Adam’s oboe, Exploring Exmoor, and more. In this episode, Robin and Adam are joined once again by Roger Hitchin to discuss the benefits of extracurriculars for students and teachers. What are the benefits? When is the best time in the year for them to take place? Plus, Adam speaks on how trips away can help grow the bond and dynamic between pupil and teacher.
The school of school podcast is presented by:
Subscribe to get the latest The School of School podcasts delivered to your inbox.
Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School Podcast. Welcome to the School of School Podcast. Are you a maths teacher looking for a primary school assessment tool that can give you a detailed look into learner or class achievement. With Insights it's all in one place. Make sense of assessment data so you can strategically plan and teach lessons. Insights. It's assessment for advancement. Visit mathsnoproblem.com for more information.
So welcome to another episode of School of School. We have the usual suspect, Adam Gifford.
Hi Robin. How you doing?
Hi Adam. I'm doing great. We have absent Andy, who is not with us today. So that means we'll all get to say a little bit more, because we have an absolutely fabulous guest on, Roger Hitchin. Roger, I know you've been a teacher with over 25 years experience. You certainly have written plenty of blogs for Maths — No Problem! That we absolutely have thoroughly enjoyed. And I know there's a lot more to you than that. So why don't you give us a little bit of background on yourself?
Hi Robin. Thanks for that intro. I think it was nice. You just made me sound a bit old, I think, really when you said the 25 years experience, but I'll go with it. Yeah. Hi, my name is Roger Hitchin and I work at Wellington Prep School in leafy Somerset, as it is today, the sun is out and I suppose by all stretch, we're still a fairly new school. We opened in 1999. So we're still, I suppose, a relatively new school, although we're part of a three to 18 school here in Somerset. And yeah, I teach year six, we were early adopters of Maths — No Problem! We started in 2015, so it's something we know very well and we've had quite a journey on it and I still are, I should say, Adam, we still are.
You and Adam and I were just talking about all of your extracurriculars that you've been involved with at your school and talking about the importance, not only from the student's perspective, but also from a teacher's perspective. And maybe you can just share a little bit about what you've been doing lately and the impact that can have.
Yeah, we're like any school in that we're probably too busy sometimes. We try to do so much and maybe that's part of a coming out of lockdown thing. We are considering today, the impact of some of the things that we've done to, you know, how does that affect your lessons in a positive way? So we're well into the summer term now and with a year six cohort, the year six is... It's a relentless year, I suppose, in a way, but yeah, it's very fun. And a lot goes on. So in the last six or seven weeks, we've had two major events, I suppose. From the moment year six arrive in September are in the diary and in red ink and unmarked. The first one was a week long residential.
So a Monday to Friday residential, where locally for us, we headed up on to Exmoor. We had a bit of cycling in it. We had a day's walking on the moor, which is very nice. We even literally pushed the boat out. And we took some of them over to Lundy Island, which is just off the North Devon coast there, as well as some team building games and things of that sort. And the second one we've just done is we've just done the annual year six production, which was big musical, which we've been working towards properly since about December, January time with auditions.
And although they make a huge impact and they're very valuable of course, in themselves in terms of the interpersonal skills and bonding your class, your year group very closely, what does that actually do for your bread and butter lessons, because what you don't want of course is when you come back from the come down from the show, or you come back from your cycling and your adventures, you don't want on Monday morning or Tuesday morning for your maths lesson to be humdrum.
There is a natural temptation for it. Well, it's not as exciting as that. And I get that. Of course it's not, but you've got to know your pupils better. They've got to know each other better. Can that be for want of a better word maybe exploited in your maths lessons? And I think it can, and I think it should be. And for some pupils, having to maybe surf for the first time, having to stand on a stage and talk or sing maybe a solo in front of 200 people, let's be honest, if you can do that, how hard can it be realistically to add two fractions of a different denominator? It can't be, can it? If you could do one, then the other one will surely follow. So I think that energy that you get from those events all schools have to some degree, can actually be used in a bit of a positive way in their interactions.
Can I jump in and ask you something around that, because look, I've been on many residential trips since I've been out here, but one thing that I noticed, and I couldn't honestly date it when it started. Might have been 10 years ago, maybe a little bit more where schools slowly but surely stopped doing them. And I think that some of it was because the facilities, like they were local authority facilities, and they went by the wayside either sold or not being used or not up to spec or whatever it might be. There's the financial aspect to it that, you know, it's tough on schools or if the financial expectations that parents pay. All those sorts of things. Right?
