Building a sense of community

Last Thursday, after an intensive day of training at Notley, I attended my very first open evening, and by first I literally mean ‘first ever’. I do not remember having anything like that during my school years in Spain; you went to the school you were allocated to according to where you lived, and that was pretty much it, at least in terms of primary and secondary education.Image may contain: 2 peopleSo, when I arrived to the school on Thursday evening I did not have an accurate idea of what I was going to find. I took some time to wander around other departments and see what they were showing. It was lovely seeing some of the sixth formers who did their GCSE in Spanish last year and talk a bit with them about their experiences and the A-levels they were doing now, and I was honestly impressed about how involved they got with parents and visitors and how passionately they talked about the things they get the opportunity to do in school. Other pupils offered the parents a tour around the school and, I must say, they took their role very seriously! They explained all the displays in the corridors, talked about events, extra-curricular activities and introduced them and the kids to the staff in the departments. When they came to the languages classroom they were welcomed by some of our Y11 students, who assisted the kids in several interactive challenges and had the chance to try some typical food, from chorizo and olives to pain au chocolat or croissants (we languages people have a slight advantage when our classes smell that good…)

But what I definitely enjoyed the most was seeing some of my students out of the language lessons, doing things like tap dancing or trampolining. Most of the time we make a mental picture of our students by how they act during our lessons, since it’s very likely we don’t have that much contact with them outside that context. We can see some kids as apathetic, unmotivated, reluctant to take challenges and try something new… But being able to catch them doing something they love, they thrive at, being engaged and proud of their school, made me realise what a strong sense of community we have and how important it is to make the most of these moments and use them to build a relationship with our students (I may or may not have done that by singing a duet with a Y8 on the ukulele). It all comes down to gaining their trust and being able to get to them and help them become the best possible version of themselves.

The highlight of the evening was that I had the chance to have a little chat with a Y9 boy who is usually quite challenging during lessons (good things can happen when there’s food around). I was very surprised when I spotted him looking from the door and invited him in, he looked unconfident and I have the feeling that he was afraid of not being welcome there. When he talked to me about the things he enjoys, what he does in his free time and what he wants to achieve, I realised that I am determined to see that spark in his eyes during my lessons as well. I will try to choose my activities better, I will support him more, I will give him the space and time he needs to work best and I will definitely have for him as high expectations as I would have for anyone else; but our students need to know that we appreciate and respect them for how they are, not just how they do or perform in our lessons.

It was kind of a milestone for me and I came back home exhausted feeling that I am doing something meaningful, that I have an impact in their lives and what they will achieve in the future, and that thought is overwhelming –in a good way- at times. It made me realise that all the effort we are putting in this year and that we’ll put in the future, all the frustration at certain points, the struggle… it is all worth it, because we also are in one of the most rewarding professions possible.

Sara, MFL trainee teacher, Hylands School

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