Colouring conversation

Colouring Club meets from three o’clock to four o’clock on a Wednesday. Like the advertisement goes, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Students gather for an hour to sit and colour and to chat with their friends. Colouring Club attracts students from across the school population.

Wandering into the classroom where they meet one Wednesday afternoon in the spring, I saw one of the Year 11 students. It would have been hard to have imagined a more unlikely person to be there than the young man sat by himself at the back. With a colouring sheet and a handful of felt-tipped pens, he was a picture of serenity. Built like a prop forward from a rugby scrum, and with a beard that would have allowed him to pass as ten years older, the sixteen year old seem to be someone who enjoyed defying any stereotype that might have been applied to him.

The warmth of the summer sunshine means students are less inclined to stay inside for such a sedentary activity. On Wednesday, when I took Colouring Club for a colleague, there were only five students, a small group of girls from Years 7 and 8.

”Taking Colouring Club” is an overly grand description of an hour spent presiding at the gathering, having conversations with those present, and offering opinions on the appropriate colours for unicorns or rabbits. (The preferred choice for unicorns seems to be rainbow sequences or Elmer-like chequered hides, perhaps explaining why unicorns seem even rarer than heretofore: how would those raised on the idea of unicorns being white recognise an equine multi-coloured beast as a unicorn?)

Taking colouring club offered opportunities for conversations in which to take seriously the comments and opinions of those present.

It is odd that people of twelve and thirteen years old are often not treated as though what they say is worthy of respect, as if their age means that anything they may say must automatically be disregarded. Is it imagined that young people undergo some instant transformation at some point? Is it assumed that at a particular age, presumably eighteen, young people instantaneously are transformed from being youths whose words can be ignored to being young citizens whose votes must be courted?

In the early-1970s, adults were probably even more aloof than now, but I recall that those whom I respected the most were those who talked to me as though my opinion mattered. Colouring Club taught me that having those conversations should be a priority in my life as a teacher.

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