Adventures in Immersion

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I had the privilege of visiting Bro Edern school in Cardiff last week. I’m not going to lie, as I was sat in the school reception it did cross my mind ‘what on earth’ was I doing as my heart began to race. I’m a linguist and very proud of it. That said, sadly, one of the languages I’m confident / fluent in isn’t Welsh. So it’s fair to say I was ever so slightly anxious about the day ahead. 

Having been greeted by the reception team so beautifully in Welsh how was I going to be able to understand what was happening and communicate when asked a question or spoken to? I felt out of my depth and very much like a fish out of water. As a confident / competent polyglot this feeling is peculiar not least because we can always ‘get by‘ using knowledge of other languages to be understood but I knew it wasn’t going to happen at Bro Edern. 

I remembered the wonderful site manager, originally from Bermondsey, had kindly collected me from the hillside car park, said in his broad non-Welsh accent to ‘not worry’ and ‘it’d be an interesting experience’, smiling throughout. He’d explained how he loved his job but hadn’t yet managed to find the time to learn Welsh other than a few words to help him through his school day. He clearly loved it here and wouldn’t dream of departing this great school nor the city that was now his beloved home. What a star he was for detecting my lack of Welsh and concerns evidently furrowing my brow.

My reasons for visiting to Bro Edern school were tri-fold; 

  1. To place myself in the position we often place our learners in, expecting learners to cope and respond positively and accurately (lets also not forget confidently) in lessons bursting in target language
  2. To see and experience how an iPad school works (that’s right no exercise books!) 
  3. To head to the Languages team to discuss all things MFL 

I’m very grateful to the team who despite; the two week notification of Estyn’s arrival at the school (good luck!), the imminent arrival of Minister for Welsh alongside two great Welsh poets, and not forgetting the BBC, had welcomed me with open arms to their school three days before the end of term. It was just another day at Bro Edern and every teacher I saw took the numerous visitors in their stride, doing what they do everyday, nothing different. It is such a pleasure to visit another school to see their daily goings on, their practice, to feel the ethos, to meet the students and ultimately to experience how things are done to challenge or reinforce my own mindset, strategies and ways of doing things. 

After a full day of observing language lessons in German and French and speaking with the MFL team I’ve come away with a few things to consider for my own classroom, department and practice notably:

  • iPad usage in my classroom and across the department – how can I get my hands on some for the team to facilitate further quizzing and gamification of key vocabulary and grammatical terms to enhance and deepen students learning whilst extending breadth? We have worked hard to update vocabulary and grammatical phrase learning and usage within our MFL team so Edtech usage with iPads could further embed this across the department. We are seeing the fruits of our labours but I’m always looking for another way to support students progress and development through interleaving and spaced practice. That said, currently we do not have iPads so this would be a new venture for us in to Edtech but an exciting project for sure. 
  • Creating booklet based resources and activities in place of KS3 text and exercise books. At Bro Edern, French and German are taught through the medium of Welsh and funnily enough resources in Welsh to teach both languages are few and far between (though where there are some they are very costly indeed). Each student does have an iPad and this can be used to create a log of learning through apps like book creator which I observed. The MFL team have worked hard to create colourful unitised booklets to support their learners which develop reading, writing, comprehension, vocabulary and translation skills. These also serve as a glossary of key vocabulary and phrases too. Huge emphasis is placed upon speaking in the target language so I saw lots of active learning, recall and repetition and students using the target (foreign) language in classrooms. 
  • I’ve been a strong advocate of eportfolios for a while where students can upload a range of tasks specifically created and set by the teacher to collate work, and evidence that supports progress in understanding and skills as well as to practise language skills. Eportfolios provide teachers with opportunities to set a range of tasks that aren’t just worksheet or text book based reading and written tasks. Of course uploading opens up the idea that this task has been published and teachers can use this as a positive strategy to encourage students to ‘go for it’ and aim for excellence.  I’m very aware that ICT infrastructure and use of personal digital devices differs significantly across schools according to policy and institution so this could be a challenge, one which I’m sure could be overcome with a meeting or two with the ICT manager, clear guidelines and understanding of use. Also we need to ensure safeguarding of online student activity and the protection of these eportfolios in these digital times.
  • How we make students feel in our lessons everyday. I’m reminded of the famous quote from Maya Angelou. I can’t underestimate the impact and depth of feeling that my visit to Bro Edern has evoked; placing myself in a situation of a student, a complete and utter novice, where 100% of the language used I couldn’t access nor understand had my anxiety levels peaked. I recall at university our French lecturer arranging for an amazing Urdu teacher to visit a session who proceeded to teach us in Urdu. None of us could speak Urdu. This visit, rather like the Urdu lesson, served as reminder to truly know your students, before planning learning outcomes and lesson activities, know what they can and can’t do; plan purposeful activities to welcome and ease students in to your target language lesson so they can achieve success unrestricted by anxiety or insecurity because they aren’t sure what’s going on or because their brains are still functioning in English or their native tongue. We need to make sure learners aren’t anxious, as I was, about language lessons in order for them to achieve success!  Of course we need to immerse learners in to the target language, I’m not saying we don’t, but we do have a responsibility to walk them in carefully and with compassion so students aren’t anxious nor stressed in MFL lessons (or indeed in any lesson) and can access the learning, recall and build on previously learned knowledge and make steps forward in understanding, knowledge and skill development also building in confidence and trust. We know that anxiety and excessive cognitive load profoundly impacts upon progress and confidence as well as student wellbeing ( let’s not forget attitude to learning and behaviour) therefore knowing your students is vital if you are to help them grow and achieve success. 

