It was the night before Christmas... Well, not really. It was the night before Christmas begins in every primary school – the start of December – when I turned my office into a Covid-compliant Santa’s grotto.
Unlike me, not every headteacher will have an eight-foot inflatable snowman in their office – or indeed an inflatable Winnie-the-Pooh dressed as Santa, a candy cane archway framing the door, or a Christmas lights projector. But everyone should be doing something to make this time of year exciting and special.
December is usually a busy time in the school calendar. Assemblies filled with messages of joy and goodwill to all, and Christmas songs aplenty, complete with humour and actions, as well as the classics.
The start of December also marks the beginning of the countdown until Santa visits the children’s homes on Christmas Eve, but also until his visit to the school and to the classrooms. And then there’s the nativity, which all parents love, featuring that moment of pure delight when the angel sings a wee solo, or that moment that we will all remember (for better or worse) when the shepherd vomits on his sheep and into the manger.
What it all amounts to is fun, laughter and the building that sense of community. But maybe not this year...
I was observing a writing lesson in my probationer’s class where the introduction task was to use emojis to describe the story and it got me thinking. How would I describe recent months with emojis? Would it be the tired one, the sleepy one, the one with the mask, or maybe even the one that suggests the character has lost the plot?
I asked the children in the group I was beside what emoji would describe school. They were, as children always are, more positive. Despite that, what was apparent was the lack of excitement.
Yes, children are delighted to be at school but with no assemblies, no after school clubs, and designated playground areas, it was apparent we needed to bring the fun and excitement back to December. And it was important we did that for staff, too.
I have an amazing staff team, as most schools do, who deserve huge plaudits for how they have all handled the pandemic to ensure children feel as normal as is safe. That is a difficult job – I don’t see an adult in the school who does not look more tired than ever before. They are ready for their holiday, but we must not let that take away the festive period.
So the first step was to bring on the decorations.
To borrow a phrase from one of my P7s, for me, it was a case of “go big, or go home”. Since I was a probationer I have enjoyed decorating my classroom and that hasn’t changed, even as a headteacher.
This year, ensuring it was still Covid compliant, I wanted my office to officially be known as Santa’s grotto. And I can assure you, the gasps of excitement, the giggles, the “oh mys”, and the “wows”, are worth every hour it took to pull it together.
No child – or staff member – from P1 to the coolest P7 walk by the room without a smile lighting up their face. Yes, it is quite possible some think I’m mad, but all reveal their inner excitement about the magic of Christmas.
So let’s challenge ourselves to make December fun.
- We can’t sing or attend assemblies, so buy in an online pantomime.
- We can’t perform to parents and carers, so let each class prepare a performance for their families using the online platforms.
- We can’t be together, so let’s do a whole-school project where every class creates a Christmas movie frieze. Very creative, very exciting and could end with a ‘Guess the Movie’ school Twitter feature.
- We can’t showcase our talents, so let’s do an online talent show with votes tallied just like in the Eurovision Song Contest and a live result show broadcast from every classroom.
- Santa can’t come to the Christmas party, but he can visit the school and let you know from the corridor that his elves have left a wee gift in the teacher’s cupboard for all the children in the class.
- And, of course, we can celebrate with Christmas jumpers and Christmas lunch.
Our plans may need to be different this year but we must still make them – the children need this. The staff need this. You reading this, need this.
Life is too serious at the moment and full of anxiety. We can’t be in control of everything, but we can do something that makes us, and others, smile.
Give yourself, the children, and your school community an eight-foot snowman... Or simply the chance to stop and have some fun. You deserve it!
Jonathan Cunningham is the headteacher of Knightswood Primary in Glasgow