Lead Teacher, ESF Sha Tin Junior School, Hong Kong
Ed.D. Student, University of Glasgow
Coordinator – ICSEI Educational Leadership Network
Chair – IPDA Hong Kong
Tell us a little bit about your background…
I’m from Glasgow and grew up on the South-side. I went to Battlefield Primary School and Shawlands Academy, leaving after S5 in 2008 to study Primary Education at Strathclyde on the then Bachelor of Education (Hons) (B.Ed. Hons) programme based at the Jordanhill Campus. Since graduating, I taught in primary schools in North Lanarkshire and East Renfrewshire, while also studying part-time for a Master of Education degree (M.Ed. Education Studies) which was awarded in 2015 after completion of my dissertation on ‘Teacher Agency in Education Policy Development in Scotland’. I then moved to Barcelona where I taught at a large 3-18 school, primarily in the Infant School, and was Head of Mathematics. After three great years there, I moved to Hong Kong two years ago where I am a Lead Teacher in an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP) School, which is one of 22 schools that make up the English Schools Foundation (ESF). I am Co-Chair of the Foundation-wide Primary Maths Curriculum Group and Vice-Chair of an advisory committee to the Board of ESF on curriculum and education policy. Since 2015 I have also been a postgraduate researcher at the University of Glasgow on a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) programme, researching collaboration for school and system wide improvement. I am Chair of the International Professional Development Association’s (IPDA) Hong Kong Association, and also sit on IPDA’s International Committee. I am a reviewer for IPDA’s associated journals, ‘Professional Development in Education’ (PDiE), and ‘Practice’. I am also a reviewer and editorial board member for the journal, Management in Education (MiE), and Coordinator of the Educational Leadership Network of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI). I also sit on ICSEI’s editorial review team, and Chair their publications committee.
Why did you decide to study Primary Education at university?
I chose to study Primary Education at university thanks to the Depute Head of my primary school, Mrs Furlong. Her love of learning and working with young people permeated everything she did and every conversation you had with her. Because of the joy she visibly got from the job and the impact she had on others, it sparked my desire to be a primary school teacher before I had even left primary school. In a broader sense, the importance of education and the role of teachers in that is unparalleled by many other professions, so I wanted to be someone that understood that, took it seriously, and made sure it influenced my day to day practice as a teacher and member of a wider school and learning community.
Did you have a favourite teacher when you were younger?
At Primary School, Mrs MacKenzie, my P1 teacher, was one of many favourites. From her piano playing, to story time, and the excitement she could stir in the class when exploring ‘Letterland’, there was so much about the kind of teacher she was but also the nurturing relationships she developed that made her one of my favourites. It’s a feeling that never goes away.
At secondary school, Ms. Gordon was my favourite teacher. She taught me French, was my tutor and also led the Environment and Sustainability Group. It was involvement with that group, which she encouraged and supported throughout my time at secondary school, that developed my confidence, community engagement skills, and leadership qualities that have lasted with me throughout my time at university and beyond.
What advice would you give to someone considering studying your course?
My advice to anyone considering studying Primary Education at Strathclyde would be to first, get into schools and community groups working with children and build up as much experience as possible; a true flavour of the job and the demands of being a primary teacher are important to consider beforehand. Second, be sure it is what you definitely want to do; children and our communities deserve the best teachers and those that are keen to take on the demanding and immensely rewarding role. Thirdly, and finally, Strathclyde should be your first choice! The team leading Primary Education at Strathclyde are unparalleled elsewhere and the partnerships they have with the wider education community make for a rich experience throughout your time at Strathclyde.
Do you have a highlight from your time at university?
A highlight had to have been setting up the CPD in Education Society with friends (who are now colleagues too). Within its first year we were able to bring together B.Ed., PGDE, and M.Ed. students, staff, colleagues from schools, HMIe, the GTCS and beyond to engage in professional learning which had a huge impact on both our own, but our colleagues learning, the establishment of professional networks, and access to a new model of professional learning that has impact well beyond your initial engagement with it. To see how it flourished so quickly, and the impact it had was a highlight of the four years at Strathclyde.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job now is the dual element of being able to work with a fantastic community of learners, being able to support their learning and growth, and student leadership in the school through the Student Council. But also, being able to lead and contribute to teacher professional learning in a range of ways is a huge highlight too. My time at Strathclyde instilled in me the importance of wide professional networks and maintaining these, and this has influenced my engagement with professional and research organisations throughout my career so far and influences my learning and practice greatly.
How did your time at Strathclyde help prepare you for this role?
My time at Strathclyde prepared me well for both the day to day requirements and wider responsibilities that come with being a primary teacher. The range of learning around child development and psychology, sociological aspects of education, philosophy, policy and the connections between education and other aspects of community and society gives you a solid foundation to build upon. The in-depth exploration of curriculum and pedagogy combined with long periods of teaching placements ensure you get to the end of your degree ready, prepared and with a cautious confidence to take up your first teaching post.
What has been your most memorable moment from your career so far?
I have two most memorable moments from my career so far, one being teaching my first Primary 1 class, and coming into school one day towards the end of the year and experiencing the joy when I realised the progress so many had made – moving from non-readers and writers, to being confident readers and writers. Of course a lot of time, effort and perseverance had been going into this, but you don’t often stop and reflect on the progress made over time, and it was that moment with that class that will stick with me, and the sheer joy realising that due to our combined efforts, this group of children learned skills that will last with them throughout their lives, and give them access to a huge world around them.
The second most memorable moment was being awarded the ‘Best Paper’ award from the Scottish Educational Research Association (SERA) at the ICSEI Congress in 2016. This was an exploration of teacher agency in education policy development in Scotland, and I was delighted to be able to have had an impact on the research and policy community.
What are your ambitions for the future?
My ambitions for the future are to keep on learning. I realised quickly that degrees aren’t only about obtaining credentials, while that still is important, but they are about exploring complex areas and ideas, putting them together in your own unique way, and utilising it for the better of your learning or broader community. So my other ambition, while always learning, is to assimilate what I have learned through teaching internationally, further study and research, and engagement in the wider global education community, and return to Scotland to continue making a positive contribution to education and learning in whatever way I have the chance to.
Any final points, or words of wisdom?
Being a teacher is a unique opportunity to play a significant role in the lives of young people, even if it is for a relatively short time. What is important is that that should never be forgotten. It is always a privilege to be a teacher and to play an influential role in whatever community you serve. So for me, studying primary education and becoming a teacher is equally about passion, joy, service and influence, and that also characterises my experience of studying Primary Education at Strathclyde.