Amy Bailey is an English teacher from Ark Charter Academy in Portsmouth. This summer, she spent two weeks working with teachers at three Ark-supported schools in India as part of the Ark Global Teaching Fellowship. Here she shares a blog about her experiences.
Even though I’d been to Delhi before I was still shocked when I arrived. Delhi is a place that hits all your senses with full force, the sights and sounds, the vibrant colours, the spices and the heat! The three schools I would be working with were all in different locations throughout the city.
As I arrived for the fellowship, I anticipated that schools in India would face different problems than we have here in the UK, such as a lack of funding for things like interactive whiteboards and classroom resources. But I also expected that schools in both countries probably faced similar challenges as well – things like attendance, gaining the support of parents and ensuring that students are ready to learn by supporting them pastorally, like making sure they receive quality food.
At first, I was anxious about working with teachers and staff at these schools. I was aware that I was an outsider who didn’t fully understand the context in which I was working. I didn't want to come across as intrusive or overly critical.
I came up with a practical plan to try to help out in areas where I thought I could make a difference: coaching and mentoring; supporting with phonics programmes; and helping with literacy drives. I hoped that the two weeks I was there would be enough time to share some good practice and initiatives, and to start to embed these.
As a practitioner in a different setting and context I thought I might be in a good position to share new strategies and techniques they might not have seen before in their own teaching experience. Many of these were techniques advocated by Doug Lemov that I had learnt during my teacher training, such as waiting for 100% silence, cold-calling on students and circulating the room. I also noticed some teachers were not identifying high ability students and catering the lessons to suit all needs. I recommended that they try pairing their higher ability students with the lower ability students when completing certain tasks. It was great to see that teachers and staff were really receptive to my feedback and keen to improve their practice. Many of the staff worked hard to implement the techniques and strategies I was sharing.
I found that all three Ark-supported schools worked at had consistent structures – teachers had received the same training, the schools were following the same curriculum and there were some unifying systems, such as classroom displays, behaviour boards and rewards systems.
Yet, the schools were each at different stages and this presented some challenges. In one school, Jeevan Nagar, some students struggled with some of the Ark-inspired routines that teachers were introducing. One student in particular was presenting difficult behaviour in lessons. He was making strange gestures which at first I didn’t understand. However, by speaking to his mother we learnt that he had been watching action movies at home, and was keen to re-enact the moves in front of his friends! He, like many other pupils, had never attended school before, and was not ‘school-ready’. The teacher and I used some strategies to manage his behaviour such as ‘criss-cross’, making sure arms are folded and you are looking straight ahead. Over the two weeks I noticed he was listening and responding more, and even understanding what he was doing wrong. It felt good to see the techniques lead to improvements over such a short space of time.
A significant moment for me occurred when I accompanied the Principal and a social worker from Lajpat Nagar III school on a home visit to some of the communities that the students were from. During the visit, parents of two children who attended the school invited us into their home, here we were offered to sit down and given a glass of coke, which was refreshing in the hot weather. We spoke to the family about their experiences with the school. They spoke highly of it and recognised the impact it was having on children within their community. Though the mother did not attend school herself, she hoped her children would continue in education and even go onto university someday. It was moving to see that, though the family were living in challenging conditions – their whole family lived in one room – they still wanted to give what little they had, sharing their space and giving us a drink.
The Education Director for all three schools, Urmila Chowdhury, maintains a strong vision of growth for the students. I often heard her talking to staff and teachers – asking them for their advice and their opinions on how to support the children. This inclusive approach created a really positive working environment where staff felt valued and I think helped them work through any difficulties. It taught me some valuable lessons in leadership.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of the experiences I had working in India, and I left with a wide range of ideas and strategies which I’m already implementing in my own school this year.
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