No classroom confines for New Teacher of the Year

Scotland's new Teacher of the Year does not work in the classroom - at least, not in the traditional sense.

Jenny McAllister picked up the prize at this year's Scottish Education Awards* for her work as an environmental education officer at the Scottish Seabird Centre charity in North Berwick.

The 33-year-old traces her passion for the outdoors back to her grandparents, who would send her out to explore with a spoon and bucket.

After studying ecology at University of Stirling she took up a job as an environmental business adviser, before doing a postgraduate diploma in primary teaching at the University of Edinburgh.

In 2009, after gaining two years' experience at Sighthill Primary School in Edinburgh, she took on her dream job at the seabird centre in East Lothian, where she works with nursery children all the way up to university students, often on the beach.

"One of her most noteworthy abilities is building rapport with children and bringing out the best in all of them, especially some of those who, according to their teachers, do not work well in a classroom environment," judges noted.

She improves numeracy through rockpool surveys, bird counts and map reading, and invokes Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have found inspiration in the area - to bring the written word to life. They also remarked on the "astounding number of hits" that her resources had on the TESS website.

Outdoor learning specialists such as Mrs McAllister appear to be in desperate need. "You would be shocked," she says. "I would say at least one pupil in each class has never been to the beach - and it's not always children from deprived backgrounds."

Mrs McAllister is a bubbly and upbeat character who is encouraged by the growing prominence of outdoor education in Scotland. She is also working towards a master's degree in environment, sustainability and outdoor education.

Tom Brock, the seabird centre's chief executive, said: "My office is next door to where Jenny works with children, and sometimes it will be difficult to focus because of all the excitement she creates.

"But that's a wonderful problem - it reminds you why you're doing the paperwork in the first place."

The judges concluded that Mrs McAllister's work was "life changing" for children.

* The Scottish Education Awards are run by Education Scotland, The Daily Record and the Scottish government


- Educational Supporter of the Year: Jan Murdoch, network librarian, Ellon Academy, Aberdeenshire.

- Headteacher of the Year: Kay Dingwall, Knightswood Secondary, Glasgow, incorporating the Dance School of Scotland.

- Lifetime Achievement Award - Isabella Lind, head of Aileymill Primary, Greenock, Inverclyde.

- Probationary Teacher of the Year - Megan Mellon, Annette Street Primary, Glasgow.

For the full list of winners, see bit.lyWinningTeachers.

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