Overview: When I reflect on my first week at St Josephs, the first thing that comes to mind is the incredible welcome I received. The staff, children and families made me feel comfortable and at home within the first hour. After being personally introduced to each staff member, the whole school, and many different parents of children in my class, I immediately knew that St Josephs is a special place! I met my class teacher, Mrs Jackson- a kind teacher that runs her classroom on mutual respect which is a fact that is made obvious through the children’s manor and relationships. However, despite being involved with St Josephs for a full week, I haven’t spent much time in the classroom as of yet. After finding out about my love for the outdoors, Mrs Fretwell (the deputy head) invited me to join the year 4/5’s on their annual school camp in Waitomo, the west coast of New Zealand. Every second year every class at St Joseph’s is given the opportunity to go to camp and experience a few nights away from home, stay in a Marea, challenge themselves and have a break from normal school life! After frantically packing with the help of my host family, early the next morning I found myself arriving at the Tokikapu Marae (Māori meeting grounds (see website at bottom of post with more information and details on marae’s) where we would be staying for the next four days. The camp was an incredible opportunity to learn more about New Zealand culture, the natural phenomenons that the country has to offer, make genuine friends, develop relationships with children outside of the class I’ll be working in and observe an incredibly experienced and capable teacher (Mr Liley) in a more relaxed and informal environment compared to that of a classroom. We went caving, abseiling, walking in the bush, adventuring, learned about glow worms (which are unique to Australasia) and searched for fossils on black iron sand beaches all within an action packed four days. And that’s just the learning we did as a whole class! On a personal level, I learned an indescribable amount about the Māori people and their culture, New Zealand’s natural landscape, the organisation and work put in by both teachers and parents to make such a camp possible, as well as invaluable teaching tips and quirks.
Highlights and Challenges: In reality, the whole experience was a highlight for me. I loved getting the chance to see an area of the country I otherwise wouldn’t have and it was great fun spending so much time with the kids in such a relaxed environment. When I compare the camp to my own experience of school trips (my P7 class spent 5 days at Nethy Bridge Activity Center in 2006), my general consensus would be that school is much more relaxed than that of many Scottish primary schools. Health and safety takes a real backseat and kids are allowed to roam free and explore. Generally speaking, this seems to work excellently and children appear far more confident and sure of themselves as a result. However, we did have one wee girl get her finger stuck on barbed wire and another chipped her tooth after falling out of a tree (both of which probably wouldn’t have happened if greater attention was paid to keeping a close eye on the children at all times, but I guess that’s just pro’s and con’s!). I spent the first day considering what a unique opportunity going on camp was in terms of seeing more of New Zealand, but as time went on I realised how valuable the experience was in terms of furthering my practice. Mr Liley (the teacher in charge) displayed warmth, patience and kindness whilst also ensuring the children knew exactly where the boundaries lay. He told me in depth about the organisation and hard work he put into ensuring the camp ran as smoothly and effortlessly as it did and his hard work certainly paid off.
However, I did initially find it difficult being completely by myself on the trip. I had to really focus and work hard to make friends and ensure I was an asset to the group of adults. Additionally, going on camp so soon after arriving in NZ meant that tiredness was a real challenge too- I still wasn’t 100% over my jet lag and being thrown into such a high pace and full on experience so soon meant I had to really work hard to stay awake throughout the day! It was a good way to force myself to get over my jet lag though, having so many fun and exciting activities to do throughout the day and then plenty of dishes, setting of tables and other general chores to do throughout the evening meant I had plenty to keep myself occupied.
Audit of Professional and Personal Skills and Understanding: When I critically reflect over my first week, I suggest that the key skills I have used and developed so far are as follows:
Personal and Social Skills- Due to the fact that the decision to go on camp was so last minute, it meant I didn’t know anyone and people didn’t know me, I had very little time to be told what to expect and I was considerably younger than the other adults involved in running the camp. Before learning Whakatane on Tuesday morning, I made the decision to go into the experience ready and prepared to make new friends, do anything and everything asked of me, push myself physically (I was still getting over jet-lag, no mean task!) and to learn as much as I possibly could regarding both my practice and as an individual. In terms of the SPR professional values and personal commitment this required integrity, skills in adaptability, flexibility, openness, courage and friendliness. As a perspective primary teacher who knows and understands the importance of collaborative practice and generally getting along with people, I think this was a justifiably valuable experience in many different ways.
A practical example of how the first week of placement has positively impacted my personal and professional attitude would be when I consider how much I appreciate having friends in the staff room. During my MA1 placement, I found it took time and considerable effort on my part to make any sort of connection with the people in the school. However I realise now value and importance of continuing to put in such effort, in whatever staff room I find myself in in the future. The benefits of having good relationships in the workplace goes beyond the simple bonus of making break times more enjoyable, but increases successful collaborative practice, the sharing of ideas and the general improvement of individual practitioners. Although I still have a long way to go in terms of getting to know those at St Josoph’s, I feel excited about the prospect and look forward to becoming more involved and deepening my understanding of what goes on at the school.
Information on Marea’s: http://www.newzealand.com/int/feature/marae-maori-meeting-grounds/