    I had a great day and was made to feel very welcome by all who work at Bro Edern, so MFL specialists who fancy a challenge, do head to a Welsh medium school and put yourself in the place of a complete and utter beginner; it’s non-stop target language and a brilliant experience. It absolutely does put you in the place of our students when we insist on 100% target language so will make you think I’m sure. I am pleased to say that I understood the German (though rusty) and the French but as for Welsh, well let’s just say I’ve a long way to go on that learning journey! 

    Thanks to all at Bro Edern for allowing me to visit. 

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    Adventures in Appreciation

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    A little reminder popped up on my timeline and it started my mind whirring all about appreciation. I like to think I appreciate the people around me but I wondered when was the last time I told them. Appreciation is one of those things that we mean to do but perhaps with the daily maelstrom of goings on and school life we just don’t show or verbalise our appreciation of others enough. 

    So from me to you to say honestly that I appreciate you and all that you do!

     1. I appreciate you if I have taught you, the full range of students in my almost 19 years to date as a qualified teacher & the 5 whilst I was training. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from you and you’ve made me smile, cry but laugh lots.

    2. I appreciate you if I was ever your head of year, you’ve made me laugh and your personal situations have made me cry and at times my heart shattered but we rode the rollercoaster of secondary school together and it was fantastic fun. And I’m incredibly proud of the wonderful people you have become. 

    3. I appreciate you if you have been a teacher colleague and worked alongside me, I’ve trusted you, shared with you,  laughed and cried with you and you’ve come through quite possibly when I’ve needed you and I couldn’t ever repay your kindnesses. You are truly wonderful. Thank you. 

    If you are a school colleague, admin or exam staff, a TA or governor, I appreciate you because it’s perfectly possible that I would not be able to do my job, teach lessons, lead my team, with out you so thank you for always being there and always being kind enough to say ‘yes’.  You are superstars. 

    4. I appreciate you if you are a teacher in another school because you have shared your wisdom and expertise willingly. Thank you. 

    5. I appreciate you if you share your stories and adventures with me and ask questions or for advice especially those of you I know from a school. It is truly a joy to see the wonderful people you have become. Equally if you have been someone who has allowed me to ask questions and advice from you, thank you. I truly appreciate how you have allowed me to learn from you and your practice. 

    6. I appreciate those of you who are friends, actually real humans who I see, catch up with, go to concerts, head to the cinema with for popcorn adventures or out to eat with. Thank you. It’s always fun.

    Being acknowledged, appreciated, valued and knowing you made a difference is a wonderful thing yet a basic need so please make sure you acknowledge and appreciate those around you who might not know how much they mean to you. You should tell them really in some way shape or form. Face to face, a text or an email might do, a handwritten note, a card, something to appreciate the people around you because upon hearing it you might actually make their day! Image via onsizzle.com 

    Adventures at Springwell.

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    An open invitation was extended about two and a half years ago by Dave Whitaker, the executive principal of Springwell Learning Community during his session at Northern Rocks and today, I finally made it there, to be amongst the students and staff. 

    Springwell is an incredible place, open, honest and true to its philosophy of giving every child and young person the best possible start in life through unrelenting, honest and highly effective use of unconditional positive regard. And I saw it, and felt it, before I even walked through the door. 

    Walking from my car there was a queue of taxis dropping students off from far and wide; the catchment area for the school is the whole of Barnsley. Every single student was welcomed with a smile and personalised salutation by vice principal Danny Ross and care team leader Luke Mitchell swiftly followed by two more adults greeting all who entered with a smile and acknowledgement. Students arrive alone or in twos, therefore this group welcome is something really quite special reminding students where they are and reimersing them back with open arms, smiling faces and compassion in their eyes. 