Yeah. Very much so.
There's all those things-
And paperwork these days too.
Yeah, totally. And the staff being away. You're asking them to be away for a number of days to be the primary carer and not just as we do every day in a controlled school environment. We're in an environment that's one that might be really foreign to some of us that when we go into. The question's twofold. So the first question is, is it worth the effort. That's the first thing. So from what you've said, I think I already know what the answer will be in that is it something that actually the benefits that the children get out of it far outweigh all of those other things that we might have to go through as a school. And the second thing, and this is probably the one that I struggle with the most, is that all of those things that you've talked about, like the bonding and the children need to know each other.
And as a teacher getting to know the children at a level that I just couldn't in the classroom. They became different people. So like on a long walk or whatever else, you got to know these children, like I said, I never felt that I could reach that level of understanding a child as much as I did if I spend a week away. And I always thought to myself, why are they always at the end of the year? Why don't we do them at the beginning of the year and get to know these children and the classrooms are just hum. Now I don't know why. It was almost like the treat at the end. But it was like you did the treat and then you went, "Oh my goodness, this dynamic in this classroom, man, is just incredible now that we've spent that time away. As a teacher, I have so much more understanding of where these children are at as individuals. Flipping heck, can we get some learning done now."
This is great, except it's like, "Oh, well, I'll have that for a week. Oh, what a shame. See you guys, see ya. Yeah. We'll do same thing at the end of the year." So my question is twofold. One, is it worth it? And I'm not sure, Robin, if your children have been involved in these. So is that from a parents' perspective or perhaps you've done it yourself in any sort of capacity. And the second one is why is it always at the end of the year if all of this dynamic shift in relationship building and all the rest of it, why don't we do it at the beginning of the year? Over to you two.
Wow. Why don't we do it at the beginning of the year? Maybe the kids are just getting to know their new classmates and their new teacher. I'm assuming everybody's new. And that might not be the case, but you just reminded me, yes, my kids have been involved in different things like that. The school show, or I remember my son actually got to go to Europe with his class and a bunch of teachers, and it was the best experience he ever had. He said it was life changing. And that was spring break. So there was still a few months left-
Yeah. That's a good time.
... of regular school, which was great because he knew his teachers and he knew his classmates, but this bonded all of them together. And so coming back from that, you have this shared experience and it doesn't have to be as big as a big trip somewhere. But even working towards doing a live musical in front of the school, or something even on a smaller scale, just spending that quality time with your teachers and with other students, I think then coming back into the classroom environment, as Roger said, yeah, okay, maybe you deflate a little bit because now you're sitting down and you're working away at problem solving, but at the same time, it's like this... It's not stated necessarily, but there's this different energy perhaps in the classroom between teacher and students and between student and student.
I think so. I think the one thing that I used to see all the time, whenever we went on the residentials. A lot of this is credit to the people who were running the activities and the guides, leads, or whatever, or if it's a show or a musical performance, big part of the skill is the people that are helping support that happen. But I think that you've got a chance for children to show that they can do something that maybe they didn't think they could and that scared them, but it's okay, because they've got another 30 people that are scared as well. "And my teacher, I've seen him, he's about to play an oboe in front of the whole school and he is petrified." And I'm talking about me here. "He is terrified." And I was no problems saying to the kids, "I'm terrified. Tell me it's going to be okay. Keep telling me it's going to be okay. I don't know if I can do this."
"No, you'll be right. You'll be right. Come on. We can do it." But I think those experiences and you make it through the end and it feels great. We all know that. We all know if we do something that scares us or challenges us or takes us out of our comfort zone. So I don't know, maybe it's that element to it that really can be so powerful if it's done right. If it's just like, "Oh man, it's another performance. This is the third performance in a row that I'm going to humiliate myself and I don't get any joy out of it." Yeah. We got to watch that. But I don't know. I don't know. But I think that's one aspect that I saw in the children that was transformative. You letting them realise, "Man, I can do this." Yeah, that's pretty powerful. Especially if they're going into something thinking I can't do this.
