New Tricks

“The quickest way to become an old dog is to stop learning new tricks.”
– John Rooney

 

Roughly this time two years ago my Principal came to me and asked how I would feel about being the teacher in the new Foundation Stage Nurture Group, which was due to open at the beginning of the next school year.  I had been teaching in the school for three years, two years in P2 and one year in P1. I was still a fairly new member of staff.  At the time our school was a single form intake, so being the only teacher in my year group it had been a steep enough learning curve.  I felt like I just got to grips with P2 – I knew what I was doing and was ready to refine my practices in my third year.  Taking on this new thing, a brand new venture for the school, a venture that no one was really sure what it would be like or how it would work, was going to be a big jump.

 

I had heard a bit about Nurture Groups, but not enough, so before I could make my mind up I did some research online.  Nurture Groups exist for children who aren’t settled to learn, usually have missed some early years experiences that mean they aren’t ready for the social, emotional and behavioural demands and expectations of school life.  More often than not they have some difficulties with Attachment. The Nurture Group Network is a font of all knowledge if you’d like to find out more about what a Nurture Group is.

 

There is research that says what sort of learner you are can be worked out by how you approach learning a new skill for example building flat-pack furniture, you can ask someone you know (pragmatist), read up on it (theorist), watch someone else do (reflector) it or just give it a go yourself (activist).  I am definitely a theorist.

 

So I did my reading and decided that I would love the Nurture Group, I saw it as a huge chance to make a real difference in the lives of young children, to impact a whole school career and send ripple affects out to families and the wider community.  I’d had some children in my classes previously who would have really benefited from Nurture Group support, if only it had been in place years earlier.  I was so excited about the difference it could make in the lives of the pupils, but I also felt very overwhelmed by how different it would be to normal teaching.

 

Nurture groups incorporate literacy, numeracy and all the elements of the curriculum but in a less formal way and in an environment that is more homelike.  It is designed to be like a bridge between school and home.  My new classroom was to have a kitchen, a kitchen table, a sofa and lots of home like touches.  I was also to create a Nurture Curriculum, filling in those missed opportunities.  Helping children to learn to share, to take turns, to manage their emotions.  There was also going to be a lot of new testing approaches to learn.  Boxall Profiles are the cornerstone of Nurture Group Provision.  Goodman’s Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires have a role to play too.

 

 

There was a lot to learn.

 

I ordered myself some books to read up on Nurture Theory and Practice, a DVD to watch of Nurture Groups in action, read lots online and arranged a visit to a school with an award winning Nurture Group.  At the beginning of that first term I did my 3-day training with the Nurture Group Network and once that was completed the Nurture Group started.

 

The first year was tough, there was so much to learn, so much uncertainty about if I was doing the right thing, more than once I had a real crisis of confidence and second guessed myself completely.  The one thing that made everything infinitely easier was that we had Nurture Group Clusters. The 11 Nurture Teachers and Assistants from the area, who had all started at the same time got together and talked about plans, got extra training, asked each other for strategies advice in helping support children displaying challenging behaviours.  Having a cluster group, and the friendships that formed out of it, was so important.  I honestly couldn’t have done my job half as well without the support of those other girls over the past two years.  I know I’m fortunate to have that support.  Many teachers could do with a group like that.

 

I’m now going into my third year as a nurture teacher.  I’ve taken through two cohorts reaching 12 children in full time places and supporting more part time as needed through the years.  I’ve completed my nurture assignment and passed it with a Merit.  I’ve just submitted it to be accredited for credits on an MA pathway, hopefully to turn it into a Postgrad Certificate in Education with a Nurture focus.

 

I’ve learned so many new tricks over the last two years:
  • how to diffuse a tantrum
  • when to tactically ignore and when to intervene
  • that all behaviour is communication
  • when to challenge and when to support
  • how to interpret a Boxall Profile
  • what proprioceptive activities are and how to use them
  • classroom budgeting
  • working with psychologists, politicians, interdisciplinary teams, family support services and social workers

 

Just to name a few.

 

But one thing I’m sure about – there will even more new tricks to learn next year!

Passover of information

There are only seven more teaching days left of this year.

