Mrs P dances her way to top teacher award

25th June 2010 at 01:00
Worksheets are out, dressing-up is in. How the `Teacher of the Year' engages with her classes

Viking Chieftain garb, complete with horned helmet and billowing cape, is one of many outfits donned by the "teacher of the year".

Underneath the helmet is Michelle Prvulovic, of Strathallan Primary in Kirkcaldy - or "Mrs P" as her P4 pupils often prefer to call her. But she could as easily be found dressed as a cowboy, explorer or secret agent as she looks for inventive ways to bring difficult concepts to life.

The 26-year-old emerged from some 100 entries to become Teacher of the Year at last week's Scottish Education Awards. Dunoon Grammar business studies teacher Suzanne Welsh and Clare Ballentine of St Leonard's Primary in East Kilbride were also shortlisted.

One of the judges, Paul McLaughlin of St Ninian's High in Kirkintilloch (last year's headteacher of the year), said he knew Mrs Prvulovic was a worthy contender when he spoke to pupils at her school in Fife. Out of the earshot of staff, one boy said: "You're here to see the best teacher in the world."

Mr McLaughlin was also impressed when he learned that Mrs Prvulovic's commitment extended well beyond the school. If a pupil is in a play, performance or sports event - even if the school has no involvement - he or she is likely to be urged on by a familiar face.

"If they're doing anything outwith the school, she takes the time to go and see them perform," said P7 teacher Kerry Edwards, who also pointed to her colleague's school-based extra-curricular commitments, including salsa and badminton clubs.

"I don't know how she gets the time," she said, pointing out that Mrs Prvulovic also mentored two probationers this year and has always been highly supportive of colleagues: "She helped me settle after I joined the school two years ago; I knew I could go to her about anything."

Mrs Edwards is particularly impressed by Mrs Prvulovic's innovative "chat box": her 31 pupils, including some with additional support needs, can slip in a request to speak one-to-one at lunchtime about any subject, every day of the week. Mrs Prvulovic never has long to wolf down her food. Every day a queue of pupils lines up outside her classroom, eager to relate a happy event, a personal problem, or have a chinwag. "She cares deeply about everyone in the class," Mrs Edwards said.

It sounds like fun to be in Mrs Prvulovic's class. When pupils asked how anything was known about the Vikings, since all eye-witnesses died centuries ago, she created a mock excavation site outside the school, its trenches laden with hidden artefacts. Soon, the concept of archaeology was ingrained in pupils' brains.

When they learned about Eric Liddell, the Scottish sprinter celebrated in Chariots of Fire, the class imitated the iconic scene by running in slow motion to the film's Vangelis soundtrack.

But the fun is underpinned by deep thinking. Mrs Prvulovic - whose mother, Jessie Mair, teaches at Foulford Primary in Cowdenbeath - has brought philosophy into the classroom. As she explains, it helps pupils form their own opinions and disagree without coming to blows. It also ensured that pupils became embroiled in sophisticated debate about the decision of Liddell, a devout Christian, not to run the 100 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics because it was held on a Sunday.

"The children are energised by the activities," said headteacher Isabelle McBain, who says Mrs Prvulovic rarely uses worksheets and textbooks.

It is perhaps little surprise that Learning and Teaching Scotland has got Mrs Prvulovic on board to grapple with Curriculum for Excellence, even though she only finished her probationary year in 2005.

The adjective used time and again to describe her is "caring". The knock- on effect, believes Mrs McBain, is clear within seconds of stepping inside her classroom: there is a thrum of activity and the children are eager to learn. That's because Mrs P is "a happy and positive teacher", says eight- year-old Lucy Brice.

Mrs Prvulovic is "very aware" of the long-term impact of the time children spend with teachers, says the head. In her own words, she wants school to be packed with experiences "that they can see the value of, that they know they can use in their lives, and will remember".

The willingness to dress up in costume is not mere gimmickry. It shows a desire to make the experiences of primary school reverberate in people's lives for years to come.


Other winners at the Scottish Education Awards, sponsored by the Daily Record and the Scottish Government

Lifetime Achievement - Mary Lee, The Royal Blind School, Edinburgh

Headteacher of the Year - Anne McFadden, St Mirin's Primary, Glasgow

Probationary Teacher of the Year - Lois Lurinsky, Dalmarnock Primary, Glasgow

Educational Supporter of the Year - Alan Stern, Eaglesham Primary and Nursery, East Renfrewshire

Learning Through Technology - Mid Calder Primary, West Lothian

Global Citizenship - St Stephen's Primary, Glasgow

Sustainable Schools - Lawthorn Primary, Irvine, North Ayrshire

Aiming High - Wellshot Primary, Glasgow

Entrepreneurial Learning - Grange Academy, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire

Enterprise and Employability (Secondary) - Bishopbriggs Academy, East Dunbartonshire

Enterprise and Employability (Primary and Early Years) - St Joseph's Primary, Busby, East Renfrewshire

Literacy and Numeracy - Brucehill Early Education and Childcare Centre, Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire

Getting Scotland Active - Perth Grammar

Health and Well-being - Hillside School, Cumnock, East Ayrshire.

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