Teacher of the Week: Leanne Harwood, GEMS Founders SchoolOctober 23, 2017, 7:00 am GMT
HEAD OF YEAR 1
GEMS FOUNDERS SCHOOL
Why and how did you get into teaching?
I was studying Law at university when I suddenly realised, during my last term, that I needed something a little bit more colourful and exciting as a full time job. I had been working with children in a number of different roles for the past 10 years (summer camps, Sunday school, Girl Guides, etc.) and it was only at that moment that I realised I could see myself working with children as a full time job. After I finished my law degree, I completed my PGCE with an early years specialism.
How long have you been teaching for? How long have you been in the Middle East?
I completed my PGCE in 2008 and since then have spent most of my teaching career in FS2, with one year in Year 2 and I am now in Year 1. I moved to Dubai in August 2016.
What is exciting about your role?
I love working with the children. In England, it is very unusual for heads of years/department to be full time teachers as well, but at GEMS Founders School, I have my own class and lead a strong team of nine other year one classes. It is so fantastic to see the progress amongst such a large number of children, and to know that I have helped in some small way to make that possible. We run our Year 1 at GFS in a similar way to FS, with activity stations, free flow, independent learning time and a strong emphasis on the children being responsible for part of their learning. So far, it has given fantastic results, and the children love coming to school as much as we do.
What is challenging about your role?
As wonderful as it was to have a year group of 10 classes, it meant that my time was stretched in so many different ways. We have such wonderful teachers in our year group (and in our school) but I was not been able to support them as much as I would have liked, in terms of getting in the classroom and modelling lessons, team teaching and sharing best practise. This year, now that the school is more established, my focus will be on making sure that each team member feels supported and has a chance to team teach, with a focus on being innovative and creating a rich learning environment that caters to the needs of the children.
What's the biggest myth about teaching?
That we come in when the children start, and leave when the children have gone home! Nobody sees the huge amounts of preparation that go in to making sure that lessons are inspirational, differentiated and creative. Very often, at the weekend, we stop driving to pick up some random resource that we have found. Most memorably, during a sand storm, we found a large branch that we took to school to use in our safari role play area. It was well loved by the children, and made it much more realistic.
Who has been your inspiration throughout your career? Why?
The children. In the UK, I worked in schools in quite disadvantaged areas, with a lot of children who spoke very little English and had very little at home either in terms of wealth or support. The school I was in had very little in terms of resources and that first year taught me about how resilient I was and how much I loved helping the children. It was hard trying to find ways to engage children in learning who had much bigger issues to worry about at home with very few resources, but it was so rewarding.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement over the course of your career?
For me, my achievements have been measured in the successes that I've had with individual children. Hearing from parents about how much their child now loves coming to school, when at one time they could not even get them to come through the door, makes this job so worthwhile, and means more to me than any personal achievement.
Tell us one way a particular student has impacted your life or teaching philosophy
During my first year of teaching I had a student who had witnessed a very graphic and life changing tragedy in her home country. She was, understandably, quite traumatised and suffering from PTSD. Although I had to be mindful of the fact that my first job was to teach her, I quickly realised that this could not happen in the traditional way and that I needed to be not only creative, but considerate. Taking the time to get to know her, I found out what she liked and disliked and was able to teach her in a very subtle way, making links with her without explicitly sitting down and making her feel like she was in a "lesson". It was a real learning curve for me, and made me understand why it is so important to get to know the children first.
How do you get students interested in the subject you teach – have you found an innovative way to engage students?
We have taught our Year 1 classes in an FS style this year, allowing for us to be creative with our timetable, curriculum and giving us the opportunity to follow the children's interests. During our dinosaurs topic, we created a short film of our playground and principal and then used an app called FXGuru to add a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The children then received a letter from the dinosaur with some instructions (our mathematics focus for the week), at the end of which was a giant dinosaurs egg. We wrote instructions on how to look after the egg, the children researched what kind of dinosaur it might hatch to become, we created posters warning other children about the T-Rex and we created egg protectors in design and technology that kept the egg safe. It was a very enjoyable topic. We got such a lot from it, and the children felt like there was a great purpose behind it, so they were totally enthralled!
Are there any specific goals you would like to achieve in your career?
This year I have achieved one of my goals, to become head of Key Stage 1 while also teaching part time. I love being in the classroom and would only want to be a head of department/key stage if I could also have my own class, at least part of the time. My other goals are more reflective. As a teacher, as soon as you have taught a lesson, you think of something that you would do differently, and I would very much like to inspire other teachers around our school to take more risks in terms of their own teaching by modelling best practise.
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