I will admit to being one of those annoying parents. We have an elf that visits. Tiny-ificent (it’s better just to go with the name rather than take up a whole blog post to explain it) is in his 3rd year of visiting us. In that time he has built DVD mountains to climb the Christmas tree, written “Ho Ho Ho” on the bathroom mirror in toothpaste and had a full on cotton wool snowball fight with the toys. He has also sat on various radiators, shelves and cupboards and been loudly cursed at after midnight when I have locked the doors, snuck a last chocolate button from the tin, turned off the lights and settled down to sleep and then remembered that he is still happily perched in last night’s position. At those times I question why I do it, why I ever bought the extortionately, badly written, twee book with the slightly creepy elf and tied myself to this now firmly established Advent tradition. I certainly am not one to follow the crowd and I did not have extra money spilling out of every pocket. The answer is simple. I did it because I knew how much my children would enjoy it.
This year there appears to be somewhat of a social media backlash towards “elf mums”. In a world where Christmas is swallowed up in consumerism and media people may argue that those who have bought into this are merely satisfying a trend. Perhaps so. However, it could be argued that surely whatever families choose to do as their own traditions for Christmas is their business and no one else’s?
This race to the big day comes at the end of my first 6 week placement. The bundle of learning, planning and reflecting passed like a whirlwind encompassed by 25 little voices, all equally different, all needing just as much of my attention and time. Now, with the added invaluable benefit of hindsight, I am left with a resounding thought. What is more important – to follow my gut instinct as a teacher or to follow the crowd? Of course I fully accept that in a world of experienced teachers who have been there, seen it and done it they are the experts. These people know their stuff and anyone who hears advice from anyone in the job and disregards it, is foolish and arrogant. However, it is imperative that as teachers, we are not merely replicating what others do because that’s what they say is a good idea. Throughout my placement I realised the most important thing to do with that knowledge and advice was to take it, reflect on it and apply it to my own brand of teaching.
As one of my goals, I wanted to really get to grips with Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. By my 4th week, I still wasn’t fully happy with them and had a chat with one of the staff members who advised me to go back to Clarke’s WALT and WILF explanations. She talked of using a character as a “way in” to the learning. Hence Brigadier WALT and pirate WILF were born and for the last two weeks my learning contexts were created in the story world of the two characters.
Before understanding how the advice of the experienced teacher could work for me, I had to reflect on what skills I had, where the gaps were in my own understanding and most importantly, what direction I wanted to take the children. It is a vital lesson that I will take forward not only to my second and third placements, but throughout my teaching career – how to apply advice properly. I would like to think I have now learned the difference between hearing about or seeing other professionals wonderful ideas and applying them to my own classroom in my own way and merely copying something directly because it is the “done thing” without really thinking through the implications for the children I am teaching.
As for Tiny-ificent, it reminded me why I had joined in the “elf craze” in the first place and why I will make decisions to start traditions whether in my own class or home. It will never be because other parents and teachers are doing it. It will only ever be because I see some intrinsic value in it. Even if the value is something as simple as a six and eight year old flying out of their beds in the morning and experiencing the pure joy on their faces or something more profound such as the child who doesn’t often speak out asking to try to read the pirate message left coincidentally in front of their desk in the bottle over lunch time. It may sound the idealistic musings of a student teacher, but I do believe that the children should be at the heart of each experience.