When I was a child at school in South Africa I realized that I didn't always learn the way other people did. Doing what I saw my classmates doing, like taking notes in class for example, just didn’t work well for me. Luckily, my mum was an educator (amongst other things), and she really helped. I learnt to understand my individual strengths, and realised if I listened actively instead of taking copious notes like my classmates were doing, I would take in the information better and process learning through notes later. Gaining this understanding and working out my own learning strategies was really an advantage that none of my peers seemed to have. I learned early on to use my talents to my advantage, and this made me want to help other people in any way I could.
My Mum was an inspiring educator. She went straight into the field of teaching and thoroughly loved it. Her ethos was that it was great to be working with the most challenging class because she wanted an opportunity to transform their learning experience. She would aim to inspire them and get past whatever barriers they had, always knowing that they could do it. She’d say she loved working with pupils who could go further.
I didn’t initially go down a regular education career path. I trained as a ballet teacher, and then I studied social work and psychology and became a social worker with the aim of eventually combining the two into some sort of dance therapy. My career ended up taking a different turn though, and I got into the field of youth crime prevention, where I met some fantastic young people.
I went to work in England and worked for a youth offending team. This role was part of a preventative programme and it involved going into schools. We started a pilot with the youth justice board, doing restorative justice interventions in schools, and training teachers to deal with conflict restoratively instead of through exclusions. It became more and more apparent that the pupils we worked with had multiple needs within education, long before crime became the issue, before things started to really go wrong for them.
I started working in schools for pupils with learning differences and behaviour difficulties. From there, I got very interested in the field of occupational therapy and floor time methods, seeing how they can really help children overcome barriers to learning and cultivate positive behaviours. I experienced how early intervention can lead to a far smoother and more rewarding journey through school.
I later moved to Kenya, and it was while I was there that I qualified as a teacher. I did my teacher training in the Learning Success Centre, an inclusion setting. I later moved to Thailand where I became the Head of Learning Success in a school, supporting pupils with barriers to learning and those learning English as an Additional Language. I later worked in South Korea, in an Individual Needs department broadened to research based study techniques, developing meta-cognition and self-management for pupils.
Having worked in six countries now, four of which in education, I don't feel I've ever left my social work, health psychology or dance education behind. These areas of my experience are still so valuable to me in the work I do.
In a nutshell, my job is to help and support growth. I do this, with our wonderful team of inclusion teachers, by looking for opportunities to help pupils either overcome barriers, or to reach new heights.
The other side of my job is working with teachers. As a team, we must have attitudes that really enable the people around us and make sure that our school is truly inclusive. We’ve got to make sure that we find the balance between seeing something as a limitation and finding the strength in it.
I lead a fantastic inclusion team that deliver direct services, with all sorts of research based programmes for spelling, reading, handwriting, and a variety of other academic skills, for our pupils who need support in these areas. We have an EAL (English as an Additional Language) teacher, who supports pupils who come in speaking very little English, and pupils who have been speaking English for some time, but need to develop more academic English language skills. In reality, the whole team gets involved with a little bit of everything, because fundamentally, a pupil seldom has just one area that they need support with.
We aim to help our pupils scale new heights and we're really excited about developing all of our pupils as leaders, and giving them all the perspective from a young age that they can have an impact. We are working on a number of projects linking to this. One, for example, involves having leaders from the community come into the school as speakers, and our pupils themselves will be involved in researching, speaking, inviting, and introducing them.
We work a lot with pupils who speak languages other than English. As well as providing the support they need, we focus on mulilingualism as a strength. Very often, international schools invest mostly in English, but may miss out on developing languages spoken at home. This can lead to the home language only being used as a social language, so our multilingualism drive is really connecting all of those dots. Pupils are going to have the chance to view speeches from their own country to really push that language development. Our pupils won't just be leaders in our school, they can be leaders around the world and in their home countries, because they will actually have the neccessary academic language skills.
Research shows that pupils learn a huge amount by teaching others rather than simply being taught. I keep this in mind for all of our projects and we are always asking ourselves 'how could this benefit others?' If we have speakers coming into the school, we consider what we can offer in return. In one project we're launching, we have pupils working on videos for new pupils who do not speak English. This involves our pupils writing and translating a script, learning to present, filming, and it's going to benefit new pupils a great deal, while our current pupils develop some real world skills.