Cathy Francis, a Chartered Teacher from St Thomas RC Primary, recently spent a week working in a German primary school in the small town of Plaue in the middle of Germany. The visit was funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme* and Comenius is one of the most popular international education programmes for UK schools, colleges and local authorities. Although some schools in Moray have partner schools across Europe this opportunity is specifically for teachers to pursue international professional study either through attending a conference or course or in this case job shadowing a colleague overseas. The contact came about through Cathy meeting and working closely with the newly appointed Plaue Head Teacher, Frau Listing, during St Thomas PS recent two year Comenius School Partnership with her previous school.
I went out in the first week of December with a remit of discovering how German teachers deliver Ecoschool initiatives and especially how they make use of their outdoor spaces. Another aim was to share teaching and learning techniques with peers. I hope to use some of the ideas I saw, back here in Keith, with the children and staff from St Thomas.
The Staatliche Grundschule Plaue is a similar size to St Thomas and the whole staff, even the janitor, although new to hosting an international visitor couldn’t have been friendlier. I spent time observing and working with children from all ages groups in all classrooms. I visited the theatre with the children and played with them in the snow in their brilliant playground. I helped the school prepare for their biannual Christmas Market and greatly enjoyed meeting the parents whilst assisting the children sell their wares at it. I noticed that all the teachers have a great aptitude for art and craft activities and all have a real awareness of and value their local environment both indoors and out. This enthusiasm obviously rubs off on the children.
The school’s EcoSchools work is led a by a teacher co-ordinator. She works closely with the pupils’ Ecocouncil. There are parents co-opted to assist where necessary, just like St Thomas! The group is very successful and holds at least eight green flags, one awarded each year. I made a visit with the Eco co-ordinator to a neighbouring school which was recommended as a school of good practice. It was an amazing place although almost totally covered in snow. The school at Steinheid had developed a beautiful nature garden which is open to tourists in the summer. There was a parent built outhouse which hosts a water pump for children to work by hand to circulate collected rainwater from school buildings to irrigate their plants. In one corner of the playground was a sensory walkway with a combination of sand, stones and bark for the children to walk around on.
On the last two days of the visit we held video conferences back to Scotland with links to Portessie Primary School and St Thomas. In reaction to seeing St Thomas primary 6 and 7 pupils clustered around the webcamera back in St Thomas, one of the German pupils was heard to comment that he thought there were an awful lot of Scottish people in Scotland!!
My entire visit was a great success and I cannot recommend this type of activity enough. I learned a great deal from spending time in other teachers’ classrooms and working with enthusiastic and inquisitive children. I hope the staff and children appreciated the insight I was able to give them into Scottish Education. It was a privilege to go and I’d like to thank everyone who made my visit possible. I have already used some of the ideas I saw overseas in my own teaching and look forward to developing more. I hope to attract funding for a Comenius School Multilateral Partnership project to commence next academic year for us all to enjoy…It will be with us before we know it!
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For more information please visit www.britishcouncil.org/comenius