Trust children to lead

Michael Pettavel, head teacher, Brougham Street Childcare and Nursery School, Skipton
Sunday, December 9, 2018

Some subjects can be a challenge to approach in the classroom, but are made easier by looking at them from children’s perspectives

I considered another rant this month, mainly about the appalling state of the nation, but listening to the news every morning I realised there are enough people doing that at the moment. Instead I thought that I would reflect (perhaps a little prematurely) on my move back into the classroom since September.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having been a little apprehensive. I have been a head teacher for so long and it is easy to get de-skilled. You forget the rhymes and songs that once came so easily. I know I can talk the talk, but could I walk the walk?

One thing that I hadn’t realised (or had forgotten) was the importance of trusting children. If we listen carefully enough to what children tell us in their play, much of what we need to know is there. For example, I struggled with how to make diversity meaningful and relevant for children in the context of a predominantly white, British community, having always taught in multicultural, urban schools. Within the first week I had an idea, thanks to the children.

We headed off on a topic of ‘weddings’ inspired by a few children having been to them over the summer. Hey presto! Diversity on a plate! Weddings around the world, same-sex marriages and civil partnerships all jostled for position in our discussions about who could marry whom, how many people you can marry and what happens if you don’t want to get married at all.

I am sure I may have missed opportunities for discussing gender-neutrality in more depth, but on the whole we did well and were awash with interesting conversations based on the children’s experiences and our introduction of ideas that weren’t part of that experience.

Building on this huge success we embarked on the Supertato series of books (alternatives are available). We were lucky enough to have access to a member of staff’s kitchen garden and its wonky vegetables. Expanding the cast list we suddenly had ‘Octocarrot’, a very peculiar-looking character. In establishing a back-story, we had unprecedented opportunities to reflect on the judgements we make based on appearance. I was heartened by their inclusive approach.

In this time of division, fear and populist agendas, children’s attitudes remind us that real discussion about the subjects that challenge us should be about expanding our horizons and not political manoeuvring and point-scoring.

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