Category Archives: My educational philosophy

But what does learning look like?

They’re sitting quietly with chairs tucked in

The lunches are done and the register complete

The daily timetable has all been discussed

But what does learning look like?

 

The jotters are out and the pencils are sharp

The learning intention is up on the board

The textbooks are there if we need a fallback

But what does learning look like?

 

Times tables recited and learned by heart

The Es&Os covered, highlighted and starred

Each reading group heard and the homework is set

But what does learning look like?

 

The wall displays perfect with no room for error

Partner work is only allowed if you whisper

If you’re finished just turn to the next page of work

But what does learning look like?

 

Attainment to uphold and gaps to close

A pile of marking that never ends

A ‘teacher face’ put on like a mask

But what does learning look like?

 

Jimmy came in with a cut on his knee

Lucy’s dog passed in the night

Abdhul has a new baby brother

Maja learned to ride her bike

Aedan loves football but hurt his ankle

Kayleigh can’t wait to do her turn at show and tell

Sarah is tired and hungry today

Max doesn’t want to be here at all

Esther loves music and is learning violin

Grant had a fight on the street again

Kris is excited to use the Ipads

Mary is anxious about leaving dad

Eric is quiet but happily so

Harry is still in ‘holiday mode’

Lola is sneezing and full of the cold

Anna just needs a hand to hold

Eddie is freezing

Sally, too warm

But what does learning look like?

 

Each child is unique and so learning is too

What I learn will not be the same as you

What can look like learning may be built on ideals

So what are the more pressing questions here?

 

Are your children safe, happy, secure?

Were they welcomed as they came in the door?

Can they trust each other and have their voices heard?

Are there times to be noisy, creative and free?

Is the ethos ‘us’ or ‘them and me’?

Are they seen as a person or behaviours displayed?

Are they challenged and given the time to play?

Is learning dictated or stemming from questions?

Is everything done in the children’s best interest?

 

But what does learning look like?

Different every day

With the child at the centre steering the way

Relationships embedded and a team that is strong

Mistakes are to grow from and not seen as wrong

 

Learning will happen in many which ways

What did learning look like in your classroom today?

 

Image available at: https://relationshipinstitute.com.au/news/questions-therapists-ask-us/ (accessed 29.01.19)

The Power of Music

This is a topic that I have considered writing about for some time now, particularly in the lead up Christmas where music plays a big part in my own life and, I am sure, in the life of many others.

Music is something quite unique to anything else in life. It holds power. The power to bring people together, to share stories of joy and sadness, to move people, to make people move, to encourage stillness, silliness and to celebrate good times. However, there is another power at work behind music that is perhaps of a more controversial nature. For recently, although the good tends to outweigh the bad, I have found that music can sometimes have the power to make people feel excluded or ‘lesser’ than others. You may be wondering how it could possibly be the case, that such a simple thing can contain the power to simultaneously unite and reject?

To put this idea into a context, I invite you to imagine a young child called Sam. Sam spent every day singing everywhere; in the shower, in the street, in the middle of a supermarket, you name it! Sam had a song for everything. It was not only the words and melodies of songs that resonated with this child but the feeling of familiarity and freedom that they sensed when singing- an emotional outlet that could not be otherwise replicated. One day, Sam decided to audition for the school choir. Although a little nervous, they sensed a great feeling of anticipation and excitement waiting to be heard by the music teacher. After belting out their favourite tune with the greatest gusto, Sam looked up to see the music teacher with head in hands. The teacher looked up and laughed, not only did they laugh but they told Sam that they would never stand a chance in the ‘music business’ and that singing really ‘wasn’t for them’. Sam was confused. No one had ever been so brutally honest. Was this honesty? Sam froze to the spot but managed to hold in the tears until home time. Sam did not sing again that night, that week, that month or in fact that year. Whenever the thought entered their head all they could think of was those words telling them they could not and were not good enough. Having lost this outlet, Sam found it difficult to express them self and decided to put up barriers to any experience that may involve singing in front of others.

