This week we ended our very successful Seachtain na Gaeilge with a special assembly in which children performed The Haka ‘as Gaeilge’ and sang the school song of the week “Óró sé do bheatha bhaile”. It was a fitting end to a great celebration of our culture and sent everyone off in high spirits to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with their families.
For most schools assemblies are a very important occasion. It has even been said that a high quality school assembly is one of the most important aspects of a school’s curriculum. It is a well-known fact that children learn more effectively in an atmosphere of mutual respect, where they are considered to be of value as learners. All of our staff endeavour to provide this atmosphere at all times but the school assembly is the weekly opportunity for the whole school, staff and children, to come together as community, to share achievements and stories and to nurture a positive school ethos, where children feel valued and respected and where they feel a sense of belonging to a larger group. Assemblies are opportunities to capture the characteristic spirit of the school and a chance for children to take responsibility for different aspects of school life as the various student committees report on their activities to the general school population. Assemblies are an important part of building our school ethos and are therefore a very important part of school life in RETNS.
Assembly time in RETNS is a calm, happy, yet purposeful space where there are high expectations in terms of behaviour and children reach these expectations through self-discipline. There is nothing more rewarding than to see a full hall of 223 children sitting quietly listening and responding appropriately, simply because they want to. Through our achievements and ethos based assemblies, through sharing of work and performing for an audience, children develop a heightened awareness of others, an appreciation of the achievements of other children as well as of their own, and it can be an experience which raises self-esteem for children. In our school, staff make an enormous contribution to the assemblies through their presence and active participation, and by their positive attitude and high expectations of the children.
Our assemblies take the form of two whole school assemblies, one senior assembly and one junior assembly each month. One of the whole school assemblies is dedicated to ‘achievements’, where those nominated for the achievements book for the month are given their ‘moment of glory’ for a particular achievement, whether it be academic, social, reaching a personal goal, an outside school achievement or award, or in fact anything that shows that a child is striving for excellence and is making progress along the way. As well as honouring those who have made great efforts in the month, the achievements assembly is also an opportunity for all children to listen to how others got into the achievements book, to appreciate the efforts of others and, particularly for the younger children, to know what we aspire to as a school.
Our other whole school assembly is very often a celebration of school community achievement such as participation in initiatives such as COW/WOW/SOW day, Walking Bus, the great work done towards our biodiversity green flag or participation in student led events. In some instances guests will come to assembly to highlight the children’s achievements, as when they raise money for charity, and this is an acknowledgement of their concern for others outside their immediate school community. At these assemblies also, our various student committees can report back to the whole school on what they have been involved in, or they can introduce an upcoming initiative.
Our senior and junior assemblies give opportunities for children to showcase some of the work they have been doing during the month. This assembly can be an information session where children present learning, often using ICT, to inform others on particular topics, or it can be a poem, a song (as Bearla nó as Gaeilge) or a drama. Whatever the medium, it is children performing for children, and is very special. For the junior children, their monthly assembly is also ‘birthday assembly’, when those whose birthday falls during the month get their special birthday pencil and have ‘Happy Birthday’ sung for them. Of course, those whose birthdays fall in the summer holidays are not forgotten!
Occasionally there are ‘themed’ assemblies, such as at Halloween, when parents/guardians are invited to join the celebration, or there have been invitations to tin whistle recitals after a particularly amazing year’s work. On some occasions parents working in the school may just pop in! Last year we had the summer concert assembly and watch out for something different this year!
On a personal note, school assemblies are the highlight of the week for me as Principal in that they provide an opportunity to check in with everyone, build relationships, see and hear the achievements of our very talented and hard-working children and to celebrate our vibrant school community. Just recently a joint document from Department of Health, Department of Education and HSE listed ten actions to promote the well-being of a school community. The top two actions are:
Developing and maintaining a safe, caring culture and climate within the school where a sense of belonging and connectedness is fostered
Building positive relationships between teachers and children to promote participation, social interaction and pro-social behaviour
School assemblies can go a long way in developing those actions. Assembly is a half hour each week which, in my opinion, lays the foundation for so much more.