Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Teacher Voices: Tyla Elworthy

Here is the third of my series of blog posts celebrating the achievements and progress of former students.

Tyla Elworthy (@TyElworthy on Twitter) graduated from Plymouth University in 2015 with a 1st Class Honours Degree and moved to London. It was there she began working in a wonderful school in the middle of Angel, Islington. Since joining the school she has had some amazing experiences, including arranging a successful Teachmeet and becoming ICT Co-ordinator.

Tyla says she loves working in London, because it's very different to the schools she trained in while at university and she thinks that is why she enjoys the challenge. She says she is looking forward to another year at the school next year! Here is her interview:

1) What made you decide to become a teacher? What/who inspired you? What were your motivations?
I have wanted to be a teacher since I began teaching the alphabet to my teddies in my bedroom when I was about 7 years old! I grew up in a child-orientated familial home, as my parents are foster carers and so I always knew I’d grow to do something in childcare or provision. When it came to the time to make a decision about university, choosing a degree in primary education was the most natural choice and I am so glad I made that decision! 

2) What is the best thing about being a teacher in a primary school? What gets you out of bed in the morning? 
My goodness - there are so many positive aspects to being a teacher, it’s hard to isolate one! I think for me, the main thing is being a positive, optimistic and relentlessly consistent role model in the lives of children who need the stability and routine. I love being one of the people in their lives who they know they can rely on to be there and be smiling as soon as they arrive first thing in the morning. To be among one of the first smiles in a child’s day is a privilege indeed. 

3) What does it take to become an excellent teacher? What characteristics do the best teachers have? 
From the incredible teachers I have met so far in my short career, the successful teachers are the ones who are in it for the children. It’s a personality trait which I think you tend to have or you don’t and when you do, no matter how hard the workload or how late the nights are, you’re still powering through with a smile and enthusiasm. Excellent teachers have the incredible ability to enthuse a child with a passion for learning a subject, no matter how dull it may have initially appeared to them. I have witnessed teachers turn even the most boring of topics into thrilling learning which enthrals even the most resistant of pupils. 

4) What do you consider your greatest achievement to date as an educator? 
When one of my pupils came up to me and said ‘Miss Elworthy, you’re the reason I love coming to school, you teach me interesting things, thank you’. There’ll be no greater moment than that for me, turning learning into a passion is something I am very proud of. 

5) How can we improve education? If you were the Secretary for Education, what would be your first priorities? 
It would absolutely be funding. I work in the second highest borough for child poverty in the country. Our children miss out on experiences and support which would help them flourish and it’s all down to cuts essentially. I understand the need to cut back on expenses but cutting back on children’s futures? Not OK. 

6) What are the most innovative uses of technology in education (that you have done yourself, or have seen)?
I was lucky enough to take my Code Club children to an amazing Computing Celebration recently near our school at the Emirates Stadium. There we saw some incredibly innovative uses of technology and we particularly loved the use of Virtual Reality technology to bring literacy to life. 

7) What is your favourite story or memory of teaching children you would like to share? 
Last year I bought caterpillars for my class and we spent weeks diligently giving them sugar water and watching them grow in hope and anticipation that they would emerge into beautiful butterflies. Eventually they did and the time came to release the butterflies outside. It was a gorgeous spring day and we all gathered around the cage. As I opened the enclosure and the butterflies began to fly away, the look on the children’s faces was amazing, they were staring in total wonder. I was proud to have given them a life experience I know they will never forget. 

8) What advice would you give those who are just about to start out on the pathway to becoming a teacher? The same advice my sister gave to me when I became a teacher - your workload will never end. You could do 12/13/14/15 hour days and still never reach the end of your 'to do' list. Always keep one week day evening and one weekend day to yourself, no work! Be strict on keeping that you-time, you need it. 

9) What are the most significant challenges facing education right now? 
The constant assessment of teacher performance really puts a strain on our ability to provide stimulating and exciting experiences for our students. The pressure schools are under to produce amazing data at the end of each year is increasing week by week and it just isn't sustainable, either for staff or pupils. 

