Friday, 23 September 2011

Inspiration - freebies are not the point!

I attended the Scottish Learning Festival this week, and what a glossy affair it was. My decision to go was made quite late in the day, so unfortunately the seminars and workshops I wanted to attend were booked up. My experience was therefore pretty limited. Until the one keynote presentation I'd been successful in booking, it meant that much of my day was spent with a colleague perusing the shiny, expensive merchandise in the Exhibition area and explaining for the umpteenth time to sales people, that yes I was a teacher, but no I didn't have a classroom or class and no, I wouldn't be buying their fantastic resource. There were a number of stalls with people trying to publicise their work who were incredibly helpful, (thank you in particular to the staff from British Red Cross, SCCYP, Society for General Microbiology, Boardmaker UK, Screening Shorts and SCRAN) and my aching shoulder at the end of the day reflected just how many freebies I'd got.

There were local authority stands, with children explaining successful projects they'd been involved in, but these were pretty busy, and I'm sorry to say I didn't peruse these closely. The majority of things weren't relevant to my work as an outreach teacher, and those that were I'm currently using. It was great to see the children so passionately describing their achievements to other delegates though.

In the afternoon I attended the Keynote presentation by Sir John Jones. By this time, after an early train journey throughout to Glasgow, being on my feet all day, and the rapidly developing temperature and teary eyes signalling a stoater of a cold, I was pretty exhausted. Sir John Jones is an ex-head teacher and has been awarded an OBE for work in education.He is now a motivational speaker, and a very good one. He tugged at our heart strings with emotive music, and many funny stories and anecdotes, all presented in a very slick and charismatic performance. My cynical tone here shouldn't detract from the fact that he was very good, and it was one of the highlights of the day for me.
As teachers, we take inspiration from the children we teach. It's tough sometimes, and it's so important to take stock, and remember that it's tough because we care and we understand the impact and difference we make to children's lives. At times, it is as simple as that, and while we wrestle with the difficulties of our profession, it's good to take inspiration from other professionals too. You can watch Sir John Jones' presentation 'The Future is Not What it Was' here.

Sadly, my aching limbs and the thought of not getting home till around 10 at night meant that I didn't attend the Teach Meet at the end of the day, which I had been most looking forward to. For that is where another source of inspiration should come from - our colleagues. Luckily I'm part of a great team who I can call on for support, but it is a shame I didn't widen this team.
Still, there will be more opportunities and I have a pile of flyers, pens, posters and memory sticks to shower my lovely colleagues with. I'll also continue to get inspiration from the children I teach. Best quote from one of my pupils this week: "I'm embarrassed but I'll try". (Sums up my feelings about this blog too!) One of the ways I taught him this word was using this. Next week, we're continuing to make a short animated movie to address the difficulties and issues he experiences in school. Seeing his face light up when the camera comes out my bag is my inspiration. As Sir John Jones said, "Your pupils will forget most of what you teach them. They will never forget how you make them feel".

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


It's been a tough couple of weeks. To be as diplomatic as I can, lets just say I've come up against a few barriers which I'm still pushing against, and I'm so frustrated. I could let these frustrations out on here, but that's not the point of this blog (my lovely colleagues have shouldered the brunt of my moans!)
So instead, I thought I'd look at some positives. If I keep a record of what's working well, maybe it will inspire me to keep pushing against those barriers. I also thought if I take photos of my work, it'll make it easier to write a post around the picture - although sometimes I think a picture might do the talking.

I've recently started working with a boy in p4. He was referred to our service due to his extremely challenging behaviour. He frequently runs from class, hides, and has been very violent. Here he is, making some music using a great website called incredibox. This activity was to engage and calm him, after the very exciting occasion of setting up his own time out tent. I'm using a new resource with him which is being piloted at the moment, called 'Emotions Talk'. The Emotions Talk activities include labelling emotions as they happen, with the aid of visual cues, and you can see the cards for 'good feeling' and 'calm' in front of him. Then he chose to listen to some music, and he browsed through my itunes collection. He has great taste - looking through some of my old house tracks, he had a preference for Kerri Chandler which of course pleased me greatly, though not as much as how well he was able to use the new vocabulary he's learning. It was one of those fantastic lessons where you can almost hear things clicking into place. More like this before I kick something please.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Stop Frame Animation

