Head to Head

Why my office is like Santa’s Grotto

It was the night before Christmas, well not really.  It was the night before Christmas begins in every Primary School - the start of December. Always such an exciting and busy time in the school calendar. Assemblies usually filled with messages of joy and goodwill to all, and Christmas songs aplenty complete with humour and actions as well as the classics. Usually, not only the countdown to Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve, but also to his visit to the school and to classrooms.  The Nativity which all parents love is usually complete with that moment of pure delight when the angel sings a wee solo or that moment we all remember when the shepherd vomits on his sheep and into the manger, yes that story that will be brought up at Fraser’s 18th birthday by Nan. The fun, the laughs, the feeling of community...but maybe not this year...     

I was sitting observing in my probationer’s class, a writing lesson, where the introduction task was to use emojis to describe the story and it got me thinking. How would I describe the last period of time with emojis...would it be the tired one, the sleepy one, the one with the mask, or maybe even the that suggests the character has lost the plot. I asked the children in the group I was beside what emoji would describe school.  They were, as children always are, more positive.  Despite that, what was apparent was the lack of excitement.  Yes children are delighted to be at school but with no assemblies, no after school clubs, certain playground areas, we needed to bring the fun and excitement back to December.  It was important we do this for the staff too. I have an amazing staff team, as most schools do, who deserve huge applause for how they have all have handled the pandemic to ensure children feel as normal as it is safe to do so.  That is a difficult job, I don’t see an adult in the school who does not look more tired than they have ever done before.  They are ready for their holiday. That being said, we must not let that take away the festive period.      

First step, bring on the decorations.    

As one of my P7 pupils regularly states, “Mr Cunningham, go big or go home”.  As my colleagues will tell you, since I was a probationer I have enjoyed decorating my classroom and that hasn’t changed even as a Headteacher. This year, ensuring it was still Covid compliant, I wanted my office to officially be known as Santa’s grotto.  I can assure you, the gasps of excitement, the giggles, the oh mys, the wows, are worth every hour it took to pull it together. Children (and staff) from P1 to the ‘coolest’ P7 does not walk by without a smile beaming on their face. Yes, it is quite possible some think I’m mad but all demonstrate their inner excitement about the magic of Christmas. Not everyone will have an eight foot inflatable snowman, an inflatable Santa Winnie the Pooh, Kevin the Carrot with a Santa hat or indeed a Christmas projector in their office, but everyone should have something to mark the excitement of this time of year.      

One of my teachers described how we are feeling recently perfectly to me. “It’s like we are in the movie Groundhog Day. We wake up, we come to the four walls, we return to another four walls. Nothing in between, nothing to excite us. We don’t even have retail therapy”.  She laughed but she was right.  We have been separated from each other – our family and friends, even from the children in our classrooms and from our colleagues. Some staff members don’t see each other for weeks on end due to bubbles and staggered breaktimes and different staff areas. We come to work, we love our work, but recently it feels like we repeat each day over and over, learning more and more about the pandemic or how we can improve our risk assessments.     

Let us make December more than Groundhog Day, let us challenge ourselves to make December fun again.      

We can’t sing or attend assemblies, so buy in an online pantomime.  

We can’t perform to parents and carers, so each class prepares a performance for their families using the online platforms.  

We can’t be together, so let’s do a whole school project of every class creating a Christmas movie frieze. Very creative, very exciting and may result in being a ‘Guess the Movie’ school Twitter feature.   

We can’t showcase our talents, let’s do an online talent show with the top performance broadcast to the rest of the school with the votes tallied just like the Eurovision Song Contest with a live result show broadcast from every classroom and scores counted up.   

Santa can’t come to the Christmas party, but he can visit the school and let you know from the corridor that his elves have left a wee gift in the teacher’s cupboard for all the children in the class.     

And of course, celebrate with Christmas jumpers and Christmas lunch. Yes, they may need to be different but still do them! The children need this! The staff need this. You reading this need this! Life is too serious at the moment and full of anxiety. We can’t be in control of everything, that is a given, but we can control if we do something to make us or others smile, to appreciate each other, to laugh. Give yourself, the children and your school community an 8 foot snowman...or simply the chance to stop, appreciate the moment and have fun. You deserve it!   

Jonathan Cunningham

National Executive member