March for our Lives

Yesterday March for our Lives, a student led protest demonstration for gun control took place across America and across the world.  I don’t think you could’ve missed the protests, the walk outs, the media coverage if you’ve been online at all recently.

As a teacher in Northern Ireland I don’t have anywhere near the level of worry and fear that my counterparts in America have.  It is very unlikely that I will have to carry out active shooter drills in my classroom.  But that should be the same over the world.  No child should have to be trained in how to respond in a school shooting.  If you have to prepare your pupils for that, its because its likely.  A school shooting. A likely event.  That is an horrendous, sickening thought and surely it should be a wake up call to legislators.  There are schools preparing their children with buckets of river stones.  There are six year olds being given lollipops for “being good” and “staying silent” during active shooter drills.  Enough is Enough.  The signs from the protests say it all – “I can’t even bring peanut butter to school [picture of gun outlawed]”,  “I should be leaving school in a cap and gown, not a bodybag”, “Girls’ clothing is more regulated than guns”  “my college fund shouldn’t pay for my funeral” and “18th Century laws cannot regulate 21st century weapons.”

In my short teaching career I’ve been in school during a bomb scare three times, twice during the teaching day and once before school opened.  They were scary but they were once offs, not a constant fear or plausible daily threat.

The first scare was during my first year of teaching.  I had a class of 4-5 year olds and a message came round after lunch saying that the school was in lock down as there was a suspicious device on the street outside the front doors.  I was told to close the curtains and keep the children away from the windows.  We didn’t know what time we would be able to let the children go home but the kitchen was working out how to feed everyone dinner.

I remember pulling the blinds down and telling my class we were going to rearrange the furniture “to give us more room for playing,”  I pulled all the desks away from the wall of windows and set out all the play equipment on the other side of the room.  My class thought they were getting a treat, extra play time. I kept trying to think of ways to keep my class safe all the while keeping myself calm so the class didn’t pick up that anything was wrong.    When it was announced on the news the parents tried to come to the school to collect their children but couldn’t get through to the school because of the police cordon sectioning off the street.  After an hour or so we were able to get the children out of the school – the police said we could leave the school out through the football pitch and onto a side street and that they would allow parents through to collect the children and take them home.

My class didn’t know what was going on but I did.  I can’t imagine how to explain to a 4 year old that we have to practice incase someone comes in to school with a gun, never mind if it wasn’t a drill and there was a shooter in the school.  I can’t imagine the level of fear it would instill in them and in me.  I can’t imagine a world where that’s a plausible situation to be in.  No teacher should be able to, yet its reality for teachers and students across America.

I hope there’s a change in gun control legislation and I hope it comes quickly.

No child should be afraid to come to school.

No teacher should have to work out how to protect their classes from being killed.

No parent should drop their child to school, say goodbye and wonder if this is the last time they’ll see them alive.

I’m standing with all those who marched yesterday and continue to call for a reform in legislation.  Its badly needed.  Keep going.


Almost half term reflection

I’ve been in my new school for almost a half term now.  My class have jut completed their seventh week of school and the half term break is only two weeks away.

Im currently sitting on the sofa, after a day off school thanks to weather warnings from Hurricane Ophelia. I’ve experienced snow days before in my teaching career and find them surreal, never mind a storm day.  Hopefully if you’re reading this in Ireland you’ll be planning on staying in and being safe this evening too.

Last friday I had a Foundation Stage support visit from a school inspector offering any help they could for my school.  I was nervous – especially as a new coordinator.  I’ve been through the inspection process before and found it nerve wracking.  I thought a support visit would be no different, but I was wrong.  The inspector who came out was lovely, very encouraging and offered helpful suggestions.  As a new coordinator the whole process of leading is a bit of an unknown – its difficult to know for sure if you are going down the right path, never mind taking your key stage/school with you down it.  My big fear was that I was mis-advising my team and putting the wrong structures in place.  Thankfully though I seem to be on the right track.

When I was thinking about what I might be asked, I thought of how would answer the question: “What are the effects of the changes you’ve made in the first few months?” Quite simply I explained it as: the pupils are happy, the parents are happy and the staff are happy.

Its true.  I think that says a lot. I hope it continues to be the case and provides the foundation for building the rest of the school year on.




The Troll Tree

I wanted to introduce using a tree diagram in sorting this week. I thought it would help children to think of different ways of sorting and encourage the thinking skills through working out how someone else has sorted a collection of objects. Tree diagrams don’t really install excitement in four and five year olds though so I made a story to go with it. 

As a child of the mid 80s/early 90s I have a soft spot for trolls. So I thought I’d use a troll to help me make the tree diagram a bit more fun. 

This is my troll. 

