Category Archives: 1 Prof. Values & Personal Commitment

Express yourself!

“Thinking too much or too hard can get in the way of creativity.” (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2001, p27). This is something that really resonates with me as I am a very creative person, however I am also a person guilty of over thinking and putting a lot of pressure on myself. It is at these moments when the head takes over that I feel the need to stop, breathe and hand the reins back over to the heart, where creative expression is waiting to burst out. 

This year I decided to pursue the Expressive Arts elective and I could not be happier with my decision to do so! As someone who likes to express myself, I have really enjoyed exploring what teaching and learning through music, art, drama and dance can look like within a primary school context. It has also encouraged me to do a lot of self-reflection about who I am as a practitioner and the experiences I have had in my life which have given me such a strong connection with the arts.

The craze started young!

I can’t remember a time in my life where the arts did not play a key role. My parents are both very creative and as a result of this I have a lot of positive childhood memories of singing, playing a variety of instruments, doing arts and crafts, going to dance classes and much more. Some of my fondest childhood memories include my mum singing songs to my sisters and I to help us fall asleep at night and my dad using his guitar to take us on a ‘Bear Hunt’ around the garden at our birthday parties.

Having the confidence to stand up and perform in front of a large number of people is not something I shy away from, rather the opposite in fact! Since singing my first solo to an audience at age six, I have been drawn to any opportunity where creative performance is a prominent feature. Not only do I enjoy the performance aspect of expressive arts but I like being able to connect with an audience.

I think that being so heavily involved in, and enthusiastic about, expressive arts is something that has had a real impact on who I am as a person and, ultimately, who I am as a teacher. During my first year placement a teacher said to me that there are sometimes days in the classroom when you need to put on your ‘smiling teacher face’. By this she meant that there will be days when you feel awful but you still have to put a smile on your face as you are the person that those children look up to. In this respect teaching can be like putting on a performance- when you are in teacher role you take on the character that those children need you to be. This is something that has really stuck with me and  I always tried to put on my best ‘teacher face’.

Image from: http://ilovetypographywallpaper.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/believe-in-yourself_25.html

I believe it is important to have a good balance of performing the ‘teacher role’ and being yourself. This is something that I found very difficult in our first placement as I had only just started the journey of exploring who I was as a teacher and found myself trying to be the teacher I was observing rather than drawing on her practice and bringing myself to the placement. As I am normally such a confident performer, I became overly critical of myself for not being more ‘myself’ and struggled to bring my lively personality to the experience as much as I had hoped to- a perfect example of how thinking too much can get in the way of creativity!

However, in this last year there have been two main experiences, which have really boosted my confidence and have helped me to see that people are drawn to me when I am completely myself. The first of these was my second year placement at the International School of Stuttgart. I was delighted to be in a school setting for this placement and having reflected on the year before, I went into the experience with the intention of exploring who I am as a practitioner. In IB schools there is a big focus on international mindedness and valuing each individual for who they are. This encourages staff and pupils to learn from each other’s cultures and traditions and gave me the opportunity to be completely myself.

Grade 1 butterfly!

As a result of this open, welcoming atmosphere and my own personal goal of bringing more of myself to my teaching, I really enjoyed the experience and even turned up dressed as a butterfly on my second week! The children responded very well to this and as a result I was able to use the butterfly theme as a stimulus for other lessons. Having had positive feedback from pupils and teachers when acting more myself, I was able to really enjoy the lessons I planned and delivered.

The second of these two experiences was taking part in West End Stage Summer School. This involved a week taking part in workshops in singing, dancing and acting led by West End professionals in preparation for a performance in Her Majesty’s Theatre at the end of the week. In an environment where everyone was fully committed to giving their all in the different workshops, I felt fully able to express myself and as a result I was the happiest I have ever been. This hugely positive experience made me reflect on how I could use this passion and enjoyment to inspire children in the classroom. This is where the Expressive Arts module came at a perfect time! It has shown me how I can take the two things that I am passionate about (teaching and expressive arts) and interlink them.

