Most of the children at Hawthorns junior school speak English as an additional language, so when I arrived in September last year, I needed help to develop strategies to reach all the levels within my Year 4 class and the other groups I would be working with as subject leader for PE.
Jackie Clarey, a nursery teacher at our feeder school, Cedars infants, contacted me to see if I was interested in going on a course called Developing Creativity across the Early Years and Primary Curriculum, part of the NUT's Teacher2Teacher programme. It sounded exactly what I needed.
The term "peer coaching" was new to me, but it sounded intriguing.
The course, in late November, was held at Stoke Rochford Hall, near Grantham. Jackie and I were amazed at what greeted us when we arrived; it was as if we were there for a holiday rather than a two-day training course.
But our tutors kept us busy. We had homework, which, after an extravagant three-course meal and a glass of wine, became a competition as to who could be the most creative. On the second day we set targets for the time we would work together and decided on the focus for our second visit to Stoke Rochford, two months later. As Jackie and I worked through the programme we found it helpful to have someone we could turn to who was non-threatening and non-judgmental, and who gave positive feedback and support.
Back in Blackburn, we visited each other's class to assess what creativity was evident. This also gave us the chance to work with a different age group from the one we had trained in. It was exciting to have my peer come into my class and highlight the creative opportunities that already existed for my children across the curriculum.
One of my main interests was to develop children's creative questioning and thinking. I set up a range of activities, including using databases in ICT, working on feelings and attitudes in PSHE, and evaluative work in dance. My class demonstrated just how creative they could be in PSHE when they were asked to sculpt a feeling on to a piece of fruit.
Because most of my children have English as an additional language, practical work is essential to building their confidence and understanding.
Now, when I look at this class - who last September were afraid to try out new things - I see a group of children who have developed and become much more confident. They are not afraid of experimenting or getting things wrong.
We have taken a creative approach across the curriculum, including literacy and numeracy. The children have found visual stimuli beneficial, but paired talk has been the most effective method in developing creative thinking. We have adopted literacy strategies to help those with a limited vocabulary; children are also given plenty of opportunities to discuss their work to generate more ideas, and we are hoping to encourage the use of first languages within the classroom.
On our second visit to Stoke Rochford, Jackie and I shared our experiences and learned how others had applied the lessons of the first visit. I had found the key stage 2 curriculum restrictive. But my headteacher is keen to see children develop their creativity, and her attitude, coupled with the launch of the primary strategy, has given me more flexibility. The NUT course has been the important third element.
By developing our new skills in peer coaching, Jackie and I came to realise we have been given a powerful tool that we can use in our own professional development and share with others. Towards the end of the summer term, our classes met to share work we'd done on the programme. It was a chance for my class to let off steam and spend time back in the nursery; it proved difficult getting them out of the water and role-play area.
This year I moved up with my class and I look forward to developing more ideas and strategies as they mature and progress in Year 5.
Kirsty Wood teaches at Hawthorns junior school, Blackburn, Lancashire. Her peer coach, Jackie Clarey, is a nursery teacher and foundation stage co-ordinator at Cedars infant school, Blackburn