School Assemblies – A Waste of Time?
We received a communication recently in connection to one of our blogs. It was in reference to a recent piece describing how well our anti bullying assembly - Stronger Than a Bully - has been received during the last year, and how we have now created a follow up program to meet the needs of schools wishing to repeat the show each year. The writer, with antagonism and totally unprovoked belligerence, cast aspersions, denigrated the reliability of client reviews, and demanded empirical evidence proving that the show had been effective in preventing bullying. Wow! Given that the writer had, apparently, never even seen the show, we can only assume he or she was having a bad day.
The truth is that people looking to school assemblies to take the place of good teachers or solid parenting, are absolutely bound and determined to fail. There is no way to accomplish that job in a 45 minute assembly program regardless of how good we may be.
In fact, there are many school administrators around who feel that school assemblies are nothing but a total waste of time, a frivolous diversion from essential time on task. We hear from such individuals periodically, and can only marvel at how firmly rooted this misconception can be.
Certainly, there are school assemblies that would accurately meet this belief. While simple magic shows and jugglers are undoubtedly fun, they offer nothing to advance the educational process, and do, indeed, take time away from teaching for what is, essentially, nothing but entertainment.
However, to group all school assemblies under the same banner is to make a serious mistake.
Children learn in many different ways. There are different “centers of learning” within our brains. Some people are naturally good with social skills. Others excel in math and numerical constructs. Some enjoy an innate command of spacial relationships, or physical agility. As we grow into adults, we all, hopefully, find our way into careers where our natural skills allow us to succeed. But precious few individuals are equally blessed in all of these areas. In fact, about the only time we are required to be good at all areas is in school. Hence, in school, we may run across the girl who is painfully shy and totally lacking in athleticism, and yet is an honor student in math or languages. Or, we may encounter the boy who is athletic and socially popular but cannot figure out a math problem to save his life.
Most everyone has skills in some area. Psychologists, in attempting to aid students with learning difficulties, have advocated seeking out the areas where the struggling student is proficient. Once identified, that area may be bolstered, thus raising the self esteem of the child. As their self image improves, their ability to see themselves succeeding in other areas also increases. And with that vision comes success itself in those other areas. So, counterintuitively, the best way to help someone improve in math or reading may well be to focus on sports or friendship first.
Learning is seldom linear.
And so it is with school assemblies.
Educational school assemblies, such as those lovingly crafted and performed by the individuals at Mobile Ed Productions, and other equally dedicated companies, are, indeed, capable of actually teaching many things to young people. We often hear from teachers and staff, with whom we remain in communication following a show, about how their students were so captivated by a program that they talked about it for weeks and months afterward. We hear, for example, of the young girl who watched our Chemistry show and then went off to produce an award winning science project. We hear of the young boy who could repeat facts about the life of Abraham Lincoln for years following our show.
But, as gratifying as these remarks may be to us, we labor under no misconception regarding our own impact. Truly teaching is for teachers. It is a day in, day out grind with which our flashes of excitement cannot compete.
But on another level, school assemblies do augment the process, and sharpen the results, in ways classroom teachers usually cannot replicate.
How many elementary schools have an actual planetarium? How many have the resources to demonstrate the three states of matter using liquid nitrogen? How many can motivate students to want to write the way the promise of seeing their stories performed by a professional mime can? Or summon the mesmerized attention and respect commanded by an outstanding actor in full costume, bringing to life such iconic figures as Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison?
We encountered a situation a year or so ago, where, during a performance of our planetarium, a young boy was called upon to answer a question, and proceeded to answer not only correctly, but in a manner that demonstrated a clear understanding of what had been covered to that point in the show. Not unusual. Except that in this case, the boy had a learning disability and he normally never, ever spoke. Not at all. Not ever. The teachers were dumbfounded. The other students were awed. Something in the experience of the planetarium touched something in that boy and produced a breakthrough. We have come across similar situations many times, and with other programs. The fact is that sometimes the activities offered by truly good school assemblies will provoke an incredible result in select students.
But there is always a less dramatic but none the less important result for the entire audience. When a great school assembly plays before an audience, the students in that audience are shown that the topic of the assembly, whether it is science or history, or bullying, is important and that it is interesting. And they return to their classrooms, excited and eager to discuss what they saw, and to learn more. The better the show, the longer this effect will last. Sometimes it lasts for days, sometimes weeks, and sometimes for years. We routinely hear from young parents approaching us to bring the Sky Dome to their school so that their own children can experience the same excitement and wonder that the parents still remember from when they were children and the planetarium came to their school. They still remember, some twenty years or more later!
I recently had a conversation with a school principal about our Young Authors Day. In this program, the presenter performs stories for students then challenges them to write their own. Later that day, to the absolute delight of all, the presenter performs the stories the children wrote that morning. The principal I spoke to could not understand the value of the program. He could see the value of the introduction and the writing process, but could not understand why the children needed to be brought back for the "entertainment" of seeing the stories performed. I tried to explain it to him but he just did not "get it". He would not give up the afternoon "time on task" for what he considered a waste of time. What he failed to understand is that in this program the afternoon is the key to the entire program. Any good teacher can explain the writing process, and any good teacher can help implement that process. But the prospect of seeing the stories performed provides the motivation that students need in order to want to write. It sets the spark that causes the students imaginations to begin work. It excites them about the work!
In essence, what we are doing here, is using a school assembly like a can opener, only instead of opening cans, we are opening minds. Young, excited curious minds, now eager to learn more about the Earth, or the stars, or a long dead president. We show them that learning can be fun!
And, when it comes to bullying, the same is true. Does our show really prevent bullying? Do any of our shows prevent bullying? Or anyone else's? Well, that would be a stretch. But in 45 minutes, using concepts worked out through laborious trial and error by an acclaimed child psychologist, our program does, without doubt, raise awareness of what bullying is, and what we mean when we discuss it. We definitely aid children in learning to identify behavior that is bullying by nature. And we delineate a series of techniques designed to allow children to deal with bullying, constructively, when it is encountered, and thus to avoid becoming victims themselves. What they do with this information after we leave … well, that is up to the school and the teachers and the children themselves. Our job is to raise awareness, and point to a positive direction for constructive change. And that we do. Without doubt. Every day, and in every show.
How often do you see the light of understanding suddenly illuminate the face of a child?
We see it every day. Hundreds of times. Thousands of times a week. Millions of times a year.
Are school assemblies a waste of time? You can think that if you choose. But if you do, you will be wrong.
Plain and simple.
You will be wrong.
Geoff Beauchamp is the Regional Manager of Mobile Ed Productions where "Education Through Entertainment" has been the guiding principal since 1979. Mobile Ed Productions produces and markets quality educational school assembly programs in the fields of science, history, writing, astronomy, natural science, mathematics, character issues and a variety of other curriculum based areas. In addition, Mr. Beauchamp is a professional actor with 30 years of experience in film, television and on stage. He created and still performs occasionally in Mobile Ed's THE LIVING LINCOLN