    After a tour around the school as students were making their way to their classrooms, settling themselves for the full day ahead, I was delighted to be delivered to Primary Class 2 and Mr Teasdale with whom I spent a marvellous day filled with adventure, heartfelt honesty, some tears but lots and lots and lots of love. Despite my arrival the students remained totally focused, entranced even, on the settling starter activity for the day whilst industrious teaching assistants prepared breakfast. 

    I’ll be honest, it’s been a little while since I was last in a primary setting so I was excitedly-nervous but the ever smiley Mr Teasdale came bounding over, welcoming me with bright, smiling eyes and warmth that you might struggle to see this close to February half term. But which I would later discover permeated through every space, flowing freely from every adult that I would meet. A surprise visitor to his class for the day and Mr Teasdale wasn’t at all phased despite being halfway through his NQT year and so very close to half term. This was a usual day and it would be business as usual. 

    Breakfast time commenced and here the class sit together and have breakfast whilst Mr Teasdale reads to them, a new and specially selected story to help inspire their minds whilst munching on toast and other breakfast goodies, made to order by the wonderful teaching assistants. One student had chosen to not take part in this morning ritual, remaining curled up on his chair and table scowling so I headed across to speak to him. He might not want to take part but I wondered if he’d let me chat to him, and happily he was. The conversation started decidedly one sided with sideward grumpy glances towards me but slowly he uncurled himself giving the occasional nod to my questions and suddenly burst in to conversation divulging his love of spiders and inviting me to see the giant tarantula residing in his home. I politely declined but having opened up I asked if he was now ready to join the others and he smiled, nodded and headed over. 

    As the last remnants of breakfast were swallowed by the students, Mr Teasdale reflected upon the previous day highlighting positives and praising effort, rewarding four students for progress made, kindness towards others and positive behaviour. A lovely start to a new working day where students are reminded of expectations but so richly and purposefully praised. The winner of the trophy for the day was rightly proud as Mr T handed over the prized possession as his classmates, utterly delighted for him, genuinely expressed their ‘well dones’.

    Next stop I found myself in a phonics lesson so I placed myself between two lads at the back. Mr T leading from the front forcing the group to make swift connections in previously learned graphemes and phonemes, building on their prior knowledge without any lost time. His expert questioning technique and wonderful manner created a purposeful, competitive yet safe environment so the students could think, have a go, thus flourish and grow extending their skills with each step. 

    Before I knew it we were moving on to drama using our voices and physicality to develop understanding of aspects of the ghost story that students would storyboard later in the day. Mr T handed the reins over and was an active member of the class, which the students loved, especially when it was time to become a terrifying zombie. Mr T made a great zombie as did several of the class. Vulnerabilities were exposed through expertly linked trust and emotion exercises yet this was a fun and memorable learning experience for all. One that students would be expected to draw upon later in the day when creating their masterpieces. Mr T and his expertly trained teaching assistants provided the support needed, to encourage students to get involved and take an active rather than merely a vocal part in the session’s activities. Each adult tirelessly cheering in support of students bravely stepping out of their comfort zones but if it became too much and vulnerabilities were exposed revealing themselves in refusal or frustration; support, care and positivity were swiftly administered perhaps even a hand held and the learning for the rest of the group never stopped. 

    Breaktime came and students were asked if they wanted to go outside or stay in, they had the choice and the staff scattered to the four winds as per the students wishes. Staff are there to support the students, there was no break for them in the staff room to catch up on last nights tv or to find out who had yet to receive a valentine’s day card. Staff are with the students from when they arrive in the morning from 8:30am until they depart around 3pm. This is what happens day in, day out at Springwell. 

    I was drawn to one lad who had chosen to stay in who was carrying a huge box full of Pokémon cards. As I headed towards him, he tentatively acknowledged my presence and let me sit beside him. As the trainee teaching assistant (in her second year and first week at Springwell ) continued preparing resources for after half term, this young man began to show us his Pokémon collection, opening up and becoming more confident as he spread out his beloved cards across the table. Despite both of us being very new to him, he welcomed us in to his Pokémon world asking if I had any cards. Sadly I didn’t but he continued to educate us regardless. I took the opportunity to ask details and the pronunciation of the names of these exotic beasts building on the phonics session earlier to which he obliged, taking time to sound out more complex and mysterious creatures. He was happy to do so overcoming anxiety in the process. He didn’t want to look daft, and bless him he tried to distract me with additional shiny cards but after a little gentle persistence, he came through. 

