Allow me to start with an apology. I am certain someone, somewhere, will end up at this blog because they googled today’s title in anticipation of something a bit more…sordid. TRY THIS, if you have arrived here by mistake.
Right. Rest of us ready to go? Good.
Ghandi knew it. Mandela knew it. Even Hitler knew it. I know it too: symbols are a simple but powerful means of uniting people.
Before I even arrive at a new school, a new challenge, I choose a symbol to unite the pupils, parents and staff. I always choose an animal. People like animals (maybe too much sometimes) and we have a natural bond with them.
On varying levels we tend to transpose human characteristics onto creatures of the wild. Ants are team-players, foxes are cunning, tigers are stealthy, squirrels are….uh… squirrelly.
One can easily test the above theory. Think of your favourite animal. Now think of three adjectives that describe that animal.
Please. Do it now. I’ll wait here.
Finished? Now apply those three adjectives to your own self and (chances are) they are words that describe you. Scary huh? (It is for me because I like whales).
My current school unites around a stuffed beaver. (Apologies again to anyone who googled ‘stuffed beaver’ expecting something more…niche). A few weeks before my first day at the school I bought 10 cuddly beavers at Ikea. A beaver seemed a good choice because they are busy, hard working and industrious to the point they can change the course of mighty rivers. I knew even then the task ahead of us.
On that first day I took the beaver with me everywhere I went on the school campus. Dozens of the children, who otherwise would have passed by silently, mentally weighing up the new Head Teacher, stopped to find out why I had the furry toy under my arm. Many struck up conversations with the beaver. Some shook hands with him. Some wanted to hold him.
Immediately the beaver was the talk of the school. I brought him to my first assembly; the inaugural time I had the entire school community together in one room. I introduced the beaver and asked the children to send him their brainwaves. I planted the seed that their new mammalian friend could read their minds. I told the audience that the beaver lived in my office and they could drop by anytime to talk to him or, if they wanted, just send him their brainwaves.
It worked. I knew it would. At the school previous to this one we had a shark. The school before that: a frog. Before that: a fish. It always worked.
Children began to turn up at the office not just to send some brainwaves but to request the beaver came along to their classroom for the afternoon. (He would only go if the class promised to work their very hardest). They would request he accompany them on educational visits. They would want him in their school photos.
With the trust of the school community won, the beaver’s next task was to improve the children’s academic ability. He began to show up in our weekly newsletter, inviting the children to undertake a specific piece of additional homework. By this time, the children would have done anything to please him.
I couldn’t have anticipated the impact the beaver would have on the teaching staff. A few months after I started at the school, I went to the staff Christmas party at a local restaurant. I was stunned to see the beaver out on the dance floor, being passed around colleagues as they revelled. It caused me to laugh but a teaching assistant said to me, “You don’t realise what he means to us.”
The other 9 Swedish beavers (apologies again…) I purchased at Ikea are stored away in a cupboard in my office. I have to rotate them to avoid wear and tear. However, like Father Christmas’ helpers I always keep up the pretence that there is only one beaver. The One. The one the children are interacting with at that very moment.
This inanimate object, a £4.99 toy, has become a living entity at our school. In their minds (children AND staff) he is real. A secret, dear readers: he is not.
What is real is the effect the beaver has on them.
Keep the Faith,