As part of this project our community of teachers,teaching assistants and therapists have embarked on a series of workshops and retreats to take our school further on this developmental journey. Within this professional development process we share our reflections of the same research articles and are encouraged to participate in personalised learning programmes drawing on a variety of philosophies, theories and communities of practice such as Emerson, Montessori, Vygotsky and Reggio Emilia.We are also drawing on the practice of lesson study which originated in Japan see for example:http://www.lessonstudygroup.net/pages/AboutLessonStudy.html
We held our first Nature of Experience team training day in October 2007. Our aims of the day were to reflect on the following topics within the context of nature-based learning programmes :
In preparation for the day we each read 'Refuge and Imagination: Places of peace in childhood '(1990) by Kimberly Dovey available at http://www.colorado.edu/journals/cye/CYE_BackIssues/CEVol7(4)Contents.htm
Staff participated in a paired activity where they considered places and actions from childhood as a prelude to discussing where and when our children are given these opportunities. A common set of natural elements, feelings and qualities linked the staff response to this exercise. Within this set, however, there was great diversity of geographies from large,free landscape based places to interior spaces which afforded activities that required a focus on the small,detailed and imaginary.
'Running with my imagination to places where no-one will find me'
Staff member discussing her childhood refuge at training day
This exercise led into a group discussion about how spaces of refuge and imagination could be made with/for our children. Suggestions included:
The discussion included reflecting on the range of perceptions of self, conceptually, emotionally and physically, that our community of children have. For some children becoming a character/organism in role-play means that they are the woodlouse. For others potential loss of self is so stressful that they have to be reminded that they are xxxx being a woodlouse. Knowing where their body ends and another’s begins is also challenging for some children in these settings. These edges of identity and boundary dwelling by the children mean that creating in, and working with, places of refuge and imagination can present challenges, but the team feels that, as one staff member put it, ‘it makes you look at things in a different way’ and are keen to work on this together.
Using Robert Dilts’ 'Logical Levels' staff considered their:
Individual teacher/therapist identity was seen as much less important than the identity of the community at the school. The greatest attribute in relation to individual identity was seen to be flexibility. In terms of beliefs and values the desire to be challenged and have courage were rated the most important. Communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, were the skills most valued in the teacher/therapist community. Finally, in terms of environment ‘equality of trust’ was considered to be ‘indispensable’. Staff felt it a priority to understand the children they work with and to build their confidence.
Key words chosen to describe working at the school were: * Explore * Adventure * Express * Challenge * Evolve * Change.
‘On the job’ training, in which staff were given the opportunity to ‘absorb, see and experience’ was highly valued, as was peer review. Indeed, the synergy of, ‘constant peer review, open communication and thinking about your work and justifying it’ were highly valued among the teachers in attendance. They described the school as a ‘thriving environment with freedom to change’.
Impacts of responses
With the emphasis placed so strongly on trust as a quality of the school environment all the staff need to know what this actually means in regard to the ethos of the school.
If being part of a peer-reviewed community is such a powerful piece of identity within this staff team part-time staff may need added support and mentoring to help them feel more engaged within this community.
Feedback on the first impacts of the ‘nature of experience’ programme were positive and bode well for further developments particularly around the relationship between indoor and outdoor work and how we use the spaces available to us to develop, not only in science lessons but throughout the school day.
Assessment and Planning
The final part of the training day looked at planning and assessment and developing prompt sheets that would anchor and record these processes. School staff are working on these together. They will also be trialled with partner schools.
Nature of experience project
• To facilitate reflection and peer-review through filming, photography, discussion and web-based dissemination • To continue to develop nature-based activities both within and beyond the classroom and document these activities • To be a part of wider educational dialogues by writing about our work both on the web-site and in journals/books
School culture Continuing to build a reflective community by paying particular attention to part-time members and developing common practice frameworks such as the planning and reflection sheets.
A new role has been created for this project. The role consists of several parts as outlined below:
|Virtual Profile||Pedagogy & Curriculum||Training||Dissemination|
|Developing 'nature of experience' website content||Supporting science curriculum development through CPD and team teaching||Developing training programmes for both internal and external teachers||Writing up programmes and training modules|
|Co-designing and building outdoor learning garden with children and team||Working with team to develop an indoor/outdoor curriculum||Evaluating impacts of programme on children’s learning and teachers’ pedagogies||Working together to create new activities|
'Outside is a half of a whole, inside being the other half. if the two environments are viewed together then the planning needs to be viewed as such' Helen Bilton (2004)
~ After Bilton 2004
We have heard that our application for a British Ecological Society equipment grant (January/February 2008) has been successful.The grant will enable us to obtain a broader range of magnifiers, identification sheets and preserved specimens for extended handling and observation sessions suitable for the range of capabilities our children have. Sharing nature with our children has already impacted on their cognitive and communication abilities, enhancing the school facilities will support us to bring out the young ecologists we know they have the potential to be.