This week we are thinking about …
A tradition unfolds at Gordon Infants' School
Editor's Note: The title 'collective worship' (as opposed to 'corporate worship') is taken by many as a reminder that this activity should be guided by educational principles. But what of the long tradition of worship found in the various religious traditions? What relevance to schools do religious practices have?
In one of his many seminal articles on school worship, Professor John Hull talks about how the school's task can be to "transmute" what is found in a religious context into educational terms. In this sense, 'prayer' can become 'time for reflection', and so on.
The practice of intercessory prayer – praying for the needs of others – is firmly embedded within many Christian traditions. In its work of encouraging a sympathetic understanding of others, how – in John Hull's terms – can a school 'transmute' this practice to fit its own life and work?.
Jill Tilley, Headteacher of Gordon Infants' School in Redbridge, describes how this challenge has been both met and developed in her multi-ethnic school.
Having developed and established what we believe to be the right ethos and pattern for our school assemblies, we felt the need to expand into the wider school community and its needs. We also wanted to encourage a sense of reflection and thought about others.
Therefore, once a week – usually on a Friday when the whole school is assembled – we have a time at the end of assembly when we light a special candle (reserved for this purpose) and think about members of the school community. We interpret 'community' in its broadest sense, to include pupils and ex-pupils, members of staff and families.
In order to prepare for this special time, members of staff or children can fill in a "This week we are thinking about …" slip. In practice, it is usually staff who complete the slip, with parents or children asking them to do it. The slips are then brought to the front of the assembly and read out by staff, as the gathering gazes at the candle.
Examples of things that there are requests for everyone to think about are: a new baby; someone who is ill; a death in the family; a new child to the school; a new member of staff; special achievements; all our Muslim families at the beginning of Ramadan; a new pet; and the death of a pet.
The slips are then pinned on the assembly board in the area marked 'This week we are thinking about …'. The children are encouraged to read the slips as they pass by the board during the week, and so be aware that some children may be feeling sad, and so on.
But what is to be done about the previous week's slips?!
We hadn't really considered this in our original planning until someone asked the question – and then it seemed an obvious thing to ask. We felt that they shouldn't simply be thrown away and so decided to stick them in a book so as to store them with due respect. However, this became unmanageable as there was never enough time to keep it up to date. So – we now have a large, shiny silver box and, as the slips come down from the assembly board, they are posted into it . The box is visible as part of the assembly display.
But what will happen when the box is full … ? And so the practice evolves.