Craft (2002, p91) says that “imagination and creativity involve an approach in life which begins with: ‘perhaps if’ or ‘what if’”. So why don’t we take more time as teachers to ask ‘what if’? It’s time to be yourself, express yourself!

 

 

References

Craft, A. (2002) Creativity and Early Years Education: A Lifewide Foundation. London: Continuum

Learning and Teaching Scotland (2001) Creativity in Education. Dundee: Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Placement Reflections 1PP1

Having just come to the end of my first year placement, I would like to share some of my reflections from the last 4 weeks. In the first week I was quite overwhelmed by the workload faced by every teacher. This was on top of being solely responsible for and managing a class of 29 pupils with varying abilities, needs and language barriers. It was a steep learning curve for me as I had never experienced anything like it, particularly as I had never had the experience of planning lessons during my previous experiences in a classroom setting.

One of my first challenges was keeping the class focused on a task when the class teacher was not in the room. This meant that I had to show my authority as a teacher but found that I would have to gain the respect of the class. I had to stop at regular intervals to tell the class that the noise level was unacceptable and became quite agitated and stressed. After reflecting on the lesson and discussing with the class teacher, she suggested adopting her approach of counting down from 5, getting quieter on every number, as the class knew that this means it is time to give you their attention. I started to use this strategy and it  made a positive difference.

Although this strategy worked to begin with, the class started to ignore me when I used this strategy and so it did not work as well for me as it did for the class teacher. After discussing this issue with the class teacher she suggested I used my own behaviour management strategy. This is something that I developed over the third and fourth weeks of the placement. Pollard (2008, p.304) states that tone of voice and customary routines can be used as children arrive to achieve quiet. The strategy I used involved me saying “hands on heads, shoulders, ears… (etc.) fingers on lips.” The order of body parts I said changed each time to keep the class focused but I always started with “hands on heads” and finished with “fingers on lips.” This let the class know that they should have everything out of their hands and be ready to listen to instructions.  At first, some children were resistant to join in and so the class teacher encouraged me to praise those who were participating and to give the class something to work towards, such as house points or fuzz balls. After giving out 5 house points to one child, I immediately saw other children trying harder with the strategy.

Something else that I needed to work on was being more relaxed while teaching. I found that when taking a small group I was able to be more relaxed and consequently their behaviour was much better. I was also more relaxed when I knew my lesson plans well and as a result didn’t have to focus as much on the content of what I was teaching. This gave me more head space to think about behaviour management strategies, body posture, tone of voice etc. Through feedback from the class teacher and from my formative assessment, I  learned that the children needed me to be very structured and consistent in my learning style as they  were more likely to trust someone who is confident about what they are teaching. Medwell and Simpson (2008, p.107) say that the most important thing is to appear confident.

This confidence is something that I had to build throughout the 4 weeks. By the end of the four weeks I was able to see that the children responded much better to lessons that I showed confidence in teaching. If I was at all unsure about an aspect of the lesson the children became confused and this was reflected in the results of the activities. Rogers (2011, p.193) says that pupils very quickly get an idea of whether or not a teacher is in control, and that they feel more secure in their knowledge if the teaching style is confident, authoritative and positive. When the children were at all unsure or thought I was not in control of the lesson, they became restless and didn’t follow my instructions.

One of the main aspects of my practice that I had to work on was the pace of my lessons. During the first week I had the children sitting on the carpet for too long, on a couple of occasions, which caused them to become bored and restless. Hayes (2006, p.45) says that “decisions have to be made about the time spent reviewing and revising existing knowledge”. This is something I needed to take on board as it was an area that I was picked up on after my formative assessment, as it slowed down the pace of the lesson. I made improvements to the pace of my lessons by using resources, such as online timers, and by selecting a few children to answer questions rather than listening to every child’s answer.

