I'm not sure how this will do down with teachers," my mother-in-law said as she sat at the dining-room table at Christmas. She was folding my leaflets for "Funshops", which aim to "put the wow back" into teaching. She spoke in a tone that suggested she felt teachers ought to disapprove.
Teaching has, it seems, become much too "serious". Certainly a large number of teachers feel that the fun has gone out of the job. When asked what they want personally from workshops on learning and teaching, the words motivation, inspiration and reassurance repeatedly come up. At one workshop last year a group said they wanted "wow". I actually got the idea for promoting Funshops from listening to teachers, not business guru Tom Peters.
Since the sessions were to be on a Saturday and since I have run hundreds of workshops in my career I thought it was time for something different. The first Funshops will be in Glasgow and Edinburgh towards the end of March. They are designed for classroom teachers working in any sector, at any level.
They will be events where there is a lot of fun, a lot of energy and a lot of learning. If you come, be prepared to enjoy yourself, to laugh, to risk a little and learn a lot. You will also take away at least 10 practical strategies or techniques to support your personal and professional development.
It is good to hear education at least being talked up by politicians. But just because it is important doesn't mean to say it has to be serious. In fact, a large amount of what we know about learning and teaching suggests just the opposite. Research on the brain highlights the essential importance of emotions in learning and the role of positive emotions in building motivation.
As we all know emotions are contagious. If a teacher feels good and is motivated to teach, the learners are much more likely to be motivated to learn. But the way we are trying to "drive changes through" in education is undermining teacher confidence and motivation. We all need challenges to help us develop and grow, but it is high time we stopped hitting teachers over the head and gave them the support that they are crying out for to do a better job in the classroom.
The publication of the The Learning Game, a new programme for school and pupil success from Mindstore in Glasgow, is a genuinely exciting development in this context, if the first set of materials is anything to go by. Written by Norma Black of Mindstore with assistance from Professor John MacBeath of the Quality in Education Centre at Jordanhill, Creating a Confident School is based firmly on our current understandings about how people learn, and on years of classroom experience, and it shows. Not only is the quality of the pupil material excellent, but the pack links pupils' learning and teachers' learning in highly effective ways.
Perhaps most exciting of all it promises to be a set of materials which cannot easily be pigeon-holed into primary or secondary or into a particular area of the curriculum such as personal and social development or study skills. A range of teachers in the pilot schools testify as to how it has influenced everyday teaching in significant ways. On the strength of the first set of materials this promises to be a programme which can help teachers develop their thinking as well supporting their practice.
Creating a Confident School is based around the concept of flow, popularised by the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose most recent book is called Living Well. Csikszentmihalyi argues that schools are fundamentally about helping people to live happy lives and this is right in line with what most teachers have as their long-term goals for their pupils, and every parent wants for their child.
The big question, of course, is what is happiness and how can you achieve it? Csikszentmihalyi's writing has given us insights into this. In a nutshell, he says it doesn't just happen like a lottery win, you need to work at it.
Oh dear, there is that word work again. Well, I suppose I had better come clean: initiatives like Funshops and the Learning Game have a deeply serious purpose.
* Ian Smith was until recently a development fellow at the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum. He is now an independent consultant. For more information on Funshops telephone Learning Unlimited at 0141 955 1514 and on the Learning Game telephone Mindstore Discovery at 0141 333 9393.