Advice to those leading assemblies
by the Reverend John Harley

Before we look at ideas for making assemblies effective and memorable, let us briefly consider why assemblies are necessary for a school or college community. We're all going to have our different ideas about this question but here are some general ones:

Assemblies can:

  1. Provide a time of reflection and calm at the beginning of an increasingly intense school day.
  2. Help focus the school community on aspects of school life, religious and secular festivals, local and world events.
  3. Provide learning opportunities on issues of ethics, morals, values and beliefs.
  4. Unite the whole community in quality time together.
  5. Celebrate the achievements of children and staff.
  6. Provide pupils of all cultures and faiths with the chance to feel included and valued.

Some valuable ingredients to consider while creating an assembly:

  1. Begin in style. How we begin an assembly is so important in focusing the attention of the children or young people and setting the whole tone of our time together. It can be very effective for the children to file into the chosen space in silence. The leader can start with some inspirational words or some music. It is crucial to stress that an assembly provides a different way of being and interacting for the community - therefore this quality time needs to be framed carefully. To start an assembly with notices about the lunch queue can be a missed opportunity!

  2. Here's one I made earlier! Participation can be, of course, a key to a really brilliant assembly. A group of children can prepare a drama sketch, artwork, or story before the assembly and make a presentation. The more children are actively involved the better and the greater the impact of the message. An extra dimension is for the leader to ask questions and invite the children to participate spontaneously.
  3. Mind the gap!Assemblies can offer us opportunities for encouraging children and young people to reflect on their lives and learn how to calm themselves. Allow time for silence (how often do any of us build some moments into our day to be still and quiet?), meditation - this can take the form of a prayer or a poem - and listening to music. Don't shy away from using prayers from different religions - just be careful to achieve a good balance so that over the school year a diverse range of faiths and beliefs is explored. Children are inherently open-minded - let us keep them so by showing a respect for different beliefs.
  4. Rediscovering ritual. Our lives are jam-packed with secular rituals: queuing, giving flowers to one another, going on demonstrations, going through airport security! Assemblies are an ideal setting to show children the power of rituals in our daily lives. Rituals do not have to be essentially religious - they can be simple exercises that develop a sense of community, sharing and trust. Some examples may include dressing a tree of life (children write wishes/hopes on leaves made of paper and decorate a rubber plant or an image of a tree) and celebrating the beauty of colour (bowls are passed around - each person chooses a small piece of fruit, places it in the palm of the hand and everyone eats collectively - like a communion). Also offering the peace or saying the word Namaste, a Hindu blessing (participants shake the hands of a few people around them wishing them peace and well-being).
  5. Images speak louder than words. Try and use visual aids, images and symbols as much as possible.
  6. Hitting the funny bone! Humour can bring us joy, inspire us, help us remember, and unify us.
  7. Once upon a time. Storytelling is an ancient, incredibly liberating and life-changing ingredient for our assemblies. Stories can be, by their very nature, hugely inclusive and accessible to all. Some of the strongest stories will allow people of all ages to have an 'aha' moment as they can be understood and enjoyed on many levels.
  8. Melody-maker. Music making is a powerful experience through which human beings since the beginning of time have found unity and one-ness. Children's musical talents can be expressed, music on CD can be played and appreciated and all can sing together. Out of the Ark Music has produced some excllent songs for school communities based on a variety of topics - from self-esteem to harvest.
  9. End on a high. Think carefully about the ending. It is important to retain some of the atmosphere and sense of community gained during an assembly as pupils file out. One can use music or silence to keep minds focused while everyone leaves.