At the end of the second week I realised that I needed to manage my time better. Planning in advance allowed me to have meaningful discussions with the class teacher about my lessons and allowed for changes to be made if need be. I also needed to think about making my lessons more challenging and exciting. This required me to look at the second level experiences and outcomes and to come up with activities that were engaging and would motivate the class.  “Effective teachers try hard to make learning fun and effective; they take into account different pupil needs, yet maintain discipline and help pupils to achieve high standards of work” (Hayes, 2006, p.20). In the last couple of weeks of my placement, I worked hard to come up with more exciting activities that I could differentiate to meet the needs of every pupil.

Over the course of the placement, I learnt a lot about teaching a class that includes children with additional support needs, particularly those on the autistic spectrum. I learnt that some of these children have triggers that can make them upset or angry. This can be something as small as a word or phrase that has been used by the teacher, which they have particular associations with, or can be caused by the behaviour of others in the class. Change is also something that children with autism can find particularly challenging. Attfield and Morgan (2007, p.32) say that a prime reason for behaviour difficulties for a child with autism is anxiety, which is often caused by uncertainty, change and unfamiliarity of people and places. This anxiety can lead to anger and frustration, which may come across as aggression but the child is actually just feeling overwhelmed. This is something that I witnessed , as a child with autism was annoyed by a peer and became aggressive. This made me realise the importance of building relationships with these children and knowing how to make them feel calmer in these situations. Plimely (2006, p.17) talks about the vital importance of keeping in touch with parents/carers of children with additional support needs so that all adults involved in the care of these children are able to help them through the events that have happened. Developing these good home/school links is of vital importance when considering what is best for these children.

Overall, the main aspects that I will take away from this placement is that I need to have more confidence and be more relaxed when teaching, in order for some of my personality to come through. I need to make sure activities are planned in enough time that changes can be made if necessary and also so that they are as engaging and motivating as possible. It is important not to make assumptions about the stage of any child and to use results of activities to know what the next steps are for the children.

 

References

Attfield, E. and Morgan S. (2007) Living with Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Guidance for Parents, Carers and Siblings. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Hayes, D. (2006) Inspiring Primary Teaching: Insights into excellent primary practice.  Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.

Medwell, J. and Simpson, F. (2008) Successful Teaching Placement in Scotland. Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.

Plimely, L. (2006) Supporting Pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for School Support Staff. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Pollard, A. (2008) Reflective Teaching (3rd ed.) London: Continuum.

Rogers, B. (2011) You Know the Fair Rule.

The sky is the limit!

After spending some time reading other people’s ePortfolio blog posts this morning, I have come away quite enlightened. Throughout the time I have spent writing my blog posts, reflecting on my personal development and discovering new aspects of the curriculum, I have adapted and improved my blogs as I have been inspired by the other posts I have read.

imagesOne of my more recent discoveries was how to align pictures alongside text as I think that it makes the blog  nicer to look at and easier to read. This is something that I have seen done by
many others and wanted to incorporate it into my own posts.

Something else that I would like to start integrating into my posts is direct links to professional practice and more references to academic text. This will take more time and commitment on my part but ultimately I will need to take this step forward in order to further my professional development.

One of the most exciting posts that I read today was about classroom management. This post used the computer game ‘Sims 4’ to design the layout of  a classroom. (See below)

https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/cebeportfolio/2016/01/06/180/27c268b

As I was reading this post I felt lots of little light bulbs going off in my head. What a great
example of thinking outside the box! It reminded me that with education the sky really is the limit. If more of us were to take that step outside of the box then just imagine how the future of education could be transformed. This has inspired not only the way I write my blog posts but the way I look at how I will be an engaging and fun teacher, whilst focusing on the 8 key areas of the curriculum. As is highlighted in the Disney film ‘Big Hero Six’, you sometimes need to look for a new angle.