Most people think at this time of year teachers are winding down; with classes working less and playing more.  Most people think back fondly to their own schooldays and only remember sport days, trips out, endless rounders games on the pitches or bringing in a toy to play with from home on the last day. I can tell you though, it seems like this is by far the busiest time of year for me! There are new children coming into school for P1 induction afternoons, sports days (3 in my school, one for each Key Stage), new parents mornings, school productions, P7 leavers assembly, reports to write, transition books to make and share with SEN children and passover of information forms to fill in and meetings to be had.  All that on top of the  normal school week of teaching and meetings when everyone (including the children) is on countdown mode.

One thing I have been thinking about in the last week is passover of information.  It’s important to get to know your new class, to know where they are and what their accomplishments of the last year have been.  But I have a worry.

My worry is that we focus too much on the academic side of things.  Yes, the new teacher need to know what level of books Liam is on and what number Helen is working confidently within, but we need to remember to pass on, what I think is the important information too.  We are passing on a class of 30 little individuals.  Children with likes, dislikes, worries, quirks, friends. family and lives.  They are little humans, not just little containers to fill with knowledge.

We need to pass on the person.

We should tell their next year’s teacher about them.  Not just about what they can or can’t do.  Not just the attainment levels or behaviour management strategies.

Children learn better when they have a good relationship with their teacher.  Why would we not kick-start that relationship for their next years teacher as soon as possible?

When I taught P2 I spent a week each June with my class making little All About Me booklets.  These booklets were so they could introduce themselves to their next year’s teacher.  Zack really wanted to tell his P3 teacher that he was growing strawberries with his Grandpa and that they were nearly ready.  Morgan wanted her P3 teacher to know that she has two cats called Misty and Smudge.  Susie wanted to say that she was learning how to swim and that in the summer time she was going swimming with her Granny every week.  The children made the books their own.  Their personality and individuality shone through in each one.

I still sent my P3 colleague the completed proforma with information about their progress in Literacy and Numeracy.  I still sent samples of work from both those subjects.  I just sent these child led booklets first.  I wanted their P3 teacher to get to know them as people.  I wanted to let the class introduce themselves.  The class loved it.  They got really excited making their booklets for their new teacher and they worked really hard on them.

In the end the booklets let the children introduce themselves, gave a great example of literacy skills, helped prepare the children for the transition that was ahead and helped to kick-start the relationship between them and their new teacher.

So for those of us passing on a class to a colleague and thinking about passover of information, please think about what you should pass on.

Think about what is important.

Pass on the person.

The Sunshine Room

I was chatting with some fellow teachers yesterday through google hangouts. While we were waiting on a few people to arrive on of them joked, “we should do a through the keyhole type tour of each others classrooms.  Who would teach in a classroom like this?”  I said that you’d know which was my classroom straight away, because it doesn’t look like a classroom.  Which it doesn’t.

My room is called the Sunshine Room.  It has a fitted kitchen, kitchen table with eight dining room style chairs, a sofa with cushions, curtains and blinds, a rug patterned with colourful buttons and a big low blue table that is shaped like a flower with small multi-coloured chairs all around it.  My room certainly doesn’t look like a typical classroom.

It doesn’t operate like a typical classroom either.  I only have 6 students at a time, this year drawn from P1 and P2.  They are with me for most of the day, eight sessions a week.  The bunch I have are diverse, their needs are big and sometimes the emotions that they have to deal with are big too.  They aren’t really settled to learn and find fitting in with the routines and structures of school too challenging. Maybe they are quiet, withdrawn and solitary.  Maybe they are whirling dervishes who can’t sit still for two minutes together.  Perhaps their emotions rule their behaviour and the only way they know to deal with the disorganisation inside them is to act it out.  I take a mix of these unsettled children and put individualised targets and plans into place for each of them.  I provide them with missed early years experiences and fill in the gaps that are causing them to struggle in the world of formal education.  Sometimes they come to me with no nursery experience.  Sometimes they come with fragmented experiences of early years provision that they found difficult to access because they weren’t ready for it.  My room is a mix of these wee ones who I am tasked with supporting, helping, nurturing, caring for and settling to learn.  I have a window of  up to four terms to work with them and then they go back into their classes full-time. My room is a nurture room.  My job is to provide a safe base for them to revisit, or often visit for the first time, those learning experiences that will allow them to settle to learn.  That will enable them to be ready to meet behavioural expectations and join in with the structures and routines of the classroom.

My room doesn’t really look like a typical classroom.

My day doesn’t look like a typical day.

My focus for education isn’t the typical focus of levels and data and attainment.

But I think, for my wee bunch, its right.

