Change can happen – but it takes time

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I was pulled up short last week when someone asked me what I would regard as my greatest professional achievement.

Without having to think about it I responded that it had been creating a culture in a school where boys willingly participated in and enjoyed creative dance.

I became a Principal Teacher of physical education back in 1983.  In 1987 I was seconded for three years to what was then the Scottish Centre for Physical Education and is now part of Edinburgh University’s Moray House Institute of Education. When I returned to my school in 1990 – to everyone’s surprise – I wanted to explore if I could change the culture of a school and introduce some of the ideas I’d been researching in my three years away.

Over the next five years we set about transforming a traditional sporting culture.  I should at this time point out that I taught at a secondary school in the Scottish Borders, where rugby was the dominant sport and the idea of dance for boys was a complete anathema.

In order to fully understand my strategy you have to go back to my own school days (yes, that far!) and understand that I went to a school where on my first day I walked into the games hall to watch a sixth year boy, wearing a GB vest, slotting baskets from the sideline one after another.  He was a legend in the school and was playing for the senior men’s GB team whilst still at school. In the rest of the games hall there seemed to be hundreds of other kids of all ages playing games, dribbling, making shots and having a great time – yet there wasn’t a teacher in sight!

Over the next six years I became immersed in that sporting cluture which was passed on from one generation to another, almost by default.

In my time out at Moray House I’d had the chance to visit hundreds of schools around Scotland and it amazed me how many schools did NOT have that culture.  So what’s the missing ingredient in promoting participation and a sporting culture and legacy in a school?

It will be no surprise that you have to start with the youngest age group.  At the early stage so much depends upon the input from the teacher. It needs to be fun, it needs to be active, and above all, kids need to experience success and a sense of achievement. In the early years the modelling of performance – even if the quality wasn’t high was important from myself and my male colleague – especially for boys.  Now I’m no dancer but I was prepared to give it a go and without that commitment I don’t think the kids would have embraced it as they did.

Over the next five years we built creative dance into the curriculum at all stages and eventually into our certificated course at Standard Grade and Higher level. I remember the best lesson I ever took involved 25, S4 kids (17 boys and 8 girls) making up a dance to Puccini’s Tosca’s “E lucevan le stelle” I remember when they performed the dance at our school dance festival (which we had established a couple of years before) the tears running down my cheeks.

That same dance festival in my last year at the school had over 300 pupils taking part of whom 50% were boys.

That same year in our Higher PE class the students had the option of choosing between tennis and dance – tennis didn’t run! Four of the boys in that class that year went on to play for Scottish Schools under 18 rugby team and toured New Zealand.

More importantly that culture was sustained beyond my time at the school.

I think I’ll be extremely lucky to achieve anything like that again in my career.

4 thoughts on “Change can happen – but it takes time

  1. Just thinking of the rugby guys that take part in ‘Come Dancing’ Maybe there is a connection between the two. Another thought – great rock climbers dances on rock climb.

  2. I remember it well.
    You said above “so much depends on the input from the teacher”. I think that is the main point. I have seen you (and other members of the department) motivate boys (whom some other teachers found very difficult), to do creative dance. (It was most impressive.)
    I am afraid the answer is simple, but achieving it is difficult for many teachers. The teacher you describe has gained the respect and trust of the pupils. Then the pupils will try nearly anything with that teacher.
    You may recall we asked the pupils what made them respect a teacher…The answer … Hard work, fairness, help, care, humour, fun, enthusiasm, … and even with all these qualities it takes time to earn the respect of the pupils.
    Likewise, it takes time to achieve the culture you describe, but it is great when achieved.

  3. Norman

    Thanks for your kind comment. But I believe that change needs that initial impetus but then there is a need to stand back and let it grow organically – that’s what makes things sustainable. If change depends only upon input from the top it will inevitably crumble.


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