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Broadhurst Primary School – we value thinking

| November 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

BY ANGELA WARWICK, LOU DOKAKIS AND SALIMA KALA

Broadhurst Primary School is a private primary school situated in the capital city of Gaborone in Botswana.

It opened in 1982 under the first headteacher, Mandy Watson, a British teacher who had worked at other schools in Botswana. The school started small but with excellent facilities, including a swimming pool, main hall and practical art rooms shared between two classrooms. Over time, the original site grew and new, additional facilities included a pavilion, an extensive sports field, library, sports hall, audiovisual centre and languages block.

In 2019, I (Angela Warwick) joined the school as headteacher, having taught at another primary school in Gaborone, Botswana for almost 25 years. My current office used to be a classroom used by Salima Kala, our social sciences teacher, who joined the school as a Standard 3 student in 1982.

When Watson (the first headteacher) left Broadhurst Primary School, she returned to the United Kingdom (UK). During my teacher training in the UK in 1990, I spent a teaching practice session at Henfield Primary School, West Sussex, where Watson was the headteacher. And so the world goes round!

Broadhurst thinking

With a cohort of about 430 children from Botswana and around the world, and over 30 staff members, Broadhurst is a multicultural, international school catering for children living in and around Gaborone.

The vision of Broadhurst is: ‘To create, together with the family, a caring environment of learning and experience, in which children may develop their potential to the full, may acquire the knowledge and skills to equip them for living, may experience the best that the human spirit has achieved, may develop respect for themselves, for other people and the world around them and have the courage to make a difference to the future.’

At Broadhurst, we implement this vision by focusing on teaching tools that drive a thinking skills curriculum. All children are capable of deep thought, and our focus is to impart lifelong tools, so that our students become skilful, critical and creative thinkers. These tools encourage the children to think more deeply and creatively about relevant subjects. Skilful thinking is challenging and requires continuous practice and reflection. We value such thinking at Broadhurst, and in our methodology we make thinking skills explicit. We apply cognitive terminology, and label and identify cognitive processes. In our everyday classroom practice, we apply De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats,1 Hyerle’s Thinking Maps,2 the Growth Mindset and the Habits of Mind.3

De Bono believes that by applying the Six Thinking Hats to the learning process, we add colour to thinking, and thinking becomes a game. Each Thinking Hat represents a thinking process associated with guiding questions to achieve optimal thinking. For example, the Yellow Thinking Hat explores the benefit of a situation, and a guiding question could be: what is the value of this information? Once the children have an understanding of the function of each Thinking Hat and the associated guiding questions, they are able to apply the Six Thinking Hats to all areas of the curriculum to apply skilful, critical and creative thinking during the learning process. Indepth thinking is achieved when the Six Thinking Hats are used in a sequence. Depending on how the Thinking Hats are sequenced, a problem-solving or lateral thinking process outcome will be achieved.

Specific thought processes

At Broadhurst, we want the children to develop specific thought processes, such as part-to-whole relationships. To achieve this, Hyerle’s Thinking Maps are part of our everyday classroom practice. Each Thinking Map and thought process has specific universal language associated with it. For example, the Bridge Map’s specific language is: interpret symbols, allegory and ratio. To further develop the children’s metacognitive skills – that is, children thinking about their thinking – a frame of reference is applied to a Thinking Map. The frame of reference provides the children with the opportunity to reflect on their learning. Children ‘press the pause button’ in the learning process and deliberately stop and ask themselves what, why and how they are learning. When applying high-order questioning, children develop metacognitive skills and the thinking process is dealt with in more depth.

As teachers in the Broadhurst thinking environment, we strive to be facilitators. The tools we implement encourage learning that is driven by posing challenging questions and problems that tax the imagination and stimulate further inquiry. Children are encouraged to assess their own learning, question their own and other’s assumptions, and to value other’s viewpoints by maintaining a safe and non-judgemental learning atmosphere.

The Thinking Tools we employ allow us to foster learning situations in which the individual influences the group’s thinking and the group influences the individual’s thinking. Teachers practise instructional techniques that encourage group activities, which help children to construct both their own and shared knowledge. Collaborative learning situations encourage children to realise the interconnections and coherence of divergent views, and teach them to listen with understanding and empathy.

We believe the Thinking Tools we use will allow the children to have the courage to make a difference to the future. The tools encourage the children to ‘think big’. The tools help the children to solve challenging problems in a thoughtful and peaceful manner by engaging in respectful dialogue to resolve misunderstandings, while respecting the diversity of other cultures. As Alan Kay stated, ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’4 At Broadhurst, we empower our children with lifelong tools that will help them invent a future that is thoughtful, cooperative and compassionate. We believe this type of future begins in our school today, and the Thinking Tools we practise develop a learning process and environment that offers a multitude of positive possibilities for the future.

Reopening school under COVID-19

When I started at Broadhurst, just a year ago, I could not have imagined the circumstances in which we are now living and teaching. Ever since we were told that the last day for schools to operate in Botswana would be 20 March, we have been planning on how we would reopen under the Botswana Government COVID-19 guidelines.

