I dare not count the number of assemblies I have sat in during my career so far. Definitely not more than I have had hot dinners, but lots. Unsurprisingly, there have been a few duff ones but also some powerful ones. But let me take you back first of all.
When I started teaching, assemblies were seen as a way for the Head or Deputy to take the whole school and give the teachers a bit of time (no PPA in those days). A story was shared or a few songs sung. On a few occasions, the whole school was brought together at a moments notice for a telling off about the latest dangerous behaviour in the playground at lunchtime.
In one school I taught in (we are talking early nineties here) two teachers sat on the benches at the back reading their papers. No one batted an eye lid.
Once, a vicar was taking assembly and asked the children what three letter word they thought he was here to talk to them about, and then proceeded to say it wasn’t S-E-X. Year 6 couldn’t contain themselves.
I have cried only twice in assemblies, for totally opposite reasons. Luckily for me at the time, I had long hair and could dip my head so it covered my face. In the first instance this didn’t really help as I was shaking, trying to hold the laughter in. The school had introduced teachers taking one assembly a year (separate from a class sharing assembly). This particular teacher was talking to the children about the desert and how inhabitable it was. He was talking about how camels had adapted to the habitat and there it was…”Did you know….a camel can get by on one hump a month”!
The second assembly that reduced me to tears was at a different school, my current one. The Headteacher was a musician and the children were beautiful singers. She had been teaching them a particular song for a few weeks and, although not perfect yet, she decided to go for the whole song. This was a gamble as, although it fitted perfectly with the theme of the week, there was an OFSTED Inspector sat at the side (the tears were not O related). The assembly was going well and then she asked the children to sing Deep Peace and they did. Beautifully angelic. I wasn’t the only one with leaky eyes.
There is one other assembly that sticks in my memory, and 10 years later the staff who were in the hall still talk about it. The HT was out, it was Hymn Practice and the only other teacher who knew how to “play” took assembly (no Every School CDs then). We were learning Easter songs. The teacher was very nervous but started us off with what turned out to be a very quick version of We Have a King Who Rides a Donkey. This was comical enough in its own way but is now etched in our minds forever because at the start of the second verse, a young boy in the middle of the hall started bouncing along to the tune, pretending to ride a donkey. He kept it going for the whole song, totally oblivious to everything else.
I have to admit that in my first years of teaching I didn’t really fully understand the power of assemblies. In fact, class sharing assemblies were a nightmare. They became an unspoken of competition between staff – who could come up with the best ideas, who could put on the most lavish production, who could make their assembly last the longest (50 minutes, this for a class assembly, although a Science Week whole school shared one did last an hour and a half), you get the idea.
There are some things that happen in assemblies, you know they will, but you are in a Catch 22 situation.
A child coughs. It has a domino effect, some mimicking, some just coughing. Do you mention it or raise your voice above the coughing and carrry on regardless? Either way, more coughing will ensue.
Velcro shoe fastenings are the nemesis of those leading assembly, especially when Reception are in. One does it, you silently indicate to them to stop whilst keeping the flow, then some others do it, just because they can.
Wind breaking (enough said).
Rude words being sung in defiance by one child (usually, but not exclusively) which sends a ripple of giggles from the children and a collective frown from any staff who hear it.
However as Deputy, but mainly as Acting Headteacher (I have done a few stints in this role), I now truly “get” the role of assemblies. They are all part of the bigger picture in terms of setting the tone, sharing vision and expectations with all the children, a chance to inspire, ask the big questions, create moments of awe and wonder for the whole school but most of all to celebrate us, as individuals and as a collective, the school and everyone who makes it what it is. I love taking assembly and then experiencing follow up conversations with the children throughout the day/week.
A final thought…a whole school singing session does wonders for the soul.