An inspector calls

1 05 2009

It would be overstating it to say there was a different atmosphere in the school today. My experience wasn’t markedly different. The reason it might have been is because there has been an inspector in the school today conducting a sort of pre-Ofsted, Ofsted inspection. That said, I think I would have to be the most insensitive individual in the universe not to notice that there was a little bit of tension in the air. But there seemed to be determination too to show the school as it is.

The staffroom was overflowing with cakes that the head had bought for her staff. They were left along with a note encouraging them in the most simple yet touching way. Simply, she believes in them.

Now I love cakes. A lot. And I don’t think it’s the sort of place where anyone would have minded if I’d had one. There were probably enough cakes for a staff three times as big – an indication of what sort of gesture the head was making. Not cursory. Overwhelming. She wanted them to really know just how much she esteems and admires them all. So – I’m going to use that phrase again – I felt like I was on sacred ground. I would have minded if I’d taken one of those cakes. It would have felt like robbing the temple.

After sitting in and helping members of the class with some more maths work, we went to assembly. I do find myself gravitating in the classroom to the younger ones who find the work a little more demanding. Sometimes that’s because they ask me and I think, why not? I really do think why not? I want to check to make sure that there isn’t a good reason why I shouldn’t such as avoiding getting too close to particular children or that the request isn’t a form of avoidance for the child. I’m also wondering now whether I shouldn’t also see what I could give to/learn from the more able children. Perhaps I’ll mention it to the teacher tomorrow…

I was then privileged to attend a really quite brilliant assembly that was led by a visiting music teacher. There was no explicit religious content to this assembly. But it was certainly, I would say, spiritual. It began without a word and it continued without instruction or comment for some time. Now clearly this is because the school and this teacher have built up a pattern, understanding and rapport. He basically plays short rhythmic bursts on hand drums to which the children respond with claps. The claps weren’t always the same. It was an organic thing. This was an amazing episode of non-verbal communication. The music teacher also gave different parts of the gathering different rhythms to clap out, again without a word. Then they sang a familiar song and began to learn a new one. It didn’t go on too long. It was just the right length in fact. The event created community, joy and belonging. It gave everyone a share in the responsibility to keep the community’s self expression going. If that’s not spiritual, I don’t know what is!

Funnily enough, I’ve done something similar in my previous appointment, both on a dads’ and kids’ camping weekend and at a church service. New ways of expressing worship/spirituality can become all very quiet and passive and not at all attractive to energetic people. Thinking about what really noisy and energetic worship would look (sound) like led me to conceive of an act of worship based around drumming. It worked really well then in the hands of a rank amateur. In the hands of a consummate professional today, it was glorious.

There was another touching moment too today in that assembly hall when one of the teachers shared with me how they were feeling about being observed. It was just a little thing, they were feeling apprehensive and disquieted, they weren’t overwhelmed. Even so, to be trusted with someone’s feelings in that way was humbling.

After the assembly, we were back in the classroom for some further maths work. I noticed that one child with particular emotional challenges was heading towards another period of disengagement and wondered if a little coaxing from me might help this child back into what was going on. It did seem to help on this occasion and with some subsequent work. It so happened that this was what I was doing when the inspector came to visit the classroom. I was acutely aware at that point that I was not a trained learning support assistant. I did not want to screw this up for this teacher or the head who had also come in to share the observation. The teacher was, in this observed lesson, exactly the same as I have seen him in every other lesson: calm, firm, in control, encouraging, well-paced. There was no ‘show’. It was his everyday teaching that was on display.

This afternoon I led the second of my spirituality sessions with the learning support assistant and without the class teacher. I did it twice with two groups. The first group were more challenging and I found it more of a struggle. They didn’t engage well with the meditation. There were one or two who were trying to derail it, I thought. But that’s okay. I’m getting a full experience! Interestingly, it was those who hadn’s been part of the whole class meditation yesterday who struggled today. The group included some of the children with the most complex needs, but there were a couple of children who really tried who at other times are the most disengaged. When it came to the art activity that followed my input, they really seemed to get what it was about and to really enjoy it. They could tell me the point of the exercise and what they got from it.

Under pressure of time, I cut the meditation shorter for the second group but I did finish with the sharing stone circle which I missed for the previous group because we ran out of time. This was an older and broadly more able group and they engaged well and again, it seemed to me, were genuinely taken with what we were doing.

My contribution to the sharing stone group was the same as the LSA’s. I was proud of them. Actually I was proud of both groups, despite the wobbly start for the first crew. Well done boys and girls and thank you.

[This post has been cleared with the school’s headteacher.]



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