    Before we knew it Mr T was back and we were back on the learning train no time wasted despite protestations and some refusal, we went ever forwards not leaving anyone behind. Skilful use of music denoted the end of one activity and a flawlessly calm start to the next. The students were well versed in this quickly packing away, removing coats and heading back to their desks ready for the next phase of the day.

    For these students, transitions, the activity change and moving from one space to another are potential ‘flash points’ and extremes that any mainstream teacher might rarely see, can quickly surface. Students are dealt with swiftly yet in a way that takes them from the immediate space so learning nor their peers are distracted. This is done positively, with care and with love, to protect the individual student or others from injury or harm. After a short while, students return calm and their learning resumes, no grudges are held, no comments made, not from staff nor peers, nothing but a calm, caring and genuinely positive tone of voice and body language are used to welcome them back. When a student returns they do so when they are ready and not before, when the anxiety and upset, the tears and the adrenaline surge have dissipated. Students are never left alone in the process and the time they need is very individual but this is supported and given positively and unconditionally. 

    Throughout the day I was asked by students to assist sanding wheels to help one lad build his canon and then directed to help colour to provide appropriate camouflage for his DT project, invited to play dinosaur ludo during break, was written in to a ghost story as a sidekick, invited to bake in a small group with one of the fabulous TAs and was almost gifted a prized Pokémon card. To my surprise, I was approached by an anxious student for help, once he’d taken my hand he dove under the sink, taking me with him until he felt safe enough to return. I was also asked to go back next week by three in the class, when I told them I’d be at my own school they said I should ask my headteacher to let me off. Suffice to say I had a brilliant day, the students in Primary 2 showed superb resilience, unwavering care for one another, grit to keep going despite things not quite going their way, surprising calm when a peer became overwhelmed and enraged. Steps forward were made, they stayed in school all day and all took part in each learning activity be it reading, writing, practical DT or Elements, attending therapy sessions then quickly immersing themselves back in class to the task set. 

    These little people are incredible considering their vulnerabilities and range of extenuating and individual personal circumstances. All of this is learned through a totally immersive experience; seeing, hearing, feeling constant positivity, authentic care, incredible calm and buckets and buckets full of love. The staff at Springwell have the highest of expectations placed upon them because it’s what the children need in order to access school, a curriculum and perhaps for some, to function, which they have been unable to find in mainstream education, at home or in their experience prior to their arrival here. 

    When I first heard the term ‘unconditional positive regard’ it was three words which burst in to life and instantly had me thinking about my classroom and my students, but at Springwell you can feel it, in the classrooms and learning spaces, along the corridors through to the sensory spaces, see it in every staff members face and posture from reception and office staff through to the senior leadership team, hear it calling from kindness displays and in voices used throughout the day by all. It’s a really special place created by the amazing team of staff there in support of the very challenging and complex youngsters they spend their days with. It is abundantly clear for all to witness that the array of teachers, TAs, care workers and therapists; the entire staff believe wholeheartedly in the children and the children know that someone believes in them too and that, is quite remarkable. 

    Student voice is always important and you can always trust students to say it like it is. You know it’s a place that students love to go to, not because it’s school and they have to, but because they feel cared for, valued and loved. Whilst on sanding duty one young man shared with me that his favourite colour is ‘light blue’ and when asked to describe it further he pointed proudly to his polo shirt saying ‘Springwell blue Miss’.

    Huge thanks to Mr T and Class 2 for welcoming me in to the class, to Mr Ross and Mrs Watts for the allowing me to come in to school so close to half term, and to Mr Whitaker for extending the initial invitation to visit in his Northern Rocks session which can be seen here. I had a truly memorable and thought provoking day at Springwell and I smiled all the way back to Bristol. 

    I have one final admission, I have, of course, absolutely fallen in love with class 2 and I hope I can visit them again really soon because I just don’t think I’m going to be able to forget them. 

    Adventures in Wellbeing

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    Wellbeing is a word that is everywhere in January following the implied excesses of Christmas but as a teacher, wellbeing matters everyday of every week of every month of each term of the academic year. 

    As a middle leader it is my responsibility to ensure my team have all they need to be the amazing teachers I know them to be. I see it as my job to take good care of them so that they, in turn, can support the children that enter their classrooms as excited tutees or as eager students. For me, wellbeing goes hand in hand with knowing your staff and your students because if you know them and notice them, in your departments, in classrooms, in corridors, canteens and playgrounds and if you can find time amidst full days of lessons and learning schedules, of meetings and duties as well as the daily email onslaught you can pick up on important wellbeing issues and provide the support, care and attention required to keep staff and students happy or as happy as you can.