Why I love CPD

I love learning. I always have. As a child I was more likely to be found inside reading a book than outside getting up to mischief. At school I think I may have been one of the only girls to sign up voluntarily for the inter-schools general knowledge quiz. Certainly I was one of the few sixth formers who took seriously our A-level RE teacher when we were told to do extra-reading to broaden our understanding of the history of early church.

My love of learning is probably a big part of what led me to become a teacher. I love that moment when something clicks and you understand what you’ve been learning about. I love that feeling even more when I can see the wheels turning in a students mind and then suddenly the penny drops.

So when I started my initial teacher training I wanted to continue learning, I wanted to learn things for me. So while at College I also went to tech at night and took a Level 1 course in British Sign Language. As graduation rolled closer I decided that I was going to do courses that would both benefit my teaching and the learning of my class (once I got one) and help boost my employablity. I wasn’t going to let lack of additional qualifications rule me out for applying for jobs if I could do something about it.

I’ve lost track of how many courses and professional development training days I’ve been on. At one point I could coach Football and Rugby, teach Drama Education in school, support Dyslexic learners, use BrainGym and active relaxation techniques in the classroom and Teach English as a Foreign Language all while using counseling skills and supporting learners with SEN and those who were underachieving. I learned piano (Grade 3) and took some graded exams (Grade 6) in acting and drama. I’ve also done a Masters in Educational Multimedia and as part of my role as Nurture Teacher I’ve completed the Nurture Group Network Certificate course and am enrolled through that on an MA in education pathway. I think I covered a lot of the bases.

I love training and professional development, especially when its good. I think its so important to continue to learn. Current trends in education will come and go and probably come round again.   Its important to stay up to date and be aware of them, but I think its more important to keep your love of teaching alive and fresh.

We work in a stressful job. At times paperwork seems never-ending and it can seem as if admin has taken over from actual teaching; so you need to keep the spark alive.

No one went in to teaching for the paperwork,or for the money, or even for the holidays.

If they did I’m sure they didn’t last long and are doing something far less pressured. The people who go into teaching and last are the people with the heart for it. The people who want to make a difference in the lives of their students. The people who want to be game-changers and role-models. People who get tingles when they hear “oh captain, my captain!” and whose eyes well up at the end of Freedom Writers. You come into teaching because you have a love for it and keeping that love alive is key to being able to stay in teaching.

The statistic that’s so often quoted now is that 4 in 10 teachers leave within the first three years. I graduated in 2007 and I have been in my current inner-city school for the past 5 years. I have no intentions of leaving. Partly I put that down to keeping my love of teaching alive through CPD, working with inspiring colleagues who drive me to be the best teacher I can be and linking in with teachers from around the world on Twitter, through blogs, through Pinterest. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17. That’s why its important to attend CPD courses, you will be sharpened by the presenters, sharpened by the people you meet in the coffee queue and sharpened by the teacher friends you go with as you unpick what you’ve heard and tweak it for your context.

At the minute I am privileged to be involved with niedcamp an innovative CPD day run by teachers, for teachers. It will fill the gap left by the cancellation of RTU summer school, a CPD event that I usually attend and would’ve missed. Now I am so excited about niedcamp that I am glad the way has been cleared for it! I have never worked with such a fantastic group of educators – I come away from each chat buzzing about the potential and vision and desire to impact their own profession and through that the teaching and learning in schools around them. As iron sharpens iron….

If you haven’t signed up yet to be at niedcamp you should. The details are on the website http://www.niedcamp.org and you can follow them on twitter @niedcamp

Twitterati

I love twitter. I’m definitely one of the twitterati.  If I go to an event and you tell me there’s a hashtag for it, you can bet i will use it.  Last week on twitter I noticed a few people tweeting about #niedcamp and I didn’t know what it was, so i did a bit of digging, which mostly meant asking a friend who had tweeted about it what the score was.

RTU summer school was cancelled this year, the announcement was made on the website on the day that most people would’ve been logging on to book themselves in for their chosen courses.  Honestly spaces in some of those courses were like golddust.

So when I heard that niedcamp was teachers running their own professional development courses for teachers I was really excited and knew that I wanted to help out, in whatever way I could.  I love learning and I knew this would be the innovative, cutting-edge practice that I wanted to hear about. And so far, although its only the early planning stages, it has been. Even spending a couple of hours chatting with the organisers has been great, They are so inspiring. I come away from it enthused and motivated.  Its like a spark has caught.