 

 

Where would we be without music?

http://www.change.org/p/city-of-edinburgh-council-say-no-to-the-proposed-budget-cut-of-our-edinburgh-schools-music-tuition-service

The City of Edinburgh Council has proposed a 75% cut to the budget which funds Edinburgh’s instrumental music tuition service and all of the Edinburgh Schools orchestras and ensembles.

If this budget cut is put in place, the hundreds of  gifted young musicians, ranging from ages of 7 and 8, right up to 17 and 18 across Edinburgh who learn to play a variety of brass, percussion, woodwind and stringed instruments, and learn to sing through their schools could be forced to start paying for their weekly instrumental lessons.

This could result in many pupils being unable to continue their music tuition, as they simply cannot afford it. I come from a family of four children and three of us have been/are being taught by amazing instrumental teachers who are employed by the Edinburgh Council.

As teachers I think it is important that we see the importance of music on young people’s lives and stand up against higher authorities when they propose that it is not as important as other aspects of the curriculum. It is unfair that something as wonderful as the right to learn an instrument should be taken from those who can’t afford to do so.

This is something that is very close to my heart and I am not someone who often presses petitions on others but I feel that this is a really important issue that we can try and help to fight against. Please take a minute to sign the petition and stand up for music in Edinburgh schools.

Children are the real teachers

As someone who is a regular Facebook user, I see a lot of weird and wonderful videos on my timeline on a daily basis but this one has to have been my favourite by far. This child is having a conversation with her mum after her parents have gone through a divorce and her depth of enlightenment and understanding of the world is quite incredible.

She talks about how she wants “everyone to be steady” and in line with her heart. This is a great example of how at this age children may not know words for what they are trying to describe, in this case compassion, but can more often than not explain what they mean much better than any adult could. She talks about how much better the world would be if everyone smiled and if everyone could be friends. This message is so heart felt and is so important to remember when we are currently seeing a lot of hatred and violence around the world.

My favourite line that the child keeps repeating is, “I’m not trying to be mean” because it shows that she understands that people can try and enforce their opinions on others in a mean way but she is trying to achieve the opposite.

She then goes on to talk about how “everyone’s heart is something” which shows that she has strong morals about equality and everyone being seen as unique and having something to offer in the world. There is a constant theme in her argument that if she can do something, like smile or be nice, then everyone can because we are all the same. Her idea that everyone in the world would be monsters if we weren’t friends is such a powerful statement.

Have adults forgotten the importance of smiling? Have we as a society forgotten how to be friends? Are there people who have turned into monsters? What would the world be like if everyone kept it “steady” and “in line with the heart”?.

Children have so much to teach us.

Calling out for peace

The terrible news of the terrorist attack in Paris on Friday 13th November will not be new to many people. It is a story that has really struck a chord with me and makes me question; what kind of world are we living in? When innocent lives are being taken, and for what?

One of the biggest outcries on social media over the last couple of days has been the need to highlight more of these tragedies that different countries, around the world, are facing everyday. Just today there was another attack, this time in Kenya. (See article below)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-32169080

How are we now meant to move on as a society? What can we do to make a difference? And, most importantly, how can we as teachers address such serious issues in the classroom? It can be difficult to know where to start and whether or not children are ready to hear about some of the horror stories we are subject to every single day.

I think it is really important that, from an early age, children understand that violence is not the answer to solving problems. It always amazes me that people think that the way to achieve peace is through war. If people had the ability to see past hatred and violence and focused on loving one another then the world would be a much safer and happier place. This is a message that is important to share with children as we want future generations to live in peace. Psychologist, Marshall Rosenberg, has a very interesting take on the topic of ‘Compassionate Communication’ which I encourage you to read:

https://www.nwcompass.org/compassionate_communication.html

Another issue that has been raised after the recent terrorist attacks is the increase in Islamicphobia. I find it absolutely ridiculous that people are blaming all Muslims for the actions of a minority group who practise the same religion. This is why it is vital to teach religious education in schools, to help children understand that there are always going to be stigmas attached to certain religions but that doesn’t make all those who practise that religion bad people.

