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Alexandra College

Staff Spotlight - Andrea Boyd

Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to Kindergarten Lower teacher Andrea Boyd about her teaching career. 

 

What brought you to teaching?

I inherited a love for teaching and learning from my father, grandparents and a long line of family members, involved in education. Education was held in high regard and I remember them talking passionately about their work and how they really cared about progressing all their students.  They were extremely dedicated, involved and committed educators and this certainly left an impression on me. Special times with my caring grandparents, who lived on the scenic North Antrim coast, made a very positive influence on my outlook and my teaching also. From listening to their funny stories and how well they got to know their pupils, helping them to overcome any problems or concerns – made me want to become an inspirational teacher.

At school I was encouraged to ‘try new things’, to work hard, be loyal and appreciative but above all – to be enthusiastic! I joined everything. I loved art, sport, drama, music, choir and was a member of the Girls’ Brigade organisation. Becoming Head Girl and meeting Prince Philip to receive the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award were certainly highlights of my time at school.

In my 4th year, I was part of a team of students and teachers who travelled to Romania. Part of the trip was a 50km study/trek in the Transylvanian Alps followed by time spent working on a project to build a safe and attractive play area. We brought lots of toys and educational equipment, painted murals and loved playing with the children from the orphanages where we stayed. It was such an eye-opening experience and I will never forget the impact of our visit. It was very moving to see the children’s reactions to their new surroundings that we had helped to build and on our team, it taught each of us to take nothing for granted. It also showed me the value of teamwork and how our presence had made such a positive difference to their lives. My next adventure followed that summer and at 15, headed off on my own to Sydney, Australia to be a nanny for family friends. I was a very enthusiastic and busy babysitter and loved being with children of all ages. Needless to say, my exposure and interest in adventures continued. At the time, I was perhaps not aware of how much it was shaping my perspective and understanding, learning from varied cultures, travels and experiences respectively. 

Following a qualification in Nursery Nursing, I was delighted to gain a place at Canterbury Christ Church University because of its reputation in Teacher Training. My interest in Special Education stemmed from their forward thinking and innovative approaches and so I benefited hugely from the expert and motivational teaching. At Canterbury, I was introduced to many theorists including Froebel’s enlightening philosophies. It is an area that I have become very passionate about. I assisted lecturers on two incredible visits to study and work with children in India and as part of my Masters degree, I lived and studied in Sweden. I chose to research and compare the Inclusive Practices of mainstream education in a multicultural school setting in Stockholm and London. Their approaches to ‘Inclusivity’ became another fascinating area of interest to me and one which I care deeply about.

 

What is your teaching experience to date and how did you come to setting up the College’s Preschool?

For several summers, I worked for Camp America, teaching and caring for children and teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds in Florida. I taught in Special Education and worked closely with a team of experienced clinicians. I really enjoyed the collaboration and tailoring individual educational programmes for students with mild to severe learning and behavioural needs. During the summer holidays and until recently, I ran successful TEFL programmes for a highly acclaimed Language school. Our international students came from across the globe for our residential courses. They were designed to incorporate creative teaching and learning and enhance language skills as well as specifically designed activities to boost confidence and promote the importance of teamwork. I gained great leadership and organisational skills - from designing and structuring the courses and a variety of activities to providing teacher training in creative classroom practices, for EFL teachers and Activity Leaders, both in Boston and the UK.  

When I was appointed to Alexandra College I started teaching in J4 and then moved to J6. I became fully immersed in the Alex community and taught each class on the senior side of the Junior School. I was also a Housemistress, in the Boarding Department and loved living on the campus getting to know the staff and students.

Moving to teach in the Kindergarten gave me the opportunity to broaden my teaching experiences and put my Key Stage One training into action! I served as a staff representative on the Junior and Senior School Boards of Management, and joined the JACA committee when Mrs Lamplugh became Head of the Junior School. 

I felt very honoured and excited by the proposition to set up a Preschool for the College. I was teaching KG Upper at that time so having accepted the challenge - behind the scenes and after school, lots of decisions had to be made. I was choosing work tops, designing the room layout and devising all sorts of plans and ideas, including where fittings and electrical sockets should go. It was a fascinating process and I enjoyed photographing the different stages along the way. I also loved getting to input my interior design skills - another passion of mine. That was a busy summer sourcing all the required materials, toys and furniture. Adding the final touches to have it ready to open in time and to welcome our first Preschool class in August 2015 was very exciting. Showing many visitors and prospective parents the new Preschool log cabin was definitely a proud and satisfying moment.

As a school we remain very proud of its success and how it has become the feeder enrolment for our Kindergarten class. We have also observed how well it has supported the girls in their smooth transition and warm welcome to ‘Big school’. 

 

What makes teaching Kindergarten exciting for you?

Everything! It’s action-packed and great fun. There are an abundance of special and rewarding moments every day! As a child I had a rather vivid and creative imagination, which I enjoyed putting to good use – and still do! I get great pleasure in guiding the children on their ‘creative journey through a cross-curricular theme’ and to observe their individual responses. I find it really fulfilling to foster a sense of curiosity and discovery and to reveal different worlds for this age group to explore, via sensorial learning, storytelling, music, dance and imaginative play, in the indoor and outdoor classroom environments - it’s magical!

Recently, taking the children on a nature walk, we discussed how they were like the tiny seeds that had been planted. We observed the buds and new growth and talked about how they too had blossomed – just like the beautiful trees on our grounds.

Creating a warm, happy and welcoming atmosphere to settle students into their classroom encourages them to feel secure, confident and open to learning - which will in time - develop their ‘love for learning’. Personal growth and learning to ‘give and take’ is a major part of Kindergarten. There are so many skills learned in the early years. It is also the beginning of building on the partnership between home and ‘big school’ - where we build on developing the foundation together - endeavouring to nurture, cultivate and look after it. Working with varied dynamics and helping all personalities to thrive and progress - the students learn to take each day - as a new day and it is very exciting to be a part of their educational journey and ‘growth’. 

