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. 

Hook them in to learning! #PedagooHampshire16

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Having almost completed a single rotation of a new two week timetable, I’m still smiling. Smiling because being in the classroom with students is totally and utterly brilliant. I’m one of those people who loves it passionately and misses it immensely during the school holidays. I am also one of those people who, despite starting their 18th year teaching, still has the ‘back to school’ worries and they hit me this year at about 4:30pm on Sunday September 4th.

I don’t have many new classes this academic year as within the MFL team I like as much continuity as is effective for the students, their enjoyment and progress whilst also considering what is good for my amazing team of fantastic teachers. However there are always new, more grown up faces at KS4 and the new year 7 cohort, new to our school and eager, if not a little scared, to learn the array of new subjects, and this is always a fresh challenge to get them hooked in to learning in your classroom!

At my school they’ll learn 12 and for me it’s important to make sure that as a classroom teacher first and foremost I’m doing my utmost to keep them motivated, excited and most definitely hooked in to learning languages! And every year I take time to ponder with the team and alone; what went well, what was enjoyed, how can the language learning experience be more engaging and exciting to ensure the hooks are there; fresh, new and exciting, present in schemes of learning and weekly planning grids, feature prominently in lesson activities, bursting from project work through to the purposeful homework reinforcing the classroom experience ensuring that we continue to have them hooked and learning, making progress, enjoying languages and smiling! Working with students asking for their honest feedback of my lessons, my teaching and the learning activities is a very daunting task especially when compared against the vast array of subjects they experience and other teachers they have but to me it is is an important non-negotiable each academic year which allows for purposeful co-construction to keep the learning journeys and activities engaging, relevant and fresh for the students in my school. And me on my toes!

If you have ever heard the rather fabulous @hywel_roberts speak (author of Oops! https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/1781350094/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474059627&sr=8-1&pi=SY200_QL40&keywords=hywel+roberts&dpPl=1&dpID=41lTVjh7IkL&ref=plSrch) he recalls fondly and vividly his school years running to the lesson of a particular teacher who always brought something spectacular in a jar! What. A. Hook. The utter excitement and glee, as well as horror and morbid curiosity, that ‘the jar’ and its peculiar pickled contents must have stirred across that school must have been akin to a tsunami rising up through the students – What a delight for the students in that school! 

You’ll be pleased to know my hook, or collection of hooks do not appear in a jar. It doesn’t instil horror nor fear and most definitely will not result in nightmares. The hook for me is the way in, when faced with 1 or 34 students, familiar or brand spanking new, it’s about getting those students learning, and loving it, so at the end of a hour or two when you tell them it’s packing up time they use the phrases ‘wow really, that lesson shot past’ or ‘that felt like 5 minutes miss’. It’s about getting them in, getting them going; leading them towards the ‘full on doing and learning zone’ so imagination and curiosity take hold and the learning activities on offer entice them deeper. The hook is encouraging the children to enter the ‘wonderland of learning’ and be so ‘in-the-moment’, deep within the ‘flow’ that concepts such as time, hunger, the thunderstorm raging outside the window and their next lesson cease to be of interest. It is for me very much about being me, the professional teacher with a smile and a story to share as well as an array of secret weapons of tried and tested activities which will engage the most reticent of learners and have them hooked on learning even if they make slow and steady progress. 

At #PedagooHampshire16 Candida Gould and I are delighted to be able to share some foundational principles, strategies and hooks to ensure you achieve high levels of engagement and excitement in your classroom whilst also developing your arsenal of secret weapons to engage, excite and enthuse the lucky students who you’ll be teaching this year who might not always be smiling at the start of your lesson! All of which have been road-tested this last fortnight by my students for extra robustness! We look forward to meeting you and sharing your classroom experiences. 

http://www.pedagoo.org/events/hampshire/ 

Adventures in my classroom – when they get it wrong.

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My fabulous y11 MFL allstar class did a listening paper the week before their GCSE terminal listening and reading exams. They completely and utterly ‘bombed‘ with so much wrong resulting in some very low marks, zero for some. I adore my Y11 class and I was, frankly stunned and certainly not expecting this with one week to go! 

