It's that time of year when Primary 7 pupils all over the country start thinking ahead to all of the events and activities that come with the territory of being 'top of the school', and since the 90s has usually included a residential trip or some sort of outward-bound experience.
Alas, I am of the generation where that kind of thing only happened in American movies. We spent summer lunchtimes of P7 running around the playground with American accents being the Sweet Valley Twins or Zac and Kelly from Saved by the Bell (actually, I was usually Screech).
With lingering Covid restrictions, many residential trips seem to have taken a hit again this year. Cost increases and limited insurance options have meant that what had become a traditional 'coming of age' experience is just not possible. Having experienced residential trips as a pupil in secondary school and as an early career primary teacher, I have lived the true value of such endeavours. Witnessing the camaraderie among pupils and staff and the long-lasting impact of this, which lingered on in the classroom through to the end of the school year; being humbled by the peer support on show when a classmate (or teacher) struggled, shouts of "You're already higher than the last time!", "Pretend the water's warm!" or "It's ok, peacocks don't eat people" (that one at Castle Toward in Dunoon) dished out with true passion and a desire for others to succeed, followed by a hearty, collective pat on the back provided immeasurable scaffolding for many a youngster's self-esteem. I regularly "had something in my eye".
Not having my own family back then, I felt privileged to play the 'mammy' when homesickness set in, the dorm ghost stories were a little too vivid, or the entire week's spending money had been invested in a midnight feast of such magnitude that more than one sick bowl was required. This pastoral role, a fundamental part of the job, transforming into more of a natural instinct through these shared encounters.
Having said this, I don't think we need to woe the (temporary) loss of such experiences. Let's look on the bright side and consider how we can facilitate the opportunity for our children to develop some of the same skills, mindset and reap similar benefits through shared transition activity.
Will our children greatly benefit if we rush in to organise activities, mini mortar boards and trips by limo? Let's face it, it won't do them any harm but is there an alternative approach that can be used to empower our young people, whilst ensuring they still make #memories?
SES firmly believes that enterprise education is one approach which can provide all of this. Enterprise education as a pedagogy, sees the adults as facilitators of learning who support and encourage our students to develop the skills for success in learning, life and work: crucial skills and competences like problem solving, collaboration, creativity and resilience, to name but a few. The goal is to empower our learners with a 'can do' attitude that they can apply now in their education; as well-rounded individuals in their lives outside of school, adding value to their families and communities; and, eventually as enterprising members of the workforce, driving positive change and maintaining a curiosity to learn and develop whilst caring for others and the environment.
Perhaps your class would enjoy a bit of 'blue-sky' thinking to generate some alternative end of year activities? Encourage them to think positively about how we can make their ideas a reality, consider how to overcome barriers (fundraising, use our network of contacts, reach out to local businesses etc.) With collective ownership of the planning, pupils will be motivated and engaged to bring their project to life and will be continuously learning and growing throughout the process as well as benefitting from the end experience.
Think of the added value with a Learning for Sustainability focus. Is there a more environmentally friendly alternative to that balloon arch? (With Insta-worthiness comes great responsibility). Does everyone have an equitable role to play in decision-making? Where are our bulk Amazon purchases of photo frames and plastic Oscar award statues actually coming from?
Such projects can be greatly enhanced if we also include Financial Education. Sticking to a cost per head, negotiating discounts, considering how best to keep outgoings down and acknowledging that the cost of the school day is a huge burden to some - Primary 7s are aware of these things but do we always let them take on the responsibility to do something about it? We all know that children are expert negotiators: who better to put on the phone to drive a hard bargain? Yes, we could support a local cake making business, but could we save money by making our own? Experience has taught me that they would prefer to get their sleeves rolled up and it's undeniable that baking is another valuable learning experience. Who is it that places value on expert icing and uniformity of appearance? I'm not sure the kids do.
Let's take a step back. Give your children the opportunity to decide what is meaningful to them and give them the time and space to see if they can make it happen. Nurture a supportive environment where no idea is silly, mistakes are simply 'First Attempts In Learning', things happen through collaboration, and witness the impact of adjusting your role from 'leader of learning' to 'facilitator of learning'.
And don't forget to let us know how you get on. We'd also love to hear about the impact on you as a practitioner - we know enterprise education deeply benefits learners, but a little bird (not a peacock) told us that it often has lasting positive effect on the teachers too!