10) What will schools of the future look like? What would you like to see happening in the next 10 years? 
Children will be leading the schools of the future with any luck! There won’t be a whiteboard at the front of the room and the adults will whole heartedly be facilitators, not controllers. We will have the freedom to follow a child’s interests and plan the learning around that, ensuring the children are passionate about their learning. 

Photo courtesy of Tyla Elworthy

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Teacher Voices: Tyla Elworthy by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Teacher Voices: Megan Douglas

This is the second of my series of blog posts celebrating the achievements and progress of former students.

Megan Douglas (@MegDouglasTeach) graduated from Plymouth University in 2015 with a B.Ed degree in primary education. She is half way through her second year of teaching. On graduation she wrote a blog post about her time at Plymouth University. She now teaches in Berkshire where she grew up. Whilst at university she heard news of a new free school being set up in her local area, which grabbed her attention. When she found out it would be a specialised STEM primary school she was even more interested, and after a long application and interview process she secured her first teaching post at the school. Despite the challenges she has loved being involved with working at a newly established school as a newly qualified teacher (NQT). She feels she has a say in everything and all staff continue to have a huge part in making decisions and moulding the way they would like their school to grow. Here is her interview:

1) What made you decide to become a teacher? What/who inspired you? What were your motivations?
One day I just woke up and decided I wanted to be a teacher. I had always enjoyed working with children, organising events and drama – I decided that I could do these things every day as a teacher! I’ve always enjoyed education and I really did enjoy going to school, I had brilliant teachers and some not so brilliant teachers but they have all shaped the kind of teacher I am and the teaching methods I use in my classroom.

2) What is the best thing about being a teacher in a primary school? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
This is a question I still ponder on and the reasons change quite regularly. It really is the little things that I enjoy about teaching, the ‘light bulb’ moments and watching children grow throughout the year. I teach year 1 and I find the transition from EYFS to KS1 absolutely fascinating, they change so much throughout the year and it’s lovely when they are so aware of their achievements and developments too.

3) What does it take to become an excellent teacher? What characteristics do the best teachers have?
Good question… I’ve been lucky enough to be taught by some excellent teachers and I honestly think it is up to the learner to give a teacher such a prestigious title. I also think behind an excellent teacher is an excellent team. As a learner, I believe an excellent teacher should be supportive, funny, challenging and fair. The best teachers I have ever had have given me the opportunity to explore and connect my learning with real life experience. 

4) What do you consider your greatest achievement to date as an educator?
I cried 7 weeks into my NQT year in the toilet next to my classroom because a little boy with Special Educational Needs in my class called me by my name for the first time and recognised me as his teacher. It was something so small to everyone else but the biggest achievement for me and him. 

5) How can we improve education? If you were the Secretary for Education, what would be your first priorities?
Number one, funding. I work in one of the poorest funded boroughs in the UK. The schools are very good in my local area and I have been lucky enough to attend these schools as a child but gradually over the years the funding has been decreased and cut. Because housing prices are high, average wages are good and the schools have good results we have seen huge cuts in our school funding. Resources are so limited and some local schools are even asking parents to foot the bill. Number two, I would ensure I could relate to our teachers. I really think that those making big decisions should experience what we experience on a daily basis. 

6) What are the most innovative uses of technology in education (that you have done yourself, or have seen)?
At my current school we are very Google based. Our teamwork is smooth, neat and effective through the use of sharing files, planning and working collaboratively on documents. Children in school have a Chromebook each along with access to tablets in each class. Everything is connected. We now have a 3D printer and are working on projects with our oldest year group (year 4) to design and make their own objects. CPD is very strong at my school and I have been able to explore different technologies through having time to network and visit the BETT Show to explore new opportunities for technological innovation at our school. BETT was full of virtual reality this year which will hopefully be our next development… 

7) What is your favourite story or memory of teaching children you would like to share?
On the last day of the summer term we took the whole school on a day trip to Bournemouth. The sun was shining and it was a glorious day, we took them straight to the beach and our wonderful parent vounteers and staff marked off a very large section of the beach for us. Some children had never been to the beach before, they hadn’t felt the sand between their toes or the salty tasty of the sea. The children were able to paddle and jump between the waves. We walked to the gardens and enjoyed our sandwiches and ice creams. For some reason I felt like a real teacher that day, a memory maker. 

