A day in the life of...Louise Gusterson

14th March 2014 at 00:00
Working in New Zealand provides outdoor adventures aplenty for this British primary teacher, who uses rivers and rock paintings to develop thinking skills, while planning a sleepover in a zoo

My family and I moved to New Zealand seven years ago, and I find that teaching here is very different to teaching in the UK.

Each morning I leave my home on the coast of Wellington, the capital city, and head towards the hill suburbs where I am assistant principal at Crofton Downs Primary School. The teaching area is compact, with seven classrooms arranged around a netball court, but we have huge grounds. There is a strong community feel: at the end of the day I chat to parents before heading off to a meeting or working in my classroom.

Reading, writing and maths are the basics of my teaching, but it's the other areas of the curriculum that I really like. Each term we have a "big idea" enquiry that encourages children to ask questions and find their own answers through exploration. Earlier this year we studied the stream that runs through our valley. We walked 7 miles (11km) over three days, learning about the interaction between people and the environment. This term we are exploring different art forms around the world.

It's not just about what the children learn but also about encouraging them to develop the tools of enquiry. At our school, we aim to teach thinking skills throughout the curriculum. Today, I'm using a skilful-thinking frame to compare and contrast Native American and Aboriginal rock paintings.

Over the past few years I've been using philosophy in my classes. We're starting to implement this throughout the school, and this week I'm working with the Year 2 class (aged 6-7) so that their teacher can observe the process.

We have two 40-minute breaks and today I'm on play duty. There is hardly a child in sight because they are off climbing trees and making dens: during the drier terms, they are allowed to play in the bush area around the school.

Play buddies organise the younger children in a game of What's the Time Mr Wolf? and two big buddies - children from senior classes who have been taught mediation skills - walk around to help with any problems. Usually play duty is a time to mingle with the children, rather than having to deal with issues and injuries.

After school, I get letters out to parents who are attending the zoo sleepover. Every two years, the senior students spend three days at camp and the rest of the children try different learning experiences. This time, we are going to take a train into the city to visit the art gallery and the waterfront, go on local bush walks, try some orienteering in our school grounds, explore rock pools and finish up by sleeping over at the zoo. The children will make enrichment toys for the gibbons and feed the giraffes. We will all sleep marae-style, with everyone together on the floor of the hall.

My school day is a mixture of management issues, face-to-face teaching and lots of planning. But I wouldn't change it.

Your day

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