And so ‘opening these windows of wonder and learning’ helps welcome an openness in the classroom. From this young age, the children learn how to socialise, have self-control, concentrate and show focus. Another important aspect is learning how to follow instructions, show patience, respect and develop attentive listening skills. Discussing kindness and empathy, teaching coping skills and learning how to ‘look on the bright side’, have become key elements within our role as educators. 

Observing maturity and reaching milestones unveils very exciting transformations too - from children recognising letters, to learning about sounds and identifying that when they put them together they can start to read and spell. Writing skills, learning concepts, Number work, Science activity, Language learning and the progressive nature of their creative drawings and imaginative play - the sense of achievement and accomplishment is endless!

Our Kindergarten children are learning because they are busy, having fun whilst immersed in creative and practical activities! Being present in entertaining, engaging and colourful classrooms promotes their learning as well as their social, cognitive, emotional, spiritual and physical development. The girls are taught how to take pride in their work which I take great joy in displaying on the walls and in their scrapbooks which become a special keepsake and reflection of their year’s progress. We learn from each other and admire the ideas that we all bring to each day. 

Another aspect of teaching is the unpredictability of every day. You never know what a child is going to say or a topic idea or delicate concern or question that might arise. You are constantly kept on your toes and need to be ready with an answer, ready to comfort, support, enthuse or help and sometimes all of the above in one moment! This is what makes teaching so exciting and rewarding!

 

What do you feel is special about the Froebelian Ethos?

The core of my teaching is based upon Froebel’s principles. I believe that his ‘Hands On - Minds On’ ideology is beneficial for all kinds of learners, accommodating holistic experiences and development on all levels! It’s about providing a platform where teachers and children together initiate, facilitate and engage in learning that is enhanced by creative and imaginative stimulus and play experiences.  

Our attractive campus and grounds lend to creating a framework for our classroom practices with access to the great outdoors, and generating a love of nature and environmental awareness, for our pupils.

I remember feeling inspired when learning about the VAK approach (Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic methods) and considering how I could implement this delivery in my classroom. It not only promotes the students to become creative and independent thinkers but it engages learners to question and express themselves across the varied curriculum in a unique and meaningful way.

 

How have you adapted your online teaching for Covid-19?

The ‘Covid impact on online teaching’ has undoubtedly been challenging for us all - personally and professionally. Being set the challenge to engage Junior Infants to online live teaching every day – I stepped into my TV studio every morning with the able assistance of different guests - our extra-curricular teachers. Effective planning and organisation helped and we collaborated to form an interactive and engaging schedule. We had great fun practising our skills and checking out how to create a ‘breakout room’ before going live! The experience certainly strengthened our class rapport and the girls really impressed us. I greatly appreciated the encouraging and complimentary comments from parents and we enjoyed having a joke about putting a show on RTÉ!

Watching families come together and join in our lively dance breaks and various classes will remain a special memory from Zoom school not forgetting every Friday when we dressed up to the ‘weekly theme’. From cutting ivy in my garden to make an explorer’s costume for the next morning, to putting on my wedding dress to be KG Lower’s Fairy Godmother on the last day’s Zoom - you could say, “I embraced it”!

It was very helpful that we had the first term in school together and as a class we had established a good sense of work structure, routine and happy bond. I knew I wanted to try and deliver my lessons with the same enthusiasm and find ways to bring some ‘Froebel creativity and fun home and to the screen’ to support the girls in their ongoing learning. They enjoyed sharing what they did or made and having the suggested play ideas to the theme too. I think parents gained quite an insight into life in a Kindergarten classroom.

Online teaching, not only gave me a new experience and skills set but it prompted me with further ideas, enhancing and sparking my developing teaching styles! Many hours of online searches prevailed but helped me to deliver joyful morning assemblies and find the perfect educational videos, dances, songs, art and drama activities all to complement and enhance the weekly theme. The extra efforts seemed to pay off and help captivate the audience’s attention.

 

What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?

This is a hard one as I have gained from insightful and enriching national and international experiences, from caring and working with children from all backgrounds, needs and cultures.

Memorable educational trips include taking Kindergarten classes, rock pooling and on boat ride adventures with the INSS sailing school. We had such a great time learning about marine life and looking out for seals in Dun Laoghaire harbour for our sea-themed project.  Other amusing and enjoyable Alex highlights include making a surprise appearance in assembly dressed as ‘Wonder Woman’, to introduce last year’s Superhero Family Groups, and getting everyone up dancing to this catchy theme tune! Running a very lively Alex Easter Camp - which showcased a fantastic fashion show with costumes and set design made from recycled materials, the team effort in directing spectacular Christmas shows with Junior School colleagues and Drama teachers from the Senior School and more recently initiating a programme with the TY co-ordinator for TY students to assist in Kindergarten. 

As a keen golfer, I have really enjoyed joining the Old Alex Golf Society for their outings and meeting up with past pupils and past and present staff. Undertaking the setting up of the Preschool and seeing its success for the college has been another Alex highlight - so far!

It also required me to analyse and critique the impact of my own experiential journey, teaching and learning influences, effective curriculum delivery and engaging pedagogical approaches. Writing a paper on Froebel spurred my passion to learn more about connecting children’s minds in imaginative and creative worlds - and I wanted to share that ‘sense of exciting discovery’ and to adopt Froebel’s ideologies to create my own teaching style and delivery. 

My role as an educator is to provide and support effective teaching and learning and I consider this a privilege!