Overview: This week marked my first full week in the classroom and provided an excellent opportunity to spend time observing and comparing the experience of a pupil in St Josephs, Whakatane to that of a pupil in Scottish primary schools. Despite the obvious differences related to the terminology used here- morning tea instead of break, referring to classes by their rooms rather than their year etc- probably the most obvious difference between the two is the overall attitude of the school. There’s something about St Josephs that just feels…more relaxed to many primary schools I’ve visited before. Children spend the day bare foot and are only required to wear shoes when visiting the church (as a mark of respect), they’re allowed to play in the classroom when teachers aren’t present (although this is reserved for before the morning bell, children must be outside during lunch and morning tea), parents often spend time after the morning bell in the classroom waiting with their children for the day to begin and there’s regularly parents that filter in and out during the two weekly assemblies to have a look see what’s going on. The playground is bright and beautiful with large grass playing fields, two incredible outdoor playing facilities (one for the juniors and one for the seniors) and a large tarmac area suitable for riding scooters and skateboards with a variety of jumps and ramps that the children can use during their free time. In order for this to work, there seems to be more responsibility given to children to ‘self manage’ and this can be seen in greater abundance as the children progress through their school years. Seniors are regularly given tasks that require maturity and responsibility to complete- helping to run the schools sports day and organizing Friday ‘Golden Assemblies’ where the whole school gather to display ‘golden work’ completed throughout the week and to share any relevant achievements by pupils are but a few examples. This extra responsibility is designed to bridge the gap between primary school and high school and help pupils deal with the transition with more ease.
A difference that strikes me as interesting is lack of school meals provided at St Josephs. According to teachers in the school, only private schools provide the option of buying school dinners in New Zealand. Generally speaking, all children bring a packed lunch and teachers monitor how much children eat to ensure each pupil is eating appropriately throughout the school day. This requires constant attention and consequently, all teachers/teacher aids are expected to perform weekly duties. Duties include monitoring school lunches, road safety, bus monitoring and general playground supervision throughout morning tea and lunch time. To ensure the responsibility of monitoring children’s eating was completed successfully, St Josephs recently changed their policy so that children eat their morning tea in the classroom before being allowed to go outside and play. At lunch time, the children sit outside under the shade and are only allowed to leave to play when they have asked the teacher on duty if they have eaten enough. Although this works so well at St Josephs, I struggle to imagine a similar initiative working in Scotland. The first issue lies primarily with the weather: despite how much I love Scotland, I have to admit that even our summers aren’t predictable enough to allow schools to be dependent on using outdoor facilities for something as simple as the children eating. Secondly, when I asked what happens if a pupil doesn’t bring school lunches, a teacher told me there’s some food in the staff room that the children can have instead. Obviously, this isn’t a recurring issue as there’s not a particularly sustainable solution in place. Despite witnessing the success of St Josephs alternative solution to ensuring children eat well throughout the school day, it’s when I consider my first year placement and the number of children in the class who ‘forgot’ to bring money for food on a daily basis that I understand a similar strategy probably wouldn’t work in many primary schools in Scotland. I feel that my, albeit limited, experience working in Scottish primary schools is enough for me to understand the need for the Scottish Government’s recent initiative to provide free school dinners for all P1s- P2’s and to appreciate its intentions.
Highlights and Challenges: So far my duties have mostly consisted of helping and assisting the classroom teacher in any way I can. This has included listening to reading groups and individual children, leading math groups, assisting children with their writing and spelling among many other duties throughout the school day. This has been a precious experience in terms of getting to know the children, understanding more about the daily running of the classroom and providing a unique insight into the invaluable work of a classroom assistant. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to watch how Mrs Jackson interacts with her class, deals with the more challenging behavior and how she is committed to providing regular and consistent positive feedback to all the children in her class.
However on Friday, I taught my first full class lesson. The children have been learning about Creation and I was asked to incorporate this topic into an art lesson. Last week the children had learned to paint Chinese blossom trees by using a straw to blow paint around the paper. I decided to continue with this flower/nature theme and found a basic Hyacinth design that the children and I could replicate. I was amazed by the facilities on offer in the school and easily found the different materials I needed: paint, coloured card, white paper, scissors and glue. The lesson was simple and consisted of the children cutting out blades of grass and stalks, gluing them down onto their pieces of card, finger painting the purple Hyacinth flowers and then drawing any background detail that they wanted.
Overall, I was really pleased with how the lesson panned out. The children created incredible pieces of art and I was really impressed by their listening and sharing skills. In an attempt to save resources, each table had to share access to the paint which was something I steeled myself for being a problem and so addressed the issue when giving my instructions. But to my surprise, my efforts were unnecessary as they behaved maturely and patiently waited for their turn to use the paint (I was very impressed!). I used formative assessment throughout the lesson and constantly observed the class as a whole- watching for and then awarding the children who listened particularly well, approaching the children who didn’t, walking round and observing each individual child’s at different points throughout the lesson and using children’s work at various stages to demonstrate and bring attention to their great work. If I were to do the lesson again, I would ensure I spent more time discussing the finer details of my instructions. For example, how to cut the stalks and blades of grass before sending the children to do it on their own. Despite having a picture of the piece we were trying to recreate up on the interactive board at all times throughout the lesson, the children struggled to draw and cut out blades of an appropriate size. In hindsight, I don’t think I understood how difficult receiving basic instructions can be for children of such a young age and I will take this forward as I plan lessons both for this placement, and in the future.
Audit of Professional and Personal Skills and Understanding: When I refer to the SPR values and professional commitment guidelines, I feel that throughout this week I have demonstrated an ability to ‘adopt an enquiring approach to my professional practice’. I feel that this can be proved through my willingness and eagerness to ask questions relating to all sorts of topics, observe both staff members and children, analyse what I see and reflect on what I’ve learned. These transferable skills will without doubt broaden and deepen my professional ability in becoming an effective practitioner.