You can learn a lot about people over a dinner table.
The Headteacher and I regularly eat dinner together in our school hall with the children. Not only does it give us the chance to catch up, it allows us to get to know the pupils in a different context.
Mealtimes should be social. Over the May half-term break I was in New York and in a restaurant with my wife I was surprised at how close the tables were to each other. Despite my initial reservations I found it a very enjoyable meal. We shared recommendations on menu choices (in fact we even shared our pudding with the table behind us), discussed our favourite cuts of beef with the table on our right (just for reference a rib-eye beats a filet mignon for me) and to our left, my wife interrupted a date between an American woman from New Jersey and a man from London to tell her that Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels wasn't a 'girly movie.'
To this couple on their second date, I can only apologise for my wife's untimely interruption; to the woman I can only apologise for your dates' subsequent behaviour and representation of Britain!
I've been reading a lot about our pupils being regarded as 'statistics' or 'products' rather than as individuals in their own right. Rightly or wrongly, whilst we have a target-driven system of accountability, there is no getting away from this. So how do we, as teachers, redress this balance? How do we ensure that, as well as making good or better progress, we give these children something more, something they want or need? Most importantly, how do we even know what it is they want or need?
My answer to this is, in part, the lunch table - the great equaliser. Pupils and staff eat the same food, everyone sits together until the vast majority have finished. There is no bolting down of food as quickly as possible in order to maximise time on the playground (or in the classroom). I value this time because it gives me the chance to speak to children I would not necessarily come across on a day-to-day basis; it allows me to ask the pupils how their day is going and pick up any areas of concern that may be bubbling under the surface before they become issues; it allows me to get to know the pupils in a way I would not have the opportunity to otherwise.
So my message is simple - take 15 minutes and eat lunch with the pupils. You may be surprised what you learn!
This blog was originally written for the Kent Teach Blog on 3rd June 2013.