Last academic year I had a lot of success when using stop frame animation with children. It's not an easy task  - it can be boring and repetitive and very fiddly. However it's so worth getting through all of these niggles because at the end of the process, you have a wonderful film! In fact the process here is incredibly important. The two films I've linked to below took weeks to make. Not all of the time was spent filming and editing though - we had several sessions looking at communication skills, how to work collaboratively with others and on conflict resolution. The children I worked with were referred to our team because they were at risk of exclusion from their schools, and were really struggling. For them to work on a task and see it through to completion was a massive achievement.

Targets for them involved raising self esteem, and after making these films,  that target was certainly achieved! I entered both films in a competition, and both were winners. It is often difficult to measure success in Health and Wellbeing targets, but in these cases feedback from children, parents and class teachers showed that the benefits stayed with the children long after the films were finished, and that the children continued to display much more positive behaviours.
 Not all of the filming I did last year was as labour intensive as these though. I also made a lot of short animated films using 'Go-gos':
I have the advantage of living with my wonderful daughter who has pestered me into buying these at my local newsagent for a couple of years, and therefore have a plentiful supply. These films could easily be completed in one teaching session (usually an hour and a half), and were particularly effective when I was working with children with an additional language to English. My outreach service supports Gypsy Traveller children, and I worked closley with a Roma family last year, who spoke very little English. Making films with the Go Gos enabled the children to learn colours, prepositions and to follow and give directions.
I also made several films using a similar format to a social story, in which children filmed themselves and their peers. Feedback from parents and schools was again very positive. These social story films were designed to be watched again and again, thus reinforcing their message.

I feel in such a privileged position as an outreach teacher. I work with very vulnerable children, and am with them and their families during an important stage of their childhood. Our team work with children who have experienced an interrupted education - either children who are too ill to attend school, Gypsy Traveller Children, Looked After and Accommodated children, excluded children, children at risk of exlusion, any child who is unable to fully access the curriculum in school. I have the advantage of teaching in a very child centred way - that as a class teacher, I could see was necessary but was unable to do as often as I wished to. In other words, the attention seeking children were given the kind of attention they needed in one to one and group sessions. I am able to spend time with children focussing on what we (the child and I) feel is of primary importance. I hope these videos speak for themselves.
I'm planning on posting more videos online, and possibly planning too, if anyone would like to see some, as well as going into more depth about the film making process - today's post has been written in a bit of a rush to be honest! Anyway, enjoy the films.

Toy Story 4 Film

The Dark Neighbourhood Film

NB - Will get these embedded soon, once I've figured out why I can't at the moment

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Preparing for work - the classroom environment

The last week of the summer holiday is approaching, so like most teachers, my thoughts are returning to the world of work. As an outreach teacher, these thoughts become plans and activities quite different to those in my old life as a class teacher.

As a primary teacher, the end of the summer holidays would involve preparing my classroom for the year ahead. A couple of years ago, I'd likely be found in Ikea buying boxes, trays and other bits and bobs with which to organise  my classroom. I'd then be found in school, balancing on step ladders (or more often than not chairs on top of tables) hanging backing paper to the walls and shifting furniture. I'd then arrange and re-arrange the furniture until I was happy with the flow of the room. Admittedly, I did once unwittingly create what one Primary 1 child (let's call him Arthur) considered to be the perfect racetrack around the room, in which he sprinted around the moment he entered the room for the first time. This was swiftly changed, but he did then consider it an obstacle course and it took quite some time for him to realise the purpose of the classroom, and ways to engage with it in other ways. The first solution which worked for a while was involving him in creating his own workstation, which he called his 'office'.
I digress - then there was the always thorny issue of seating arrangements for the start of term. Would this be a class I could have flexible seating for, or would they need the security of their own space? I was lucky in that my last school was in a lovely big Victorian building with huge classrooms, and I was able to be creative with seating, having areas for groups, pairs and individuals to be in. (There are many drawbacks to Victorian schools though, and I won't go into them here). Large expanses of wall were begging to be filled with visual cues, posters and displays. I'd also be undertaking the yearly trawl through and re-organisation of my teaching resources. I'd be creating a lovely big positive discipline display around a theme of some sort, as well as making signs for the different areas of the classroom (which would be replaced by children's ones over the course of the year).  I'd be sticking labels on everything, gathering resources from around school, and pestering colleagues for spare tables and bookcases. Then I'd be planning, planning and planning some more.