At that time, Botswana had only a handful of cases, but protocols were quickly put into place to ensure the nation’s safety. Learning packs for the children were created by staff and collected on 27 March to last until the planned end of term on 8 April. There were many rumours regarding when lockdown would start, so we had to be flexible in our approach. Lockdown finally started on 30 March 2020.

Throughout the lockdown, the staff worked harder than they ever thought possible – not only searching for age-appropriate tasks that link to the curriculum but also assisting parents by answering queries (sometimes hours after the accepted ‘school day’) and helping children individually, as well as maintaining their homes, cooking, cleaning and helping their own children with their lessons.

For teachers, it has been a steep learning curve to develop their information technology (IT) skills to ensure that our children stay motivated and on task, so as to complete the school curriculum in the time given. During the supposed holiday, staff undertook continued professional development to ensure they were ready for the start of Term 2, which was originally set for 12 May 2020. Still under lockdown on 12 May, we instigated online learning through Google Classroom and Seesaw.5

Keeping everything under control

Many options were considered, discarded and reinstated to open the school physically on 2 June for Standards 4–7. Luckily, we were able to split the school entry process between five gates, but this meant that all teaching staff, administration staff and many industrial staff had to be at school from 06:30 to get ready to take temperatures and details from 07:00.

In line with Botswana’s COVID-19 protocols, everybody who comes onto the school site must wear a mask. Social distancing markers were placed outside the classrooms, but we soon realised these had to expand to cover the whole school property. We appointed a safety, health and environment (SHE) officer to help maintain the expectations and ensure everything was in place.

Luckily, most of our classrooms were big enough to take a full class of up to 27 children with a metre or more between desks. We arranged and rearranged tables in the junior school many times before deciding that the best option was to cut tables in half to allow space for the teacher to move around the space better.

A few classes in the senior section of the school had to move to different rooms. Our main hall is now a teaching classroom for Standard 6, and as we can’t have assemblies or any large gatherings, it is a better use of the space. Another class moved to what was previously the science laboratory, and another to the sports hall.

Our children stepped up to the mark and showed us how adaptable they are in coming to terms with the new normal. Parents, on the other hand, took a little longer to accommodate social distancing protocol while dropping off and collecting their children at the school gates.

Standards 1–3 started on 4 June 2020, but due to another inspection from the Gaborone City Council, the reception classes didn’t start until 8 June.

Addressing unexpected issues

Some children have shown an aptitude for online learning, while others have been much happier when the school is physically open. Either way, it has meant a lot of adaptation and further independence from our children to engage with the new ways of learning.

After almost two weeks the routine was set, the children and staff were coming to terms with wearing masks, although some teachers have struggled with losing their voice and it can be difficult to always understand what is being said. We are concerned that those children at the back of the class are losing the details.

Children have been given greater flexibility regarding their uniform. Extra layers that are not part of the school uniform are encouraged to keep warm, but the weather is not on our side. It has been colder earlier in the winter season than it has been for many years. Frost has killed plants that have thrived for years.

And then, on 12 June, the greater Gaborone region was placed back into lockdown. With little warning, teachers had to be ready to teach online, but unfortunately some devices and resources had been left at school. After scrambling around and travelling back to school late on the Friday evening to collect what was needed, online learning started again on 15 June, showing incredible rapport and support from and between teachers in each department.

Making quick decisions

At around 17:30 on 15 June we were told that lockdown would be lifted at midnight, and hurried discussions over WhatsApp took place as to whether school would reopen physically on 16 June. We made a decision to continue online learning and open again on 17 June.

We have had to cancel so many events that would usually take place this term, and the Parent Teacher Association has had to acknowledge that fundraising activities cannot take place, and have instead showed continued support to the school by funding resources to continue the best learning in quite different circumstances. Instead, we have put in place Casual Fridays, where children can wear home clothes. This has allowed children to be warm and more relaxed in a time when so many more rules and restrictions have been put in place to hinder their play times. It has been marvellous to watch their adaptation of playground games to take into account social distancing. The old games of rock, paper, scissors continue to abound, as well as clapping games without actually touching. It will be interesting to see how these playground games continue to evolve over time.

As we continue to educate our children to the best of our ability, we have to be flexible to change from online to physical learning at the drop of a hat, and now our teachers carry everything with them so that they will not be caught out again.

References:

  1. See: https://www.toolshero.com/decision-making/six-thinking-hats-debono/#:~:text=Six%20Thinking%20Hats%20or%20Edward,a%20detailed%20and%20cohesive%20manner.
  2. See:http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108008/chapters/ThinkingMaps@-Visual-Tools-for-Activating-Habits-of-Mind.aspx
  3. See: https://habitsofmind.org/a-growth-mindset/
  4. See: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Alan_Kay
  5. See: https://web.seesaw.me/

Category: Spring 2020

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