8) What advice would you give those who are just about to start out on the pathway to becoming a teacher?
Observe the best, apply what you know, be confident but be yourself (children can always see through you!). Your to do list will never end but that is okay. Make time for yourself, your friends and family. Enjoy.

9) What are the most significant challenges facing education right now?
Lack of teachers and high volumes of teachers leaving the profession along with high rates of mental illness (for both pupils and teachers) all linked to the pressure and stress of results and data.

10) What will schools of the future look like? What would you like to see happening in the next 10 years?
At my school all staff are called by our first names, the children don’t line up and walk in straight lines, the children can sit where they wish when they go in to assembly, we let the children explore our natural outside areas, the children have wide access to technology but can make a decision whether is necessary to use instead of another tool. The children camp, they cook food on our fire, they make dens in the wood at break time without having ‘forest school’ on the timetable. We let them be children. I love working at the school I teach at but I’m very aware it isn’t the reality in this climate of results and progression. I wish for schools of the future to be more child led and focused on the development of a child. 


Photo courtesy of Megan Douglas

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Teacher Voices: Megan Douglas by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Teacher Voices: Neil Jarrett

Last year I celebrated 40 years in educational technology and tracked some of the history of this relatively new discipline. This year I'm celebrating 20 years as a teacher educator, all of it at Plymouth Institute of Education.

In a recent post entitled Teacher Voices I promised I would celebrate by interviewing some of my past student teachers to see where they are now and what their professional responses are to ten questions.

One of those former students - Neil Jarrett (@edtechneil) - has done rather well for himself. Neil graduated in 2009 and is now a teacher at an international school in Thailand. He has written three books and several articles for magazines such as the Times Educational Supplement. His teacher blog EdTech4Beginners is a must read for anyone interested in leveraging technology in schools. Neil has a real passion to share his learning not only with his students, but also with his professional community. Here at Plymouth Institute of Education, we are very proud of Neil's achievements!

1) What made you decide to become a teacher? What/who inspired you? What were your motivations?
I was inspired by my mother who was also a teacher. I used to help in her class a lot when I was growing up.

2) What is the best thing about being a teacher in a primary school? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
It is an exciting time to be a teacher with new initiatives and new technologies emerging all the time. It allows me to be creative and innovative on a daily basis.

3) What does it take to become an excellent teacher? What characteristics do the best teachers have?
Knowing how to pitch a lesson and thinking of exciting ways to teach it. I also think the best teachers are the ones who can explain new concepts in a clear, methodical way.

4) What do you consider your greatest achievement to date as an educator?
Being nominated for educational blog of the year.

5) How can we improve education? If you were the Secretary for Education, what would be your first priorities?
I would push for a more creative curriculum with emphasis put on inquiry and project based learning.

6) What are the most innovative uses of technology in education (that you have done yourself, or have seen)?
Collaborative work through tools such as Google Docs. The fact that children can work together, simultaneously (and even remotely) is fantastic.

7) What is your favourite story or memory of teaching children you would like to share?
Teaching internationally and being immersed in an amazing culture.

8) What advice would you give those who are just about to start out on the pathway to becoming a teacher?
Manage your workload well – focus on the important things that impact on learning.

9) What will schools of the future look like? What would you like to see happening in the next 10 years?
I predict that artificial intelligence will assist teachers with tracking progress and generating personalised next steps.

10) What are the most significant challenges facing education right now?
I think children are pushed to achieve too early. They all learn at different times and at different speeds – there is no set model we should follow for each child.

Photo courtesy of Neil Jarrett

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Teacher voice 1: Neil Jarrett by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Universities and democracy

Universities traditionally link research and teaching. This means the place where knowledge is produced is also where it is passed on.

As such, students at universities are able to receive a critical education - one in which knowledge is constructed and contested rather than simply received.

This is why it is important that universities engage in research and why university lecturers must be both teachers and researchers.

It is because of this that universities are central to the effective operation of civil society; alongside contributing to public education more broadly, those at the forefront of their disciplines have a duty to educate those citizens privileged enough to be able to attend to be critical and independent of thought. In this, working to allow a wide variety of students from different groups and backgrounds to attend is hugely important. 