Actually that last part hasn't changed; that's where I'm at now. I no longer have a classroom, but visit children in school and at home to support them to fill any gaps in their learning. I still make up materials to aid children with coping in the classroom and returning to school, but make them throughout the year as required, in collaboration with class teachers.

The physical environment is so important, and when right, it can provide security, aid routines, foster creativity and independence and enable a smooth running classroom. (Not literally, Arthur!) The class environment should be welcoming, nurturing and pleasant to be in. It should be conducive to talking and listening, and promote literacy and numeracy. The classroom should meet the needs of the pupils - for example, if there are any visually impaired children, or those with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, then perhaps vibrant displays will be too distracting, and a calming plainer environment would be appropriate. And of course, after the initial teacher set-up, the children should be involved in aspects of the room's design, giving them ownership and the opportunity for creativity. So without a classroom, or having met the teachers of the children I'm supporting yet, or having seen their rooms, why am I working in the holidays?

I'm still preparing for improving the children's physical environment by anticipating the issues the children are likely to have, and to support inclusion. As I know the children already, I'm aware of their needs. Many of the children I'm supporting next term will be requiring visual cues such as pictorial timetables, communication cards and checklists to help with their organisational skills.

So next week, the planning and preparation must begin in earnest. I'll be digging out the laminator and paper trimmer. I'll be buying new ink cartridges for my printer. I'll be writing many, many lists.

And then, I'll maybe think about activities for learning and teaching!

Saturday, 16 July 2011


It's the summer holidays, and after two blissful weeks of spending time with my family and friends, crocheting, going to the gym and general pottering (as well as all the other things I rarely have time to do in term time), I feel my mind has cleared (somewhat!) and I can focus more on life outside teaching. Yes, it does take me this long to 'switch off' and adjust to an unstructured day.

I absolutely love my job, but  now teaching is at the back of my mind rather than the forefront. So in the misty recesses of my head, thoughts have been ticking over about this blog. It's been over a month since I started it, yet there's only one post published. Just why did I start it? I have 3 draft posts saved that I've not been brave enough to publish - it seems as soon as I write something, someone else does it better! For example, I wrote about my views on handwriting, and then saw this. My other drafts are frankly just havers (a very appropriate word).

So, what is the purpose of this blog? It's not primarily to share my views with the world, but to reflect on my teaching and experiences as a teacher in an attempt to become better. So why put it on the internet? I've realised then that this blog is like an online diary,  with the hope of becoming part of an online community of teachers and educators and sometimes getting feedback.

I think I need to be more specific in my ramblings, and blog about what I've been up to, and reflect on that. Of course I do have views on big issues, but I need to focus on my experiences and how they relate to these. I think I perhaps need to stop pondering quite so much, and just write!

So, once I get to the stage of my summer holiday when I'm planning for re-entering the world of education, I hope to post a great deal more. I have many exciting challenges awaiting me at the beginning of term, and in fact, just writing this post has started that ticking again in those misty recesses.... Hope you come back to see what I uncover!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

In the beginning...

So I've decided to start keeping a personal blog. I've kept simple wee blogs before, with the aim of sharing bits and bobs of ICT related teaching resources for school staff and children, but writing about me is new (and a bit scary, but hey ho - time to take a risk).
I've been a primary teacher for a while now, but I started a new job last year as and outreach teacher which has turned my teaching practice around, and I feel I'm learning more than ever before.
I went to the Lothians Teach Meet earlier this week, and while I didn't meet half of the people I'd have liked to, it was a great experience - to feel part of a growing community of teachers trying to make a difference through sharing and discussion (online and off), and actually taking the reins to move CfE forward -  ultimately to try to do the very best for the children we teach.
So this blog is for me to share and evaluate what I've been up to, and to let you know how inspired I am by the children I teach.