The role of global learning in staff development and school improvement

Schools looking to other countries for ideas, professional development and best practice are reaping the results, writes Kerry Eustice

Various national flags flyingSchools looking to other countries for ideas and practice are reaping the results. Photograph: Hans Peter Merten/Getty Images

“When we talk about global awareness, a lot of it has been within education itself.”

That’s Jennie Hicks, vice principal for learning and teaching at Mounts Bay School in Penzance, reflecting on what global awareness means for her, and the school.

For the past seven days, as part of our series learning and teaching in the global classroom, we’ve been looking at the lessons, issues and topics that help students develop their own global awareness and why this is important. But, as Jenny suggests, there’s more to it than learning more about other countries and cultures. It’s a wide-ranging agenda that absolutely includes a deeper understanding of world issues such as inclusion, human rights, poverty, peace and beyond, but global learning also has an important role in school improvement and staff development.

Activity such as staff exchanges, formal training, joining networks, establishing global learning committees and embedding global learning into the curriculum are all part of the package.

Take All Saints CofE primary in London, the school has been immersed in international collaborations for several years now. And it’s paying off; student relationships are thriving, attainment is rising, and Ofsted has noticed.

Through projects such as Comenius – an initiative from the British Council providing grants for collaboration work with schools in Europe – pupils have improved their ICT skills by communicating and presenting work to partner schools. And, attainment and progress of pupils with English as an additional language is in line with the progress of pupils with English as a first language.

Deputy head, Fran Conley, says rising attainment is tied to teachers being exposed to new ideas, techniques and approaches and then bringing them into the classroom.

“A number of these strategies have been implemented by teachers through their experiences of other teaching methods in different countries,” says deputy head Fran Conley.

“Our part-time Spanish teacher, particularly, learnt new skills and pedagogies during her mobilities to France and Spain and changed her teaching style – she now delivers her whole lessons in Spanish.”

Taking this staff development even further, All Saints also enrolled teachers involved in the programme in the National College’s Middle Leaders’ Development Programme. The school is also involved the North London International School Network. Fran recommends the network as a valuable source of information – the network also offers support for funding applications for international projects.

Mounts Bay, a medium-sized 11 to 16 comprehensive in Penzance, also borrowed some ideas from its partners overseas and found itself commended for its internationalism by Ofsted. Its first international collaboration, also through the British Council’s Comenius programme, was a staff development project nine years ago, where the school paired up with schools in Denmark, the Czech Republic and Germany.

“A lot of the changes that we have made in the school have come about after working with the Danish school. We’ve now got a three-period day, which is based on what we saw in Denmark,” says Jennie Hick, the school’s vice principal of teaching and learning and languages teacher.

“This was at a time when people were talking national strategy a lot, and plenaries and three sections to each lesson. We were aware that in an hour’s lesson, by time you’ve got your starter going and you’ve starting to present new information, the deep part of students’ learning couldn’t happen in class. It was all having to happen outside of the classroom.

“We could certainly see in Denmark they were doing a lot of co-operative style learning and Kagan-style learning, stuff that was being missed out of our lessons just because they were not long enough.”

So, Mounts Bay moved to a three-period day, and now all its learning programmes include co-operative learning based on a model at its partner school in Denmark. Students, Jenny says, love it and, after seeing how successful this approach was, other schools in the area are following suit. As the west country trailblazer, Mounts Bay now runs training on this approach for local schools.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Jenny says: “We made the mistake of moving to longer periods without training and you could see the difference between subjects; some had embraced it and others just tried to do more of the same. We had to run training so teachers were aware you can’t just do more of the same old stuff. It’s got to be a variety of learning experiences.”

Kevin McCabe, headteacher at Jervoise Primary School, Birmingham, is another advocate for internationally-minded education.

“Learning shouldn’t just be about pushing English and maths,” he says. “Here we’re pushing international learning and creative learning and theInternational Primary Curriculum is helping us to achieve these. Both an international and creative focus motivate and engage the children in their learning and the good results then follow.”

He is keen to stress that in order for staff, school and students to get full benefit from global learning, it has to be embedded in the curriculum.

“Comenius is the tool that we use to drive the teachers’ interest and enthusiasm in global awareness and international links, but it’s the curriculum that helps the teachers to share and deliver this learning with the children. That’s what is so important – that our Comenius projects or other international learning aren’t just add-ons, they are embedded into all our learning through the curriculum and this is where the International Primary Curriculum is so important to us because it enables real, relevant, rigorous international links through the thematic units. The learning backs up the international links.”

On top of this integration, each teacher at Jervoise has an eTwinningproject as part of their performance management. eTwinning, a digital companion to Comenius, is an online space for schools across Europe to initiate, manage and carry out collaboration projects.

“It’s really important for teachers to be globally aware. Everyone at Jervoise has a requirement to be internationally aware. Once teachers are engaged in an international focus, this then becomes part of the learning for the children which is vital for children to understand their place in the world.”

Jervoise makes this activity compulsory for all its teachers because the school recognises how important joint efforts are in this work. If students, staff and school are going to get the most out of global learning, it has to be collaborative.

He said: “Individual teachers can only go so far when it comes to building their own global awareness and that of the children. To ensure the whole community is developing global awareness, full support of the school governors and management is essential. Enthusiasm can only go so far. You actually need a very clear view of how to develop and embed global awareness throughout the school.”

It’s an approach shared by Green Dragon Primary School in Hounslow. Keen to develop international mindedness in school, a year ago the school established a committee of staff – teachers, TAs and leaders – to work on a plan for developing international mindedness throughout the school.

Cath Pinkney, the school’s year 6 teacher and international coordinator explains: “The committee shares its planning and progress constantly during Inset with all the staff. The committee is also responsible for the distribution of everything that’s relevant for international learning. For example, we love the Guardian Eyewitness service and use this a lot.”

As well as these more formal structures, it’s the enthusiasm of teachers driving the agenda forward at the school.

“There are several teachers who are really keen on the world and international learning here at Green Dragon and that enthusiasm is rubbing off on the other teachers,” says Cath.

“It’s important to know that you can’t do it on your own. You need to form a committee of teachers and TAs in order to get everyone in the school on board with international learning, then the committee can push the focus together.

“Teachers have so much to do but when it comes to the international learning, if you get the children interested, then they lead a lot of the learning themselves.”

For Whiston Willis Primary School in Knowsley, Merseyside, training has been central to its global learning and staff development. The whole staff has been on training courses with the Liverpool World Centre linked to Liverpool University, the aim of which is to raise the global awareness of the people of Merseyside.

The school is also part of a global consortium of five local schools that come together to help strengthen the global awareness for teachers and children.

Headteacher Sue Goulding says: “Teachers need to have knowledge and understanding of the world in order to have the confidence to pass this on to the children, and they need to be enthusiastic about global awareness in order to engage children in it.”

It’s a compelling argument for global learning. Enthused teachers that inspire their students to lead their own learning; something all schools are striving for, local, global or otherwise.

Here there is another link about the project we are working on!


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