I’d just finished the ‘good stuff’. The children had recalled their prior learning through a quick game of bingo. We had completed a number of short, sharp whiteboard activities to help them really engage with the subject matter. I had exemplified a number of assessment for learning (AfL) strategies and we had watched a short clip about how children with disabilities were unable to access education in particular parts of the world. The children were on fire and I felt proud.
The class fell silent as they put pen to paper, eager to write their letter to the world leaders to encourage them to invest in education for all. Then the door opened and my heart began to pound.
Ofsted was visiting the school. I had been observed a great many times during my 12 years’ teaching, but still hadn’t got to the point of enjoying the experience. This inspection also meant so much to the team. Our school had been on quite the journey: with new leadership, we had travelled the intense road from ‘notice to improve’ to ‘good’ and were aspiring to become ‘outstanding’.
The Ofsted inspector walked in and I felt the urge to do something. I felt that I should interrupt the class, demonstrate my multi-media, engaging and exciting approach to English lessons. Instead, I steadied my breathing and let the class continue. They sat writing in silence, and I supported as if no one was watching, asking individual pupils questions to help them extend their sentences through critical thinking, compassion and empathy.
I had always been a keen advocate of empowering global citizens. Prior to teaching, I worked as a regional support manager with refugees and asylum seekers. I had driven to A&E on countless occasions throughout the night to sit with young men and women, who had sought asylum in our country, but had been abused in the wake of the changing attitudes, triggered by the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001.
I became frustrated by the lack of critical thinking skills shown by usually open-minded people who challenged me about my job. I thought long and hard about leaving a successful career to embark on teaching: I was proud to be working in the field that I was, but my potential to effect change was limited. I wanted to engage children – the adults of the future – and teach them the critical thinking skills that are essential to navigate a world of media, and build balanced and informed opinions.
From the day I started teaching, I was driven by this passion and drive to shape empowered global citizens. I created opportunities to learn about many different nationalities, cultures and peoples, and linked with an overseas school. I developed our PSHE curriculum to make it more citizenship-based so children could understand their own place in the world, before trying to understand someone else’s. I threaded global learning opportunities throughout my school’s curriculum so it became an ethos, not just a stand-alone subject.
As the years passed I moved away from learning about different cultures to engaging with the global aspect. I encouraged a move away from ‘charity mentality’ and taught the children about the power of their voice as a catalyst for social justice. Having been trained as an expert centre co-ordinator for the Global Learning Programme, I also led a network of partner schools, supporting teaching colleagues to deliver effective teaching and learning about development and global issues in their schools.
The movement towards a text-based approach in English enabled a greater amount of freedom to pick books and subject matters that ignited the souls of our children and, in return, their thirst for knowledge increased. They learned about Malala, a young person like themselves, who had used her voice to change the lives of many. They learned about South Africa and its rich and varied history. We delved into the lives of indigenous peoples of the Amazon and alongside that, examined the reasons why deforestation takes place. The children discovered it was not a simple case of ‘good versus evil’ and identified how our actions can affect those we have never met.
So, here I was, 12 years on, sitting in a room with the inspector who asked, ‘How do you feel that went?’ She told me that she was blown away by the writing that the children were producing. She had looked back through the books and could see the learning journey and the children’s passion. Crucially for me, she also noted their critical thinking – she saw that they could link education to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Needless to say, I was immensely relieved. It wasn’t just that we had achieved an ‘outstanding’, but also that the relentless work that goes into providing a holistic education for our children on a daily basis had been recognised.
But the real pride for me came when I read a letter to my class in response to their letters to the world leaders. The Prime Minister referenced particular questions in the children’s letters and responded to them, also stating that funding towards international education had been increased. I watched the children’s faces as they realised that they had made a difference just by putting pen to paper.
I believe that when we tell our children that they can change the world; when they are given a purpose and context to their writing; when they see a positive effect from something they have done, however small, they will realise their potential as a learner, a global citizen and a good human being.
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