The year of the cross-eyed bear

4th July 1997 at 01:00
It was a week before the end of term and a colleague was recounting a particularly contentious out-of-school meeting. Despite the background hum of the third year enjoying their nutritionally balanced lunches, I'm still certain I heard him say, referring to the cause of dispute at his meeting: "It was the cross-eyed bear."

Such was my state of mind in the helter-skelter rush towards the end of the session that it was several minutes before his words gave me cause for concern. To be truthful, I didn't come across too many cross-eyed bears during the session; indeed, when I look back over the year, it's the positive moments that seem to emerge most clearly.

The joy of working again with a large number of probationer teachers has left its mark. Their "can do" approach is a tonic and I find that there is thoughtful and philosophical background to their work that I'm not sure I remember from my own first years in the job. These are young folk with energy that is allied to a professional need to question and reflect. Their confidence is reflected in their willingness to develop initiatives and, at the same time, not just an acceptance of accountability, but a demand for feedback on how they are doing.

Pupils respond to their energetic high expectations and play their part in helping produce a classroom atmosphere that is positive, purposeful and, dare I say it, happy. I carry a clear picture with me of a young probationer teacher, towards the end of a long, tiring week, who sat patiently with a second-year pupil, long after the end of the school day, carefully explaining a difficult point from the day's lesson. Just a glimpse through a doorway, but a confirmation of what is best about our schools.

This emotional input is not something for which I would seek to apologise. It struck me when listening to a fellow TES Scotland contributor Brian Boyd, using tales of his son Chris to illustrate his ideas, that the more we relate our educational approach to our children, the more likely we are to get it right. The source of anger at the cross-eyed bear's meeting was the fact that pupils hadn't been mentioned once in two hours of discussion.

Another positive has been the collaboration with other agencies, through youth strategy in particular, but in many other ways as well. There is a special satisfaction in working together with those outside the school. The effect of our local youth strategy centre in giving pupils and their parents a positive view of education, often for the first time in generations, will live with me for a long time, despite its closure under local reorganisation of pupil support.

There were many memorable moments where pupils recognised an ability they didn't know they possessed, and grew in stature through the confidence they gained through praise. Naomi, whose quiet and unassuming approach to her work in English, produced the simile of the year: "As cold as a stone in ice. " Or Roy, who despite dire prognostications as to his ability to maintain a place in mainstream school, ended the year with an achievement award for his outstanding contribution to the work of the class.

Those who miss out on chances to praise those they work with not only diminish their pupils and colleagues but minimise their own development as educators, a point which is now, thankfully, widely recognised across the country.

And that cross-eyed bear? Crossed communications, I'm afraid. What I should have heard was that such meetings are "the cross I've got to bear". Back to the listening skills.

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