posted Wednesday 28th May 2014 by Robert Hall
Last weekend we went to listen to the band. Picture the scene: a Victorian bandstand filled with brass band musicians and their instruments. Hundreds of folk relaxing on the grass, listening. Generous amounts of sunshine everywhere except under the majestic and elderly trees with their recently acquired mantle of new leaves. We sat in the shade of the canopy of a venerable copper beech on rising ground, a great vantage point from which to hear the band and engage in people watching. And there were plenty of people. Everyone was with someone. Relationships aplenty; observing the interactions between them was totally absorbing.
About ten metres away from our vantage point was a huge and unusual pine which dropped cones at intervals during the afternoon. This delighted the children who assiduously gathered them as if they were manna from heaven. The trunk of this extraordinary specimen was vast and beautiful, spirally patterned, and its roots formed a gnarled, tangled plinth around its base. This plinth is a great place for children to clamber or perch as it gives them the impression that they have begun to climb the tree although they are scarcely off the ground.
Two children, aged around four and six, spotted the tree, ran to it and began to clamber over the roots, hotly pursued by their minder, a grandmother perhaps. She was the kind of person who might, at one time, have been a deputy headteacher, (discipline). She harangued the children in a fashion which would have dismayed the sturdiest teenager or member of staff. Even her body language was intimidating. At my safe vantage point ten metres away, I felt a tinge of fear. Clearly this lady had been charged with their care for the afternoon at least, and didn’t appreciate the mindset of the average four year old who cannot resist an exciting and unusual challenge, and does not think in terms of rational risk assessments, and doesn’t have a picture of ambulances and hospitals for ever in the back of their mind. What struck me was the children’s response. Whereas I was cowed at ten metres, they looked at her with blank incomprehension. What were they doing that was wrong? Nothing bad could possibly happen.
At the very same time, on the other side of the huge tree trunk, was a very different picture. A young parent was playing with his child. The child was balancing on the tree roots, and the father was holding him steady. Emboldened by the security of the parent, the child proceeded to walk up the tree, their body eventually horizontal, their feet firm against the bark, their shoulders held firmly by their father. He dropped his feet safely to the ground and began the ascent all over again. This happened several times and it was pure delight.
I could not but help seeing sharp and stark contrast between one side of the tree and the other. Clearly, we need more parents who engage in playing with their children, keeping them secure and teaching them to trust. We need fewer parents, or grandparents, who stop their children from experimenting, discovering and delighting in new experiences.
Similarly we need more teachers who engage with pupils, keeping them secure and teaching them to trust, creating adventurous learning environments where they can flourish.
We must encourage teachers to provide these conditions. Headteachers and others in authority would do well to learn the lesson of the tree and begin to trust their teachers.
Reflecting on it, I wonder if the grandmother figure was a retired Ofsted inspector?