    Wellbeing is a serious business and is indeed everyone’s responsibility. If we take care of each other, we build strong and happy schools. Then together we can sail the ship onwards together, and it will be a happy ship, with smiles and fun, with positivity and authentic care. If we work together, as a team, we keep the climate happy, focused and purposeful and moving ever forwards. We can then be the solid support, the foundation that our more challenging students need to stabilise them daily from the turbulence of hectic home lives and fraught friendships that await them at the school gates every evening. The happy stability helps them access and enjoy a positive, happy day as learners, as children or young adults and attends to their range of needs. 

    Happy teachers and support staff in school teams will smile more and engage more if we are one team keeping an eye out for one another’s wellbeing. It won’t be a burden it’s just a thing that is done. As times in schools are ever more challenging here are five top tips for teachers and support staff to keep wellbeing at the top of the agenda.

    1. Smile
    Experiment with smiling more, smile at strangers you meet in school reception, at the colleagues you just don’t have time to talk to on the way to fulfil hectic schedules, smile at every student you pass and notice the difference when you do! No crocodile smiles please, smile like you mean it. 

    Smiling can change mood as well as mindset not only of the smile-giver but also the smile-recipient. It’s a positive boost and an injection of joy all just by using muscles in your face more! Just think – you might have been the first person to have smiled at the that person all day and what a difference you will have made. So get a smile plastered on your face! Happy times lie ahead with smiles. If you need anymore encouragement to smile, it can also reduce blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety levels which can’t be a bad thing! 

     Image thanks to http://www.pinterest.com 

    2. Focus on the positive 
    A busy day can be a ‘bonkers day’ in schools these days and if you read the news well there is little to be optimistic about so we have to seek out the positive for ourselves. If we are well, we can promote wellness and positivity but sometimes with ‘this and that’ coupled with inevitable ‘shenanigans’ of a school day it comes in short supply thus be hard to find. To combat this, I created magical moments  jars for my team and several other teachers , thanks to a brilliant idea from @musicmind to help us remember the good, brilliant and amazing things that happen daily that we struggle to remember. If you don’t have an empty jar or tin to hand it’s ok, you could just take five minutes to reflect upon your day, with a cuppa to hand of course, to think back and find one good thing per lesson or from your day. It might be as simple as a student opening a door for you, students not moaning about their new seating plan, some brilliant work from a class, praise or a thank you from a colleague or a returned smile. 

    Good things happen everyday and we just need to remember these so note them down in your planner or on your phone (in the notes section) so you can look back at half term or at the end of each week and see all the good things that have happened which I’m sure will help us all start the forthcoming weekend holiday more easily and much more positively. Image thanks to http://www.likesuccess.com 

    3. Get out of your classroom 

    We get in early, we work hard and we don’t get time for a break.. apparently that’s teaching these days but it doesn’t have to be. I regularly walk up to the top end of school from my classroom during a break or lunchtime especially on a full teaching day so I get to visit a different space. I pop to reprographics or the main office, perhaps to the speak to a member of the site team or chief librarian so I speak to another adult and have a quick chat. After which I feel refreshed and ready to continue on with the demands of the day. Image via blog.soshace.com 

    4. Get outside or look out of the window 

    School weather is cool and fresh at this time of year , with a side of frost or midday sun if you’re lucky. Do find time to stop and look outside, and appreciate your view. There is a whole world outside of your school building just waiting to be admired so get out there! Do it first thing, throughout the day or perhaps just as you are heading back to the car but get outside and pause to look around, beyond the school and breathe it in. 

    See the stunning silhouette of the school building against a exquisite skyline, see the frost starting to creep slowly across the path, and if you’re lucky you might see the school cat or fox depending on the time of day and noise levels of course. And whilst looking out of the window, away from the pc screen, or whilst outside take a photo with your mind, and breathe. Images taken by Crista Hazell

    5. Do something for someone else

    Teacherfolk are notoriously busy, but find the time to do something for someone else. It might be to make a cuppa for a colleague, sneak a chocolate bar in to their pigeon hole, to ask if anything is required from the staff room or reprographics, or if you can help someone with a specific task. It could even taking the time to say a belated ‘thank you’ to a colleague. It doesn’t have to be a huge act of kindness because the simplest of acts such as calling in on someone in their classroom to check they are ok face to face, can mean the world to the recipient because it means you have noticed, noticed them and that you care. Image thanks to http://www.myloveforwords.com 

    None of these top tips are rocket science but a timely reminder can be a good thing. Image thanks to empresaytalento.blogspot.com 

    New Year Adventures in my Classroom

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    After a fortnight of recharging, sleeping in and taking my dog for long walks, the early morning wake up call on Tuesday morning was a bit of a shock to say the least. I’d had the unsettled sleep with the usual teacher worries and the five period day that loomed as well as the ticking of the night time clock, was causing me a little concern. Like every teacher after the holidays I wanted to go back to school refreshed and smiley but it didn’t look like it was going to happen as half past midnight ticked by.