One way of helping children to understand such big issues is through music. There are so many beautiful and meaningful songs that really get the simple message across that it is important to strive for peace. Some examples of simple songs that can be used in the primary school are in the links below.

Overall, I think it is important that we inform children of world issues when they are at a stage of development when they are not going to just feel scared about these stories but will actually be able to communicate how they feel about the issues. It is important that we don’t cause them to live in fear but encourage each individual to make a difference. Something as simple as a session on reflective writing, poetry or through song could be a really effective lesson to cover some of the harder topics that are important to address.

Reflection on GTC Scotland Standards Section 1

gtc_778x436

SPR section 1

Last week we took part in a workshop as part of the 1CM1 module, looking at professional values. Our main focus was the GTC Scotland Standards Section 1 (found in the above link). We started in our ‘home groups’ and then after being given a number we moved into our ‘expert groups’ where we talked in more depth about one particular area, before reporting back to our home groups. This is a task that I will definitely use as a teacher  for group work activities as it was a good way of breaking down a big topic but still being able to engage with the whole task.

The standards are split into five sections:

  • Social justice
  • Integrity
  • Trust and Respect
  • Professional Commitment

Although each section has a set criteria, we were encouraged to think about why these things are important and what they might look like in practice. As this is a key area which we will revisit throughout  our time as student teachers, but also once we enter the teaching profession, I thought I would share the ideas that our home group had about each section.

Social justice

  • It is important to ensure that pupils are aware of different regional and global lifestyles, cultures and traditions.
  • No child should feel singled out in the classroom.
  • Children should be made aware of the rights and responsibilities that they have as a child but also what these will look like when they are adults.
  • As a teacher it is important to look out for any issues that pupils may have and to ensure that these are treated sensitively.
  • Be aware that children come from different backgrounds and not everyone is at the same stage in their learning journey.
  • Make adaptable lesson plans so that they meet the needs of every child.

Integrity

  • As a student teacher it is important to seek help if you encounter a problem.
  • It’s important to see every pupils’ question as a serious one- even if it seems silly. You should always try and answer in as open and honest a way as possible.
  • Use your own experiences as well as your knowledge of how to act in a professional manner to be a good example to the pupils.
  • Don’t enforce beliefs or opinions on your pupils but encourage open discussions, giving the children the chance to ask questions.
  • See the potential in every child. Just because they have areas of weakness doesn’t mean they will always be weak in those areas.
  • Talk about being respectful and how what you say can hurt others. (e.g. name calling or phrases like “that’s so gay!”)

Trust and Respect (my expert group’s focus)

  • Mutual trust between pupils and teachers is key.
  • If there is good communication between pupils and teachers then they will gain each other’s trust. Pupils like to feel as though they are being heard.
  • It is important to respect other members of staff and members of the community to set a good example for your pupils to follow.
  • Make sure you have a good balance between fun a discipline in the classroom to maintain the respect of your pupils.
  • Being clear about what is appropriate behaviour in and outside the classroom is important so that pupils respect the rules which are ultimately be there for safety purposes.
  • Teaching good manners as simple as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ shows pupils how to respect others.
  • Being open to questions about different cultures and religions is important so that pupils respect each other’s differences.
  • Being aware of physical boundaries and individual school policies and remembering to act professionally at all times is vital as a respectful role model.
  • Letting the pupils be part of their own learning by having a saying in what and how they want to learn can build a good, trusting teacher-pupil relationship.

Professional Commitment

  • Be enthusiastic and make learning fun for the pupils wherever possible.
  • Work co-operatively with members of staff and other wider bodies of the community.
  • Take criticism productively and learn from your mistakes.
  • Be prepared for lessons and every day life as a professional teacher.
  • Keep a professional relationship with pupils and their parents at all times.
  • Maintain high standards for yourself so that you are leading by example.
  • Practise what you preach.