Thursday, 11 July 2019

#ErasmusPlus Key Action 1

*Whilst not deliberately a political post, it is impossible to talk about funding opportunities without mentioning Brexit and the loss of such opportunities for future pupils and teachers*

Since 2004 my school has taken part in many opportunities to travel and engage with colleagues and partners in projects and training across Europe through EU funding from the British Council and the Erasmus Plus programme.  The impact this has had on my teaching and therefore on the lives of the pupils who cross my path is immeasurable but needless to say it has been a positive one. It is one of the many reasons, I am disappointed and saddened that such opportunities are slipping away for future generations as England and Wales drags the rest of the UK out of the EU, against our wishes. 

Since October 2004, I personally have had the opportunity to travel to Italy, Norway, Poland, France, Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, Iceland, Malta and Turkey to visit schools and take part in workshops and training. The friendships I have made during the past 15 years have been invaluable in helping me to develop my practice and grow as a preschool teacher. Our school has also hosted colleagues from Poland, Spain & Sweden and as a result I have had to really understand the 'why' of how I do things - when you have to explain your practice to someone else, you really begin to articulate why you do things or to question why you should continue to do things.

In 2013 I travelled to Iceland and met a very enthusiastic teacher called Kristín, who wanted to develop her ideas about how young children learn by moving and to show others how to make learning fun beyond preschool. Social media has made staying in touch with new friends in far flung places a lot easier & so Kristín and I were able to touch base ever so often through Facebook & I watched as her business Leikur að læra  grew and went from strength to strength. I saw that Kristín was now offering training for school staff funded by Erasmus Plus and planned for some staff to attend this training in Iceland. Our project 'Inclusive Creative Education for All' allowed 8 members of staff - both teachers and assistants - to attend a week long training course run by Kristín and Sarah from Smart English in Alicante under their partnership of 'Smart Teachers Play More', 4 went to Spain and 4 to Iceland and 2 of us to also travel to Malta to do another language based course. 

On our course in Iceland there were 22 people, it seemed like a big group but everyone worked really well together and it was incredible to get to mix with teachers from across Europe and who work with different age groups from preschool to adults. I learned so much from each of the participants over the week, never mind what I learned from our course providers. 

The inspiring Kristín in action.
The course operated from 9-3 every day for 5 days, each day flew by as we were learning a lot and on the move so much too. I have rarely attended a course where I gained something every hour that I knew I could take back to school and use immediately. 
Luckily both of us in the nursery - teacher and assistant were able to take part in this course and so we have been able to introduce aspects of the course into our everyday teaching. For the last 8 weeks of the school year we split the class into 4 groups of 7-8 children and had weekly 'Play To Learn More' sessions with children embracing the opportunity to climb over and under tables, move like crabs or snakes across tables and learn and consolidate core skills e..g numbers, colours and letters. We both can't wait for September when we can have a whole school year using the innovative method to introduce and consolidate academic skills. 
Our Play To Learn Mat has been wonderful for reinforcing key skills. 
During the first week of the summer break 2 of us travelled to Malta to undertake a 'Teaching English to Young Learners' course with Alpha School of English
This course offered practical advice on teaching young children English and the other participants were all Italian teachers wanting to introduce an element of English to their classrooms as opposed to ourselves who were thinking of how best to help our 'Newcomer' (the term used in N.Ireland for children who speak a language other than English at home) pupils acquire a good level of spoken English, quickly. 

One of the best aspects of this opportunities is the chance to connect with like minded teachers from across Europe - to share practice, ideas and talk about how we can learn from each other. Chatting with colleagues over coffee after the courses often provided valuable insights into ways to improve practice. 

Whilst we were in Malta for the last course of our current KA1 project I received word that our new application for a two year project enabling 15 members of staff to attend courses and a job shadowing scheme had been successful so thankfully these wonderful opportunities are still available for UK schools for now. 

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