    When the alarm’s startled buzz rang in to the early morning air I couldn’t quite see the five period solid teaching day ahead of me through the frozen bleariness, but soon enough suited, heels on and defrosting the car with the gentle buzz of Radio 2 providing some welcome warmth on the journey to school I was slowly beginning to wake up. 

    Pausing over some green tea and porridge for breakfast (my New Year’s Resolution to have breakfast & drink less coffee ) in my classroom whilst awaiting the computer in my chilly classroom to power up and start its whirring allowing me to kick off the day. After the usual updates I was granted access to the joys of SIMS and email. 

    It’s fair to say that I’ve fallen immediately back in love with teaching, and my classes. I didn’t fall out of love with it I should add, but the five classes I taught yesterday and four I had today were utterly fantastic. My delightful year 7 tutor group were the first to come skipping to my classroom early to share their adventures and fun from the Christmas break; their gifts, their favourite times and their shenanigans in the frost. From caravan sleep overs, bike rides to chocolate eating contests and some very lazy mornings we have been listening intently and reliving each other’s fun times in my classroom. Its such a treat that they are willingly sharing with one another. There are more stories to share, more smiles and laughter to be had over the coming days and I’m truly grateful that the students know how lucky they are to have received the gifts, the time and the love from their families especially when there are so many stories across the world and even in our doorsteps where children’s experiences are tragically very different.  

    As if the day couldn’t get any better the five classes I taught were full of more laughter, smiles, joy and excitement as the students came bubbbling in grinning at my welcome back to 2017. I greeted them with some ‘fun with grammar’ namely the Future Tense creating New Years Resolutions recycling language learned as well some reading and translation too. Students worked hard individually and in pairs focusing on the range of challenges set, digging deep and delighting myself as well as their peers with their originality and hopes and dreams for 2017 and all in French too! What a treat! 

    I’ve been really impressed with the energy, positivity, focus and creativity of the students in the nine lessons and five year groups I’ve taught so far throughout the last two days, long may it continue! It can be challenging coming back after such an exciting break, getting routines right and remembering the basics, making those connections with students and building on strengthening relationships as well as getting back down to the business of learning but they have been ace, really brilliant and a real pleasure to teach. And just in case I needed to fall back in love with my job again, they just helped me do it. Teaching truly is the best job in the world. Happy times indeed. Image via memegenerator.net 

    Adventures in Ghanaian Classrooms

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    Reflecting on our first training sessions around 150 teachers and head teachers from both SOS and also community schools the differences between my classroom in the UK and a typical Ghanaian classroom couldn’t be more different. Truly. I’d done lots of research and @musicmind had shared with @lisajaneashes and I her footage from her trip to Tamale two years ago but nothing prepares you and when you see it with your own eyes as the Headteacher and teachers proudly show you around it’s time to put your best poker face on! 

    The teachers here share classrooms in SOS schools that have whiteboards (not the interactive ones!) a chalkboard, desks, chairs, windows covered with a mesh to stop insects and mosquitoes paying a visit and a door, which is always open. Class sizes vary between 20-25, the lack of space limiting larger classes. There is a small resource cupboard in most classrooms to store resources and ‘equipment’. They have exercise books though, bespoke ones too with the SOS values and the prayer printed, created for the children to use in all of their lessons (see images below). However there are no computers, no speakers, no laptops nor iPads or other tablets, often no teacher’s desk, no shelves, few displays, but more importantly there are fans to keep the classrooms slightly more cool in the oppressive Ghanaian heat. Think sparse, basic and functional. Below are some photos of some of the classrooms that we have seen. The teachers do the very best they can in extremely challenging circumstances that frankly you and I would have nightmares about! The daily challenges which every Ghanaian teacher faces are: cleaning the concrete classroom floor and the path outside before the school day starts, fixing the donated desks and chairs so the students have somewhere to sit (which isn’t the floor), extreme limitations of budgets, access to resources, variety of resources, the unwieldy pressure of teaching six subjects to a high standard (English, Maths, Social Sciences, General Science, Religious And Moral Education and Twi- the local language of Kumasi). All teachers teach through the medium of English which is their second language. The expertise of these teachers is incredible, the amount of knowledge they have to acquire in the three year teaching training programme is rather like that of our fabulous primary teachers in the UK. In addition to multiple disciplines, they must also have at the forefront of their minds: creating the right climate for learning so behaviour is appropriate for learning, being able to build sustainable and professional relationships with students in their care, and of course to have incredible patience akin to Mary Poppins! Oh and the incessant heat, all year round. 