Responses ranged from the utterly illegible to too many responses; for an 8 mark question 16 were given, when responses were given in English as per the instruction answers were in French, some decided to skip the questions altogether. I had begun marking them with gusto yet within fifteen minutes I wanted to weep because it wasn’t just one or two of them it was a significant proportion of my allstars and I just couldn’t understand how or why this had happened! 

Genuinely stunned and close to tears I had to stop marking, I couldn’t believe the errors I was seeing so had to put aside the papers and do something else. A long dog walk and some serious tea drinking with a dose of comfort eating for sure should sort me out. 

We had identified in y10 that listening was the hardest skill within this group of students therefore had dedicated one hour per fortnight focusing on improving and developing listening skills using two fantastic sites: www.gcsepod.com and www.thisislanguage.com to build confidence, skill and slowly add challenge independently. SLT we’re delighted with such a sensible departmental approach which clearly had consulted the learners and responded accordingly to their needs. So you can imagine my utter horror at the situation I found myself in one week before the exams! 

Back in lessons we continued with revision t-shirts, vocab drills and quizzes with a side of 8 mark reading and listening questions and another paper carrying on as normal until one of the A* hopefuls mentioned the dreaded paper yet to be returned. His point was clear; ‘Miss you always give us our papers back the next lesson, it’s now two lessons on – what did we do?‘ Tentatively I lifted the collection of papers from their hiding place, until this point I’d been in a dilemma as to whether to share the ‘epic fails‘ with the students. There are two reasons for this; firstly do I shatter their hope and aspiration with the revelation of a less than great performance with less than a week before the exam or secondly celebrate the failure and seek to close the loop; remembering that great things come from spectacular failings. Ordinarily I would leap on to the latter however I wasn’t convinced that my lovely students would see it anything other than from a negative perspective at this rather late stage.

As I reunited papers with their owners a deathly silence fell across the room, a few gasps of horror and two students teared up. I stood at the front and waited until they slowly tore their eyes from their papers and looked me in the face. Eventually all of them met my eyes though this may have taken some coaxing. ‘So what happened?‘ I asked with a smile. ‘I failed Miss‘ said one disappointed You Tuber, another added ‘everything you told us not to do, we did!’ Another called out ‘what a fail‘ and started laughing, a few others started too and within a minute utter hysteria had hit the classroom. Wiping tears (of laughter) aside we opened the paper together, some tentatively and we walked through what we should have done. Students explained their ‘failings‘ and then corrected themselves, others tutted stating they knew how to tackle the question and could read the instructions so were horrified by their errors. I was relieved, they could tell me what they had done incorrectly and knew how to correct it. Phew! ‘It’s ok’ I said at every opportunity, getting it wrong now is fine, it’s what we do on May 17th on that paper, in that room that’s the most important. There are no second chances then. 

Walking talking mocks and stripping back the papers metacognition style has been a key focus in our department, and indeed across our school for several years now, to empower students to be ‘that bit better‘ in exams, and it was brilliant to see and hear them bounce back from this quite spectacular bump in the road. It was an important lesson to have learned, to be reminded of and to bounce back from but please perhaps not so very close to the final exams! However that said, better late than never! We listened to each of the questions again and students did significantly better, thankfully, so departed my classroom having closed the loop, feeling success but with a very clear message at the forefront of their minds.

On the day of the exam all students arrived at my classroom smiling and very early for a final breakfast spaced learning session. Just before the session ended and we walked to the exam hall together students called out their final ‘top tips‘ to remember. It was great to hear them remind one another so positively.   Several nailbiting hours later as they exited the exam hall after their morning session was over, they told me cheerily how they had highlighted, circled, underlined and checked each question carefully and also managed to write answers neatly and carefully checking before the last grains of exam time fell. I was, and still am so very proud of them. Now we’ll just have to wait to see how brilliantly they have done in August! Image via itsmaha.wordpress.com

Image from www.doodle.ac