemblies.

And if you can't get to the inspiration, perhaps you can bring it to you. I'm a bit of a jazz fan. One of my favourite musicians is a pianist called Jason Rebello. I'd first heard of him when he was touring with Sting, so I started to check out his own music and website.

On one visit, I noticed a new CD of jazz for children based on kids' televsion themes. I bought a copy to play in my classroom, and the kids loved it. Returning to the website, I noticed an offer to conduct workshops and concerts in schools. Fifteen minutes later, we were exchanging emails. Three months later, Jason was performing with his trio in our school: a world class musician who made an impression on all who heard him. In the workshops, as well as the pupils and family concert, Jason raised the bar of what pupils could expect to experience in school.

An injection of inspiration makes a huge difference to us as individuals, but schools too can be set abuzzing when they glimpse something beyond the norm. I wonder who you would most like to walk through your classroom door. Why not invite them in?

- Jason Rebello's album for children, "Jazz Rainbows" and information on workshops in schools can be found at

Peter Greaves, Deputy head of a Midlands primary school.

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