He’s a bit grubby  and isn’t one of the ones with the jewel in its belly button but the children were excited. I asked them where the trolls live (in a tree now that’s to the recent animated movie). I explained that my troll likes collecting things but that he is very picky. He has rules about what he would like to collect. He uses his tree branches to help him sort. 

The children picked an object each from a box of sorting toys. One at a time they walked their object up the tree and the troll said yes or no, directing the object to the right branch. The children then had to work out what it was that the troll was collecting. It started off easy… green things, bears…. and then it got trickier. The thinking, excitement and language was brilliant for what could’ve been quite a dry activity. 

They particularly shone with comments like “why does the troll only want bugs?” “I think the troll only wants flying stuff” 

They were able to start to predict if the troll would say yes or no to each item once they had an idea of what the rule was. Sometimes they were proved right. Sometimes they had to rethink because the troll let something in they didn’t expect or ruled out something they thought he would like. 

I had eight at a time in this little group activity. After each sort we went trough the criteria verbally – 

bugs / not bugs 

purple/ not purple

With Wheels / not with wheels

Then they took it in turns to be the troll and decide their own rule. 

This lesson was a hit with the children and with me. Definitely going to use it again as we progress on to two criteria sorts. 

Elmer Invasion

From September 10th….

I’ve now done two weeks in my school. It’s busy, settling new P1s, getting to know them, getting to know staff, finding my way around my new setup in school and getting used to my new role of Foundation Stage Coordinator. It’s busy but I’m loving it. It’ll loving the challenge of it and the creativity that I get to share.

Our first theme for P1 is colour, it lets us learn about ourselves and each other, begin to sort and join in with some lovely book related activities. I’ve got Wow said the owl, the princess and the wizard, the day the crayons quit and brown bear brown bear lined up…. but I started with Elmer. My class have absolutely fallen in love with Elmer. They can’t get enough Elmer stories. I’ve literally caused a rush on Elmer books in the local library. One little girl even brought her own Elmer book in her bag to read on Friday.

For a playful introduction to sorting I decided to use their love of Elmer to create a purpose and interest in sorting.

On Tuesday as the children came in I told them someone had made a big mess in our room and I didn’t know how it had got there. I told them to go and look, in the classroom they were met by a pile of sorting toys on the floor surrounded by cones. A piece of paper was poking out from underneath. The children all had to guess what had happened.

It led to great excitement. “It’s a mystery for P1!” said one little boy. Our talking and listening activity for the morning was getting their ideas as to who it might have been. Then one girl spotted the note. I read it out. Elmer had come to play when we have gone home. He said sorry about the mess. My class decided he must’ve knocked to toys over with his trunk because he was too big. Some children were a bit sceptical. I suggested we check the security cameras… and lo and behold there was Elmer walking into our school.

I created a video of Elmer coming into the school using the greenscreen app by DoInk. I used photos of school, a png image of Elmer with a transparent background and added a series of shots with Elmer moving a little at a time, like stop motion. I exported it to the camera roll and opened it in iMovie to add the sound effects.

I asked the children what we could do about Elmer mess. I asked how they thought we could sort it. They suggested put all the same colours together so that’s what we did, working in pairs with a sorting tray and a big handful of elders mess they began to sort for colour with more enthusiasm than I’ve seen for an introduction to sorting ever.

Then they insisted on writing a letter back to Elmer, cue some shared writing I hadn’t planned on and in play the construction was quickly turned into a scene from James Bond as my pupils became mini Qs making”spy eyes” with knex to catch Elmer.

It’s inspired a whole lot more Elmer linked learning including Elmer toast and shared writing to the author David McKee.

This really worked with my class, I know a few teachers have said they want to do it too. If you use it let me know how it goes!

Wind’s in the East…

I’ve been working in the same school for the past seven years.  In that time I have taught across Foundation Stage.  I taught P1 for a year, P2 for two years and then became the Nurture Teacher responsible for setting up and teaching a small intervention class for 4-6 year olds with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.  Those seven years saw me develop as a teacher, as a colleague and also as a lifelong learner myself.   Its been seven years where I learned a lot, grew in confidence and in skill.  I have just seen my first class, my first P1s, leave and head off to Big School.

I know how this school does things.  I’m able to help and mentor new staff.  I’m able to speak with confidence about how we do things ad why.  I know the families and the community – I’ve taught sibling groups and extended families.  I know where everything is kept and how things run from term to term, year to year.  My colleagues have become proper friends.

But I’m leaving.

A post came up in another school, P1 teacher and  Foundation Stage Coordinator.  Its pretty much the dream job.  I love Foundation Stage.  It was my specialism during training and where I have happily spent the last seven years.  Its also the opportunity to move more formally into a leadership role.  I applied, and I got the job.

So I’m leaving.

Its bringing mixed emotions with it.  I flit between excitement and nerves.  I’m telling myself thats a healthy combo and it will keep me on my toes.