It was not until many years later, when Sam was at a friend’s birthday party that- after a few drinks- they found them self joining in with a session of karaoke. Sam’s friends watched in awe as they had never seen or heard their friend sing and could see the immense joy in their friend’s eyes as they sang each word with a deep sense of conviction. After the performance Sam burst into floods of tears. They had forgotten the powerful feeling of expressing them self through song. The performance was not ‘pitch-perfect’ but it did not matter. The support given and love felt in that moment was a turning point in Sam’s life. Gradually they started to find more opportunities to sing, and although the niggle in the back of their head telling them they were not good enough was smaller, it always remained.

Although this is a completely fictional tale, I am sure there are many of us who know a ‘Sam’ in our lives; whether that be a friend, a family member, a child in your class or maybe you can relate directly to this experience. As someone who has had a very musical upbringing, this is the kind of story which deeply saddens me. However, it is not something I am unable to relate to in any way. I would argue that, in life we naturally look in longing at those we would consider ‘better’ than us, ‘smarter’, ‘more talented’ and wonder why we could not be something more than who we are. I would therefore argue that it is not actually music itself that has the power to make a person feel ‘lesser’ than who they are, but they language we use around music and the expectations we put on ourselves to always be something more than what we are. It is important that we do not lose sight of the word ‘expressive’ in the title ‘Expressive Arts’. Music is not just about playing or singing every note in tune, with perfect rhythm and largest range. It is about expression and the freedom that comes with letting go of the things that we bottle up inside of us. Have you every been moved to tears by a piece of music? What was it that had this effect on you? Was it the performer’s ability to sing each note perfectly in tune or was it the emotion they conveyed their story with?

In this way, Music and Health and Wellbeing work hand-in-hand, but how often are we encouraging children to think about how music makes them feel? The Scottish Government (undated) highlights ‘feelings’ as a core experience in both of these subject areas.

“I have listened to a range of music and can respond by
discussing my thoughts and feelings.” EXA 1-19a / EXA 2-19a

“I am aware of and able to express my feelings and am developing the ability to talk about them.” HWB 0-01a / HWB 1-01a / HWB 2-01a

Therefore, I would urge you to consider the language you use around music ‘ability’. Not just when talking about others’ strengths but when talking about yourself, as a way of modelling this positive language to others. In response to the phrase:

“I can’t sing”

I would suggest a humorous answer, along the lines of:

“You may not be able to sing like Freddie Mercury but that does not mean you can not sing.”

Followed by the explanation that, by definition, to sing is “to produce musical tones by means of the voice” (Merriam-Webster, 2018). Not to be the best musician in the world or to even produce a recognisable tune, simply some ‘musical tones’, which separate singing from every day talking. I would like to encourage that we value music and singing particularly as an expression of the self, a way of letting out what is inside and learning to accept that this is part of who we are and that we are all enough. It is then that we will be able to feel the truly wonderful power that music holds to bring people together, to share stories of joy and sadness, to move people, to make people move, to encourage stillness, silliness and to celebrate good times.

Image available at: https://fleurdelyz.com/2015/03/29/quotes-on-music/the-power-of-music/ (accessed 16.12.18)

References

Merriam Webster (2018) Definition of sing. Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sing (accessed 16.12.18)

Scottish Government (undated) Curriculum for Excellence: Experiences and Outcomes. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

“Not long to go, we’ll just get through it”

Image not my own. Available at http://www.aplithelp.com/thoughts-ap-reader-juggler-question-1/

It is fair to say that I have not engaged with blogging as an activity for quite some time now, however I personally believe that this is a topical issue worth sharing some insight into. As the title partly implies, this is my last year of teacher training and I am going to be perfectly honest and say that it has not been an easy first couple of months. I like to think of things in a visual way so imagine a juggler. This juggler represents a fourth year student. The juggler starts by throwing one ball up and down in the air- this ball represents the first task the student has been set for the year. Sounds easy enough? Over time the juggler is thrown more and more balls from university, family, friends and other outside commitments, and is expected to keep juggling, no matter how many are thrown their way.  This idea that the juggler will simply manage to keep up-skilling them self by finding new ways of balancing all the balls that life has thrown at them, whilst remaining happy and stress free, is hard to fathom. Did I mention that the juggler had never been taught to juggle more than three balls at once? 

