taken from the Times Educational Suppliment Scotland 27 February 2004
where we are all learners
School staff can learn as much from students on placement and other
visitors as we can teach them, writes headteacher Carol Omand
Aberfoyle Primary is a small rural school in Stirling with 95 children
plus 30 in the nursery class. There are five teachers and a headteacher,
so it is important to us that we embrace any opportunities to extend
our personal and professional development. We have been able to do this
on an international scale.
Over the past seven
years we have been developing Storyline, a child-centred approach to
topic work, that provides children with opportunities to use problem
solving strategies, critical thinking, creativity and decision making.
Storyline is highly regarded in many countries and Aberfoyle Primary
is featured on an international website. We have had visits from teachers,
professors and directors of education from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
In the spring term
of 2001, for example, we had two Danish students on a three-week placement
for their four-year degree course. They came to study Storyline and
our education system.
We had the whole
staff of a Norwegian school for a day, 25 visitors in all, including
the caretaker, support for learning assistants and the administrative
assistant. Such a party can put quite a strain on the resources of a
small school and requires a concerted effort to make it possible. The
day finished with the Norwegian staff (who are also a choir), led by
their headteacher, singing on the school steps. Our pupils and staff
listened and then joined in a Norwegian dance. It was a wonderful day.
Our visitors gave
us a copy of the core curriculum for primary, secondary and adult education
in Norway, which has proved a powerful document for questioning my own
thinking and our collective vision for Aberfoyle Primary. We hope one
day to go on an exchange visit; meanwhile we correspond regularly.
In recent weeks
we have had four student teachers from the Faroe Islands on a training
placement as part of their degree course. Their main aims were to study
Storyline and improve their English. In the Faroe Islands they teach
children aged seven to 17.
I used a Storyline
approach, starting with where they were in their knowledge and understanding
and together building a programme to meet their needs.
As a former lecturer
in primary education, I conducted a series of tutorials to give time
for reflection on their observation and practice and stimulate discussion.
The students were given opportunities to observe, team teach, plan lessons
co-operatively and, as their confidence grew, to take on more responsibility
for groups and eventually, in pairs, whole class responsibility with
the teacher present.
provided a rare opportunity for all the school staff to be involved
in aspects of training and for individual staff members to become leaders.
In the mornings
the students were involved with language and number work.
This triggered discussion
in the staffroom about the age children start school, behaviour, respect,
handwriting, phonic work, resources and teaching methods. The Faroese
students also began to think of the practicalities and possibilities
of cross-curricular work within a secondary timetable and came up with
some exciting proposals.
The students settled
well into our environment and each day in the staffroom we shared stories,
facts and laughs, dispelling myths about our cultural differences.
included the following comments.
"In maths you
use different methods and tools, compared to the Faroese system, to
explain the functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division."
"In your composite
P2/3/4 there is flexibility. I've noticed how well it works for the
benefit of each child."
"I hoped this
practical period would give me new ideas to enable me to vary my teaching
and even more hopefully to the benefit of my pupils."
"It is always
good to experience something new that challenges you and broadens your
"I have learned
another way of teaching children how to read."
Our pupils have
benefited from having enthusiastic student teachers able to answer questions
from personal experience and bring topic work alive.
The parents are
delighted that their children can hear first-hand about other countries
The staff are now
writing papers on children's learning and their recent experience in
delivering staff training to add to their professional development portfolios.
I see Aberfoyle
Primary as an environment where we are all learners. When we are asked
questions about our own practice, it helps us to reaffirm or rethink
what we are doing and it helps us to widen our horizons from a small
rural environment to a strategic knowledge of education. We are indebted
to our northern European colleagues for enriching our experience.
Carol Omand is headteacher
of Aberfoyle Primary, Stirling