    This is a privileged position to be in; the decadence of the SOS schools comparative the community schools is phenomenal. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum! It truly is! @lisajaneashes has written a post worth reading. Please take a moment to read this. Ghana – What’s the Point? – The Learning Geek

    On meeting the community teachers they are not envious of the classrooms, the range of resources nor the walls and windows in the classrooms. They are surprisingly humble, incredibly so. They are fighters though and are very clear that they want the best for their many students. In community schools class sizes could have a range of ages and up to 60 students. The classrooms in community schools vary on where you go. There are no concrete paths to lead you to classrooms simply the abundant red earth that has been carved in to paths by the teachers and children walking in their flip flops and sandals to class. Some have concrete floors others have reclaimed and recycled plywood, some have furniture, some have walls, few have windows nor the protective mesh seen in SOS schools, some aren’t classrooms at all more like a gazebo type structure. There may be a few desks or chairs or a door but certainly not enough for a class of 50 or 60. Therefore, children share the seated space, 4 sitting on a space for made for two. Quite a challenge you might say.    The community school in Asisakwa supported as part of the outreach programme. 

    The outreach work that SOS Village Schools are doing following @musicmind ‘s visit is brilliant. The teachers are just as passionate and want the best for their students but sadly there is still corporal punishment in some community schools here in Ghana. SOS schools have banned this outdated and brutal practice favouring a positive approach known in Ghana as ‘behaviour modification’, to you and I this is behaviour for learning. We had the pleasure of meeting one community Headteachers who was a delight, she was very forward thinking and fiercely proud of the teachers in her school and the connection with SOS school’s outreach programme. Yet, there were no doors in classrooms, windows with shutters, no mesh to keep the insects at bay and even fewer resources. There were students beautifully dressed in blue and white uniforms but also sat with broken boards and sharing furniture. This is the way for community schools but we have to believe that there is another way and, with the support from the outreach programme, these schools are starting to get it. The community schools which are part of the outreach programme also have to cease the punishments too, thankfully. 

    The SOS schools have access to resources which are closely guarded by the administration team, not in departmental store cupboards that you and I have. Here, there is no such luxury nor do I think it will arrive to schools in Ghana anytime soon. In the community schools, teachers often purchase items with their own money to ensure learning continues such as chalk for the dilapidated black boards, pens and paper. 

    SOS director Alex has the vision that SOS teachers and schools will identify, train and create a fabulous army of expertly trained, all star teacher leaders. They will work with community school teachers as well as SOS colleagues to improve the teaching and learning experience for all students across Ghana. An admirable aspiration and vision to make real but this journey will be long yet arduous but he has passion and drive and will make this a reality. 

    @lisajaneashes and I are in Ghana thanks to @ITLWorldwide and @WWEPuk and we look forward to developing the partnership further to support Alex to realise his vision, so that the teachers here in Ghana:

    •  become less didactic and relinquish control
    • to develop questioning styles which draw out key information about prior learning from the students in front of them
    •  to help understanding of differentiation and then to embed it
    • to integrate meaningful praise in to their repertoire which recognises effort as well as excellence but doesn’t just reward intelligence 
    • to use a wide range of strategies to help their learners be more engaged, more curious and more independent

    The teachers here have a basic toolkit and through our work here, we hope to add to this showing the teachers that there is another way. If you can help these colleagues please click on the link below: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/pedagoos4n 

    £1 is worth 5-6 Ghanaian cds (the currency not music cds!) this will buy 10 bespoke exercise books for children in school or 30 boxes of chalk. Thank you. 

    Adventures in Ghana. 

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    SOS villages Ghana is an excellent organisation centred around the many orphaned children that it serves. It’s mission; to make life better for all of the children in its care currently and in the future across the whole of Ghana in any way that they can.

    @lisajaneashes and I are here on behalf of @WWEPuk and @ITLWorldwide to meet the teachers and to help, guide and support them to become the very best they can be. Of the teachers we have met so far in Tema they are passionate about making a difference so all of their children in their classes learn well, speak well, make the progress they need to successfully complete the English, Maths, social sciences exams so that they can access a good secondary school. The better secondary schools attended by children in Ghana opens up a wide range of opportunities and thus more successful life for those individuals will be. Sadly in Ghana not all young people access the best education but it is the vision of SOS Village Schools that education is radically improved to ensure that all children have access to ‘quality education’. 