I always felt they were... I mean, your first part of your question, was it worth it? I think when you're filling in a risk assessment, that's maybe a 30, 40 page document, no, it's probably not worth it at that point. But it's getting beyond that point, isn't it really? Yeah, I think you're right, Adam. It gets harder each year to organise with, maybe rightly as well, the rules and the regulations and health and safety. I'm not saying these aren't important. You have to follow the system through, but it is hugely time consuming and it is a massive commitment as well away from your family as well.
The other point, I suppose, is the children stay the same age each year, but you get a year older each year. And that can-
Oh no you don't.
I'm not in my twenties anymore when I'm on these things anymore. But I remember when I was and it worth it. Yeah, absolutely. Because like you said, Robin, you mentioned as well, when you hear words like transformative and it is the best week we've ever had and those things are powerful. When you go into teaching to start with in that slightly young and naive state where you think, well I want to change the world. I want to do this. But I think one of the things you do want to do is you want to provide children with positive memories of their learning. And I think maybe they won't remember your individual maths lessons, but they'll remember these trips, but they do have that knock on effect to enable you to talk with different people and tackle a problem in a different way.
So yeah, they're hugely beneficial. As for the timing, if you go in September, it is a team building exercise and you don't necessarily get the mileage, like you said, Roger, because they don't really know each other yet. So you're still a little bit on shaky ground. We like to go away in May. One because the weathers tends to be good, but also there's still the rest of the summer term within that. So we're going away with established friendships and parameters and groupings. It takes all that and just tweaks everything up just to another notch. And to me, it almost guarantees a successful last 8, 9, 10 weeks with learning, particularly for the year six maybe. They finish on a high and you finish maybe slightly behind them on a slightly lower high, but certainly ready for your holiday as well. And I think that's a nice feeling and I think all teachers identify with that.
Are you ever just amazed or in awe of some of the students? Maybe students you didn't realise were, I don't know, had these superpowers or just stepped up when they needed to, that you weren't anticipating at the time-
Does that happen a lot?
Absolutely. Well, I don't know about you, Adam, but I think of my own maybe 10 or 11 year old self and imagine if it was me and I think I was nowhere near that when I was that age. I was nowhere near it. Not really. I never tell the children that maybe, as I say, "No, we could do this," but that pleases me in some way, because I think they've got the chance. You almost normalise those expectations. That's what we do. And once you normalise those expectations, more often than not, the children rise to them. My memories of them are really successful, trips and learning that follow. So I'm pretty convinced of them really, and they're worth the week itself. And like I say, the weeks that follow.
And I also think, as soon as you said that, I've got the most vivid memory. I can't even tell you. It's like HD. I can almost remember the words being spoken and this girl, she was finding it tougher. She didn't do a lot of walking and stuff. She was finding the terrain tough, the water tough. She toughed it out. And not just that, because you hear things like that, right? That individual children get through it and those, but the biggest dynamic shift and the one where you sit back and you go, "Look, if I've played a wee part in this I'm proud as punch right now," because it wasn't me, like in the classroom something goes wrong, it's go to the teacher. The teacher's going to sort it out ultimately. On those trips, there's a massive dynamic shift and as a teacher, I felt myself becoming more and more redundant.
And you feel like a proud parent, where here's someone that's struggling. Mr. Gifford doesn't have a look in. You've got this swarm of kids, ones that you didn't even think. And people that may have never talked to each other, but the circumstance brings out, "We're all in this together, man. We're the gang here, give me your backpack. Here, I'll put it on and I'll carry that. And we'll divvy things out." And all those sorts of things. So I think that it's those things as well, that collective mentality of we can do this and it's no longer just about the teacher determines this, that and the other. So I think that's the other thing for me, that's what that moment. And I've been really fortunate because I've had quite a few of those moments, but that was the first one that was just like, knock your socks off stuff.
And you just think, yeah, it's like being a proud parent. You just like, yeah, I've played a wee part in that. Cool. And you also look forward to going home and talking to the parents about that, because they might have never seen that side of their own kids.
And so to be able to go back and say, "Your boy did this," and they're like, "Are you sure you not got the wrong kid? My kid's not like that." "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know exactly who I'm talking about. You should be proud, you done a good job." To be able to say stuff like that... Does that sound really patronising myself? I don't really care because that's what I'll say anyway. So I think it's those things that in a teaching career they're pretty hard to beat.
Wow. I think that's a good place to end. Rise to the occasion. Thanks everyone.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School Podcast.