Connecting Classrooms

This article has been put together by Joyce Hallam, head teacher at Hawkshead Esthwaite Primary in Cumbria

History:

The Connecting Classrooms project was set up around 2006 as a British Council Project. The idea was to have 3 cluster schools in the UK joining with 2 cluster sets of schools (each with 3 primaries) in Sub Saharan Africa. Hawkshead joined with Langdale and Coniston Primary and were accepted on the project in 2007. The initial meeting with other UK teachers and African Teachers took place in Edinburgh. At this point we all displayed presentations and over the period of several days had to seek out schools with similar aims and ideas for the project. We joined up with 3 schools in Ghana and 3 Schools in South Africa.

Hawkshead

The background to the UK cluster:

Schools within the UK cluster had collaboration and communication as a key area in their School Development Plans. We felt the project lent itself to setting up quality learning to develop ICT skills within a meaningful context and would enhance work carried out in Geography, RE, Music, Literacy Science and PSHD and health care as children researched ideas about the schools and countries they were linked with. All the activities developed would be brought together under the banner of global citizenship.

In a small school there are great benefits of working together as a cluster. There is a strength in sharing a common development goal between staff, pupils and governors from different schools. As a small group of isolated rural schools this would open up links between the communities and schools and also provide a setting to link up to the wider world on an international level. This model could be shared equally amongst African cluster schools allowing our experiences, knowledge and understanding to permeate throughout the network. In an area of limited multicultural diversity, it helped to raise awareness of other cultures and lifestyles and broaden the pupils' horizons preparing them for life in the 21st century. Musical events, displays, presentations and pupils' work were shared with the community throughout the project and beyond, thus raising awareness within the community.

In addition, it was felt the project provided pupils with better knowledge and understanding of other cultures and people equipping them with right attitude and values enabling them to be free from prejudice and be role models for others they would work alongside in the future. The project generated a range of opportunities for creativity in many subjects allowing pupils to discover their own strengths. It also helped to develop collaborative teamwork. These skills are invaluable for the future generation of workers in our country.

Global Citizens

DisplayInternationally, sharing ideas and culture with another country promotes mutual understanding and sharing of expertise between our schools and the African schools providing opportunities to learn from each other. We particularly wanted to work as a cluster as it allowed a broad range of people to lead and develop this rather than any one individual.

The links enabled the African schools in different countries to grow and work together. Funding allowed teachers to visit and gain first hand knowledge of the different education systems.

Communication within the cluster

Heads from the UK schools already had strong links meeting up every 2-3 weeks as a leadership group to drive collaboration work forward. These links were continued and developed through the project. Pupils and staff met up in joint planned activity days and planned INSET time to share their learning. Pupils were able to write and send photos and artefacts to the pupils in the African countries. We set up 2 way visits for some staff using available funding. One and a half years into the project we hosted the African teachers and 14 children in our homes and schools.

Funding, plans, accountability reports and budget approval, were all integral to the project year on year.

Africa

What we did:

YEAR 1:

We wanted to learn more about each other’s culture and in the process learn lots about our own culture and traditions! We made booklets about Cumbrian Life and our specific villages. In addition, we researched local folk music and all 3 schools joined with Mike Willoughby (a local folk artist) and made a recording of Cumbrian folk songs which we sent to our African link schools. We also did some drama workshops on our views of Africa and stereotyping. The link schools in Africa sent us videos of their dance and music and huge project books about their culture and history. Staff from all clusters visited Ghana in the first Year and spent time in classrooms and visiting the area.

Pupils met for workshops, feedback and shared activities from each school at least once during the year.

YEAR 2:

We did a complex literacy project involving researching and writing Cumbrian folk stories. These were illustrated and published between the 3 schools and each school shared the others’ work. Multiple copies were sent to our link schools (they each have at least a 1000 pupils). They in turn sent us their local folk stories. In July 2008 10 teachers and 14 pupils came to visit and share time in our schools.

YEAR 3:

We did a Climate Change project and looked at the possible impact of Climate Change on Cumbria. We made posters and displayed material, all of which was laminated and taken to South Africa for our visit in 2009. They in turn made posters and researched information and performed dramas for us on our visit to South Africa. We spent time in classrooms observing lessons and taking part.

Throughout the country visits there were meetings between staff about how the project was going, next steps and resourcing and budgeting issues. We communicated by email and telephone. On the last visit to South Africa we discussed sustainability once there was no longer funding. We have continued and are currently doing a project on Values and Sport.

However, commitment is not as strong. For me, keeping going with the key link schools is really important as strong friendships have been formed. For the pupils, I feel it is important to keep the global link alive and meaningful. We are committed to International work being part of our curriculum and have our Full International award which we are currently re-traditionaccrediting.

Joyce Hallam