    Children coming in to a village often have suffered trauma and loss, almost certainly poverty that you and I have will have rarely encountered nor experienced. It is heartbreaking to scratch the surface and hear about some of the experiences of some children here in Ghana. The children live with a ‘mama’ the mama is in charge of up to 10 children and has two aunties to help her support, care for, love, clothes, cook and educate the children. She becomes their mother. The mamas are trained for three years they are closely monitored and supported in a variety of techniques to best help the children. The mama’s alongside the children’s educational experiences and the teachers at SOS Village Schools here in Ghana work earnestly to ensure the children understand right and wrong, have morals and values as well as good behaviour and making sure the children complete a range of chores to a high standard. The mamas are absolute angels and take their work extremely seriously leaving their own families behind to work. In Tema we had the privilege to meet Mama Juliette who cared deeply for Lisa and I ensuring that we had all we needed throughout our time there. She cooked delicious food for us and brought this from her home to ours so Lisa and I did not have to cook nor worry about doing this. We have been very well cared for by her. She welcomed us in to her heart and she will always remain in ours. 

    On Sunday evening we met her children, they greeted us with smiles, laughter and absolute joy in their eyes opening our hands with their urgent little dexterous fingers to grasp our hands tightly. The older children wanted to help us carry our things taking them from our shoulders whilst also sussing us out. The children were very interested in us and word spread like wildfire that the two visitors from England were in their midsts and suddenly we had 40-50 children who all wanted to meet us, speak to us and find out all about us and England. There was an array of children from 3 years old through to young men and women in their twenties. The older teenagers glanced from afar secretly intrigued but like all teenagers, far too cool to show it. Though after the initial mayhem of the younger children mauling and crawling over us some dared to make the break from friends and the football match to come across, their intrigue finally getting the better of them.

    Thanks to @musicmind (who shared this little gem off an app with me) I whipped out my phone and showed them YAKIT KIDS, an amazing interactive app which caused absolute delight amongst the children. To the point where so many of them wanted to create one. These children laughed hysterically as they focused on creating faces and adding their voice recordings. We had such fun, the children desperate to play with this. There are a selection of videos here: ​​​


    We had brought with us some of the pencils donated to ITL (thank you to all that sent them)  so after a short but intense while we put away the tech and wanted to get an understanding about their school experiences. We chatted to them about what the it teachers and classrooms looked, smelled and felt like initially and Lisa had the idea of encouraging those who wanted to to draw them for us. This was especially interesting as the children wouldn’t initially commit coloured pencil to paper and needed guidance or support. Lisa drew her classroom as an example and having seen this they set to work with glee. See a selection below: It is interesting that classrooms are similar with these children having access to desks, chairs, exercise books and stationery. It appears that the Victorian style of teacher at the front children sit in rows is still a feature in many classrooms across the globe. 

    The children opened up and shared their likes and dislikes about school and when questioned about their aspirations I was awestruck to hear the range of professions that the children had set their sights on. Their teachers and mamas clearly have high expectations of them and despite many of the children being of primary and junior school ages they were very clear on the direction of their lives. We heard of aspirations to be doctors, teachers and gynaecologists. I was particularly humbled to hear the response from Martha aged 13 who has set her sights on being a gynaecologist, her reasons are because the mortality rate of new born babies and their mothers are very high. She spoke purposefully about how she will care for and support the mothers along their amazing journeys to birth to ensure excellent health of the mother and the child. She went on to say that although she can learn this at university here in Ghana that it would be her dream to travel to several countries outside of Africa to learn new and modern techniques to bring back to Ghana to help other healthcare professional by cascading the training to her peers here in Ghana to further educate whilst also improving healthcare for mothers and the neonatal system in Ghana. This young lady took my breath away and the calm and quiet passion with which she spoke will stay with me for quite some time. Martha (pink tshirt, front right) with her friends and family.

    Life is hard, brutal even for orphaned children living in Ghana unless they come to an SOS Village school where they are cared for, loved and given access to a new family, healthcare and education however this is all extremely expensive and SOS Village Schools are doing the best they can with the means they have. If you would like to support the work of these big hearted professionals making a real difference here in Ghana then please follow the link below to read more and donate. One English pound is worth much much more here so even a small donation will help to change lives. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/pedagoos4n

    Also please take a moment to look at the fantastic work being completed worldwide by @WWEPuk the charity for which Lisa and I have the privilege to be working here for. http://www.wwep.org.uk/projects
    From @lisajaneashes and I as well as the children in Ghana, thank you.