There will be lots more to learn, lots of new challenges and opportunities and hopefully new colleagues who will also become proper friends.

But for now let me leave you with a  quote from Mary Poppins which sums up a lot what I’m feeling at the moment.

“Winds in the east, mist coming in,

Like somethin’ is brewin’ and bout to begin…”

ADE Project – ClipsTours

A week ago I got back from ADE Academy in London.  Simultaneously it feels like it was forever ago and no time at all.

Since coming home I’ve had to recharge my phone at least twice a day.  Sometimes I just put my watch on to airplane mode to manage the constant stream of notifications.  I met some of the best people at Academy.  Teachers passionate about education and making a dent in the universe.  Teachers with a clear “why” who do everything for the love of learning.  It a fantastic buzz to be part of this community.  My phone just can’t keep up with all the buzzes!

One of the reasons as well why my phone battery isn’t holding up to a full days use is Twitter, another is Apple Clips.  I’m working on a project at the moment with my friend and ADE 2017 classmate Laura Dickinson.  ClipsTours aims to showcase our world through a series of short videos made with Apple Clips.  The project has only been alive for five days and already we have 45 clips submitted spanning the whole word.  You can take a look at the map here and follow the project on twitter @clipstours or #clipstours Maybe even make one of your own!

The exciting thing for me is that its not only other ADEs getting involved, its teachers and hopefully very soon, pupils.

As an early years teacher I’ve seen the value and importance of opening pupils eyes to the worlds beyond their experience.  As a teacher in a fairly insular and closed community  I know how vital it is to grow understanding and acceptance of different people from different places.

If we want our pupils to grow up to be responsible, engaged global citizens we need them to realise that they are part of a bigger world, that they have a place and a part to play.

Its a big aim, but I’m hoping that #ClipsTours might help with that.  Lack of education leads to fear and mistrust, which can lead to prejudice, racism and a whole host of social problems.

So lets start with education.  Lets build five minutes of global awareness into our classes every day.  Lets watch clips.  Lets connect with different people in different places.

Let’s make a dent.

My Showcase Journey Part 1: The Story

I had the opportunity to present a showcase at ADE Academy in London last week.  It was a scary, exhilarating, encouraging and wonderful privilege; certainly one of the highlights of Academy for me.

A good bit of arm-twisting went on to encourage me to apply to present.  Some Alumni who had seen my application video encouraged me that I had a story to tell and that I needed to apply.  My initial reluctance to do it wasn’t because I felt that the story wasn’t important – I am tremendously proud of the pupils and the staff I work with.  My reluctance was more along the vein of ‘sure everyone does the same kind of work!’ I know from watching, talking to and working with the rest of the ADE Class of 2017 that everyone is passionate and hardworking, what I do in my setting isn’t particularly different to what happens elsewhere.

I heard that I’d been selected to present at the end of May, only four weeks before the end of term.  It was a mad dash to get photo and video permissions in place and gather all the resources.  One thing I knew wouldn’t be hard to sort out was the story – I’ve been living it for the past four years.

The school I work in is set in the most educational deprived area of Northern Ireland.

82% pupils qualify for free school meals.

40% pupils are on the Special Educational Needs Register.

Four years ago we introduced iPads into every class.  Despite the improvements we have seen in motivation levels, engagement, Literacy and Numeracy, for me, the important story is the change in pupil aspirations.  Before iPads my 5-6 year old pupils struggled to think of what they might be when they grew up.  The idea they would have a job was strange to most of them.  Now with iPad those children are authors, illustrators, coders, game developers, collaborators, artists and architects.

I was asked at Academy what prompts I gave the children before I recorded them saying what they wanted to be when they grew up.  The answer is none.  I just told them that I wanted to record them saying what they wanted to be.  I got a wide range of answers: baker, florist, make-up artist, hairdresser, chef, footballer, youtube, Apple Teacher (!), designer, game developer, army IT support worker, navy engineer, inventor, architect, archaeologist and astrophysicist.  I couldn’t include them all so I picked the ones I knew were dreams that came from the influence of the iPad experiences.

The little girl who wants to be an astrophysicist is 10.  She taught herself to code with Python at home and since its release her favourite app has been Swift Playgrounds.  She is a Digital Leader in the school and is always willing to help out her peers, younger pupils and teachers.  She relishes a challenge.  Recently she was unable to play outdoors at break and lunch – out of all the options available to her she choose to sit inside and read her book.  Brian Cox’s Forces of Nature.  A signed copy that she got at Belfast’s SSE Arena when she convinced her parents to buy her tickets and take her to see him.  Now, for her, astrophysics is a total valid and achievable career path and honestly I will be surprised if she doesn’t achieve it.  Its either that or President of the World – I can see both happening.

I titled my showcase “Creating Dreamers” because thats what happened, an outcome I never would have predicted, but certainly a story I will tell and retell again and again.