While this all comes across as very negative, and you may be sitting thinking “get a grip”, “that’s just life” or what many of us are told at the moment “you’ll get through this”, this is the reality that many people are facing and do not know how to cope. But what if we didn’t focus so much on just pushing through? Once reaching the end of one stressful period there may be a short time of bliss before the next ball is thrown our way. Do we really want to live life “getting through” every day, more importantly, is this what we want to teach the children in our schools?

Resilience is one of the ‘buzz words’ going around at the moment and I agree that it is vital that we help our children to become more resilient in order to face the challenges that life presents. However, as someone who has grown up in an education system, and largely in a society, that teaches to the next test and puts huge emphasis on academic achievement, it can be hard to recognise resilience within myself at times. If this is true of other teachers and future teachers then how can we possibly teach children to be resilient if we are unsure of what it means to ourselves? Is it maybe time that we support teachers in looking at their own wellbeing and how we can lead healthier and happier lives?

I am very lucky to have been brought up in a loving, supportive family and with a strong faith that has given me a good foundation to build on. This is something I will always be grateful for but with a rise in social media use, particularly among young people (myself included) and a strange trend among students to talk more about the negative aspects of our lives than the aspects we are thankful for, it can be hard to come back to those roots.

This is where it comes down to the individual.

The book  “What Teachers Need to Know About Personal Wellbeing” (Ferguson, 2008) is what has inspired me to write this post. In her writing Ferguson identifies some of the major pressures that teachers are put under but also highlights that we are our own agents of change. We have the power to choose how we feel and how we respond to what life has to throw our way. We can sit and feel sorry for ourselves, blaming others for how unjust life can be (a pattern I have shamefully adopted for too long now) or we can bite the bullet and spend more time nourishing ourselves and looking after our wellbeing. The poster below is something I have created, with words taken directly from Ferguson’s book, as an important daily reminder to myself.

It reads:

  1. What am I going to do today that makes the best use of my time and energy?
  2. How much energy am I prepared to invest in each situation and how does that nourish or deplete my wellbeing?
  3. What boundaries will I put around me to protect myself from situations that may detract from my wellbeing?
  4. What am I going to do today that nourishes me as a person? (Ferguson, 2008, p93)

“Appreciate the force of your personal power and feel the strength in choosing your attitude” (Ferguson, 2008, p93)

Ferguson (2008) also makes a valid point that when we are physically injured or sick, we stop and take time to let ourselves heal but this is rarely the case in terms of when we are not well mentally. I think it is crucial that we are supporting and encouraging not only teachers but our friends, families and colleagues, across society, to put their wellbeing first. If we are not able to look after ourselves, how are we supposed to teach others to do just that?

Let’s revisit the juggler. Imagine they decided to put every ball in a box and take out one at a time, reflecting on how much this ball nourished or depleted their wellbeing, continuing to only juggle those which enhanced their sense of wellbeing. They would still be juggling the remaining balls but perhaps with a smile on their face.

 

References

Ferguson, D. (2008) What Teachers Need to Know About Personal Wellbeing. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Conquering the Fear of the Unknown

Have you ever been in a situation where you have felt completely unprepared, perhaps overwhelmed or just scared because you were faced with something brand new? Maybe it was something as small as taking a mode of public transport to somewhere you had never been before or walking into a room full of people you had never met. I am sure we have all been in a similar situation at some point in our lives, but what is it that makes something that seems so small such a big deal? As someone who has particularly struggled in situations where the final outcome is not clear, I wanted to explore why this is and what it could mean in relation to my practice. Why is it that we can be so fearful of the unknown?

Take some time to watch the video below. Particularly focus in from 6:13 to 8:34:

This idea that teachers are surprised when pupils won’t enter into open-ended projects, yet show little confidence when asked to do exactly that, has made me question whether it is the fear of the unknown instilled by teachers and other adults that makes children and young people equally as terrified to attempt a task without knowing what the end result will be. This idea has made me reflect on my own experience of school, when most subjects had a clear timeline, from start to finish, of intended learning and what should be achieved in order to pass the next test or exam. There were very few occasions, if any, when a teacher said that we were going to find out something new without having a very clear, tick-box idea of what the outcome of the lesson would be for the class as a whole. This was where university came as quite a shock to many people, as we were suddenly all expected to take a very individual, critical stance on assignments which did not come with a set list of do’s and don’ts. Even now there are people who struggle the fact that we are not told exactly what is expected of us in every submission as this is how we have learned to behave throughout our time at school.