In areas of professional education like nursing, social work and teaching, this can help ensure these professions remain representative of those they serve. And through their research and scholarship, lecturers can advance democracy by advising policy makers, providing considered solutions to society’s problems and holding policy makers to account.

Yet recent reports in the Times Higher Education have suggested that elite universities and the like are more focused on themselves than on their civic role. And there is a danger that all universities divide teaching from research and focus only on government or business agendas rather that the wider contribution they can make to the public good. 

New civic universities - like Plymouth - are well positioned to influence civil society positively, but only if we choose this path. At a time when respect for expertise is challenged and the gap in political views between those with a degree and those without is widening, surely the case to do so is overwhelming.

Photo by Sage Ross on Wikimedia Commons
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Universities and democracy by Peter Kelly was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Teacher voices

Ever wonder what your former students are doing right now?

Of course you do.

If you're a teacher, you will take pride in your students and their achievements. Most of mine have trained to be primary educators, and go on to change lives and make lives in their teaching careers. It's great to keep in touch with them via social media to see how they are doing.

I'm starting a new series of posts tracing the careers and achievements of some of my former students. Those who have studied on the B.Ed Primary Computing and ICT pathway at Plymouth Institute of Education will feature in this series of posts. They will have studied under the tutorship of myself and other educators such as Peter Yeomans, Oliver Quinlan, Clare Fenwick, Duncan Lloyd, Rouen Gargan and James Bettany (if I have missed anyone out, apologies!)

To me, my former students - now qualified teachers - are extraordinary, because they have entered the volatile and ever changing teaching profession as visionaries - people who want to make a significant difference in children's lives, inspiring them to learn and reach further. They achieve this through innovative pedagogies, creating great learning spaces and with a liberal dose of technology. I want to know how they have developed their thinking as professionals, and what progress they have made in their practice as educators. I want to share these teacher voices with you.

In tomorrow's post I will feature the first of my posts - a brief interview with Neil Jarrett, who graduated from Plymouth in 2009. Prepare to be inspired.

Photo by Tom Wilkins

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Teacher voices by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

From winter to summer - My visit to South Africa

I am fortunate enough to be a Visiting Extra-Ordinary Professor at Northwest University. It is one of the older universities in South Africa on three campuses at Potchefstroom, Mafikeng and Vanderbijlpark. My work was in ‘Potch’ as the locals call it, and the area around it, as well as attending and speaking at the Educational Association of South Africa annual conference.

It was my second visit to work with their Leadership Research Group on projects of mutual interest, and to learn more about South Africa, and in particular the challenges facing the education system both in schools and in Higher Education. In HE, the ‘Fees must fall’ Campaign has been a very strong push to the government to the way they structure fees in higher education, and the campaign, which was initially violent protest, has settled down to sustained campaigning by activists.

In the leadership group, we compared the challenges facing educational leaders in South Africa with those in England. Colleagues were particularly interested to hear more about the academisation of the English system, with thoughts that it might end up, like much policy, coming to South Africa. We also looked at the personal and professional challenges faced by leaders in a system which is highly unionized, and Principals have very little say in the staff that work in their school.

Visits to local schools showed some of the specific concerns of educators locally, such as teenage pregnancy, abuse, and child parenting due to lose of parents through aids. In one local township school, we saw how the school had worked with pupils and parents to make sure that hunger did not stop young people learning. As well as the food given out by the government, the school encouraged unemployed mothers from the township to sell food in the dinner hour.

Where once the local primary schools were white, affluent and spoke Afrikaans, now affluent black parents are bringing their children into town to schools. Language instruction was also in English and the local language, Setswana. Meanwhile poorer pupils in the township may still face a 5+ mile walk to school.

We also learnt about the changing demographics of the area around the university.

The vice principal at one of the secondary schools we visited talked movingly of the history of the school, which has transformed over the last ten years from a place no one wanted to go, with under 30% in the national exams, to a popular school with over 65% and rising in the national exams.

In particular, she talked about her passion for education, despite being firebombed out of school in the years prior to Mandela’s release. Her passion for learning and her students was self-evident. It reminded me, as did the entire visit, of educations potential to transform lives.

Photos by Megan Crawford

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From winter to summer by Megan Crawford is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.