I’m really excited about nieedcamp.  Even though I sort of gatecrashed my way in their first meeting (well I was brought by a friend) and I only knew one of them before hand they have made me feel really welcome and have let me help out.  I think I might be the youngest person in the group and I’m certainly the only person in my keystage (Foundation) involved in the organising bit of things but I don’t feel like a complete newbie.  Maybe its because we are doing so much so fast.  Maybe its just because they’re happy to have any volunteers.  All I know is that for the next two months the thing I’m probably going to be most excited about is @niedcamp.  I’m feel really privileged to be able to be involved in something I believe in so much and happy to help out in anyway I can.

A wee course

My non-teachery friends have a joke that I must be the most qualified teacher in Northern Ireland and its purely down to the fact that I’m always signing up for “a wee course” or a study day in special needs, or an awareness course on something to do with education.

I love learning. I always have. As a child I was more likely to be found inside reading a book than outside getting up to mischief. At grammar school I think I may have been one of the only girls to sign up voluntarily for the inter-schools general knowledge quiz. Certainly I was one of the few sixth form students who took seriously our A-level RE teacher when we were told to do extra-reading to broaden our understanding of the history of early church.

My love of learning is probably a big part of what led me to become a teacher. I love that moment when something clicks and you understand what you’ve been learning about. I love that feeling even more when I can see the wheels turning in a students mind and then suddenly the penny drops.

So when I started my initial teacher training I wanted to continue learning, I wanted to learn things for me. So while at College I also went to tech at night and took a Level 1 course in British Sign Language. As graduation rolled closer I decided that I was going to do courses that would both benefit my teaching and the learning of my class (once I got one) and help boost my employablity. I wasn’t going to let lack of additional qualifications rule me out for applying for jobs if I could do something about it.

So this is what has led to me becoming what my friends call “the most qualified teacher in Northern Ireland.” I’ve lost track of how many courses and professional development training days I’ve been on. At one point I could coach Football and Rugby, teach Drama Education in school, support Dyslexic learners, use BrainGym and active relaxation techniques in the classroom and Teach English as a Foreign Language all while using counseling skills and supporting learners with SEN and those who were underachieving. I also learned piano (Grade 3) and took some graded exams (Grade 6) in acting and drama. I’ve also done a Masters in Educational Multimedia and as part of my role as Nurture Teacher I’ve completed the Nurture Group Network Certificate course and am enrolled through that on an MA in education pathway. I think I covered a lot of the bases.

I love training and professional development, especially when its good. I think its so important to continue to learn. Current trends in education will come and go and its important to stay up to date and be aware of them, but I think its more important to keep your love of teaching alive and fresh.

We work in a stressful job. At times paperwork seems never-ending and it can seem as if admin has taken over from actual teaching; so you need to keep the spark alive. No one went in to teaching for the paperwork, or for the money, or even for the holidays. If they did I’m sure they didn’t last long and are doing something with far less pressure. The people who go into teaching and last are the people with the heart for it. The people who want to make a difference in the lives of their students. The people who want to be game-changers and role-models. People who get tingles when they hear “oh captain, my captain!” and well up at the end of Freedom Writers. You come into teaching because you have a love for it and keeping that love alive is key to being able to stay in teaching.

The statistic that’s so often quoted now is that 4 in 10 teachers leave within the first three years. I graduated in 2007 and I have been in my current inner-city school for the past 5 years. I have no intentions of leaving. Partly I put that down to keeping my love of teaching alive through CPD, working with inspiring colleagues who drive me to be the best teacher I can be and linking in with teachers from around the world on Twitter, through blogs, through Pinterest. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17. That’s why its important to attend CPD courses, you will be sharpened by the presenters, sharpened by the people you meet in the coffee queue and sharpened by the teacher friends you go with as you unpick what you’ve heard and tweak it for your context.

At the minute I am privileged to be involved with niedcamp an innovative CPD day run by teachers, for teachers. It will fill the gap left by the cancellation of RTU summer school, a CPD event that I usually attend and would’ve missed. Now I am so excited about niedcamp that I am glad the way has been cleared for it! I have never worked with such a fantastic group of educators – I come away from each chat buzzing about the potential and vision and desire to impact their own profession and through that the teaching and learning in schools around them. As iron sharpens iron….

If you haven’t signed up yet to be at niedcamp you should. The details are on the website http://www.niedcamp.org and you can follow them on twitter @niedcamp