At this point in my professional development I have being doing a lot of reflection on the benefits of allowing children to take ownership of their own learning and presenting them with opportunities to learn skills that will be transferable in other aspects of their lives. A perfect example of this type of approach is the transdisciplinary learning model, most commonly used in International Baccalaureate schools. This approach is distinct from multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary learning as its goal is to allow children to create new ideas and form deeper levels of understanding of the world they live in, by blurring subject boundaries and creating an environment which enables rich, authentic learning to take place (IBO, 2010).

As a teacher I have often found myself feeling the need to take control, however recently I have wondered whether this is where the fear of the unknown comes from. Without knowing what is to come, it is difficult to have a feeling of being in control. Maybe letting go of the need to be so in control is something that will allow for new learning opportunities to occur. By taking risks in my own practice, I hope to model to my pupils that by stepping into the unknown there will be new opportunities to enjoy and connections to be made but there will also be challenges to face. I believe that if children learn these transferable skills at a young age then they will be more set up to deal with other challenges they face in the future.

 

References

IBO (2010) The Primary Years Programme as a Model of Transdisciplinary Learning. Cardiff: International Baccalaureate Organization.

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.

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.

 

 

The Mystery that is Mathematics

What is the first thing that you think of when someone says maths? Do you feel full of confidence and excitement or rather dread and fear?

During our first maths input this afternoon, I realised just how many people experience the latter mentioned feelings of fear and anxiety. There were even people who talked about feeling physically sick just at the thought of it. Why is this? As teachers it will be important to think about why maths is such a huge cause for concern, for so many, and what methods can be used to change peoples’ attitudes toMaths Jokes.009wards such an important part of the curriculum.

A main point that came out of the discussions during the workshop was that if people did not feel like they were good at maths they kept that mentality throughout their time at school, and still find it difficult to see the opportunities to become more confident in this subject. When we are challenged by something, especially as children, a natural reaction is often to switch off, shut things out or give up. I think this has something to do with feeling vulnerable and embarrassed, especially when we start comparing ourselves with others who seem to know it all.

I would like to spend some time sharing and reflecting on my own experience of maths in primary and secondary school. From when I first started school in primary 1 right up to primary 7, I found myself in all of the ‘top groups’ including maths. I always felt happy and confident during maths lessons and very able to explain to others how to get to an answer without much worry or concern. Of course there were areas which I found difficult but they didn’t make me scared or less confident in my abilities.

7caoz5RziMy high confidence in maths continued into the first couple of years of high school but I no longer enjoyed the lessons as much, as most of the work we did came straight from the textbook. I can’t quite pin-point the moment that I started to feel less confident in my abilities in maths but I know that it started to creep in during my exam years.

Our standard grade teacher encouraged us all to sit higher maths as she believed that we were all capable of continuing at that level. It was this confidence in our class that made me choose maths as a subject in fifth year. This was probably the year that knocked my confidence the most because I had always felt good at maths until this point. My parents arranged for me to be tutored in maths as I was able to do the work but perhaps required more time to go over areas of difficulty. That being said, I have forgotten a lot of what I learnt that year and have found myself telling others that maths is something I am not very good at, despite the fact that I managed to get a B in my Higher exam.

Looking back on my own experiences it is clear to me that a lot of our self esteem and self concept, especially in more difficult areas such as maths, comes from the teacher and their teaching style. My favourite maths lessons were the ones where we were able to do group tasks or challenges in order to find the solution to a problem.

Learning from peers can be very beneficial as one of your class mates may explain something to you, in a way that is easier for you to understand than what the teacher originally demonstrated. Explaining something to others, that you understand well, is also a great way of consolidating what you already know. During one higher maths lesson the teacher came over and heard me explaining how I worked through one of the questions to a class mate who was feeling confused. He told me that I should be a maths teacher to which I responded, “No way! I can only explain it well because I understand this bit.”

My main reflections on this topic are that you don’t have to have the highest qualification in maths to teach it well. As long as you find a way of understanding the maths that you need to teach your pupils and can help them to understand your methods in an enthusiastic, fun and interactive way then there is no need to feel anxious or scared.

hilbert-math-quote