Week 9

Professional Reflection
19th - 26th March

One of the core areas of the ‘Tomorrow’s Education Today’ programme which we are taking is being enabled to broaden our knowledge and awareness of different types of school education available here in The Netherlands. Before now I could say this is something that I never really thought about as all schools in Northern Ireland are not classified into categories of which pedagogy they follow. Most schools have a different ethos but their aims and objectives all fall in line with the requirements of the Northern Ireland Curriculum. As part of our Rethinking Education class we had the opportunity to visit some of these ‘Reform Schools’. The group I was placed in visited the ‘Jenaplan’ school.
The Jenaplan concept was ignited by Peter Petersen during the reform movement in the 1920’s. Petersen was labouring with the idea that today’s society is becoming more and more heterogeneous. As he states, “There is more plurality of achievement abilities, of family backgrounds and individual lifestyles; thus the orientation of education towards a specific group becomes increasingly difficult.” In Jenaplan schools there are no homogeneous groups but children are grouped in multi age groups. Onderbouw are 4-6 year olds, Middenbouw are 6 -9 year olds and Bovenbouw are 9 -12 year olds. We had the opportunity to visit the classrooms in the Jenaplan school and for me I found it very strange seeing older and younger children working together. Children work on the same theme and tasks but at varying levels. Jenaplan schools highly emphasise natural development therefore this setup seems most suitable given that not all children develop at the same rate. In my opinion teachers have a much more difficult task in what could be said as differentiating for a very wide ability range.
Children participate in the multi-age age groups for the most part of the day but subjects such as Language and Maths are taught with only their peers of a similar age. This setup works well as each teacher can take a specific age group and focus on one of these areas of learning or the rest of the children in the class can be set a task to complete.
One unique thing that is also typical to the Jenaplan school is the ‘Blokuur’. This is one hour during the day that happens in every class both the younger and older ages in which children can decide what they would like to so for themselves. Children are familiar with this routine and use the time to finish off work that hasn’t been completed. In my opinion this is a very good idea, not only are children adopting the skill of working independently, they also have to decision make about what they need to do and plan their time carefully. This is something I would like to try on as an educator as I think these are skills that each individual should possess and this seems like a positive way to foster them.
As well as this the Jenaplan concept places a strong emphasis on the notion of ‘community’ and everybody working together. As one teacher told us it is about learning together and learning from each other. Everyday classes start and finish together in something like what we would call circle time. As well as teachers and children, parents are also central in this ‘community’ centred triangle. As I have also seen in my placement school parents are actively involved in all aspects of school life whether it be helping to decorate the assembly hall for the current theme the school are studying – e.g. Spring at the present time or assisting on school trips. It seems to me that teachers and parents have a strong relationship and there is ongoing communication rather than just informal meetings. Personally I think this is fundamental, one can assert that parents are a key figure in a child’s education. After seeing parents participating in such an active role, I hope this is something I can encourage as I become a practitioner in future years. Essentially they too can bring skills and knowledge that can add to a child’s experiences and learning.

Although there are many aspects of this type of education that I agree with and would like to adopt as a practitioner, such as the ‘Blokuur’ and the ‘community’ notion, personally I would question the multi-age groups. I can agree that there are many different abilities and each individual child is different but with older children in the class it could be asked whether some children would mature too quickly in terms of personality and behaviour. From my experience on teaching practice I found myself using classroom management and behaviour strategies with different age groups of children as well as the way I spoke to them.
In all I found my trip to the Reform school very interesting and it has broadened my knowledge of perspectives on education. As a group we have to present our findings to the class and I am eager to hear about how the rest of the groups found the Reform schools they were visiting. In various groups they have visited Freinet, Steiner, Montessori and Dalton schools.


Week 8

Personal Reflection
12th - 19th March

Since being here in The Netherlands I have come to realise that each day brings something new, whether it be the people I find myself with, places we visit or the situation I find myself in. It has made me exceedingly aware of how routinely and ordinary my life can be at home a lot of the time. Even though this is normal and how society functions, I ask myself do I really challenge my thinking like I am doing here by partaking in conversations which makes me think about areas of life that are controversial and have no answers or do I prefer to partake in superficial conversations which are of no profit. I wonder do I always seek to try new things and broaden my horizons, making the most out of the opportunities I am given. I can definitely say after this experience there are many things that will have changed for the better both my attitude and perspective of life.
Over the past few weeks many situations that I’ve found myself in have impacted me greatly and have made me reflect upon myself, one of these being a trip to Amsterdam during Carnival break. There is no way I could leave The Netherlands without having visited one of the most famous cities in the Europe so Christine and I went along with two of the American girls, Linz from Brighton and Ines who is from Portugal for the weekend. It was a great trip and in my eyes a very beautiful city seeped in cultural heritage. We also took a walk through the Red Light District which was most certainly an eye opener for me. Personally I felt very uncomfortable and uneasy walking down these streets yet they were swarming with people and there was real buzz with people sitting outside pubs enjoying the atmosphere and the sunshine.
Although these women have rights and are treated very well I do not believe it is right for anybody to sell their body, even if it is to make money. In speaking with my flatmates after our trip about it I was surprised to hear that they saw prostitution as acceptable in society. Some said people are going to do it anyway so why not make it legal so they are treated better. As a Christian I was saddened to hear this as I firmly believe sex was created by God as bond of love meant between a husband and wife.
Since being on the trip I also came to the conclusion that our cultures have a big impact on our personalities and the way we act. Now that I’ve got to know people better and am spending more time with them I can agree you do see their true colours! I’ve looked at myself in many situations and thought you just don’t do that. Many of these other Erasmus students are very forthright with their opinions to the point that they are self centred and aren’t really concerned about what others think. I’ve realised that people of the Irish culture are caring and concerning for others making sure that we all get to do what everybody wants and everybody is happy yet still being able to stay together in a group whereas the others just wandered off doing their own thing without any unease about splitting from the group in an unfamiliar city.  
As Carl Jung once said, The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Reflecting upon this I can agree that I will come away from this experience with a transformed attitude and personality having been in the company of others who are very different to what I am. I can also say there are certain features of people’s personalities where I think that would be unacceptable back home and is a very undesirable trait. Maybe these people who have experienced my personality would be able to take something from me too.

Week 7

Cultural Blog
5th - 12th March

There are many things which we associate with being typically Dutch yet after speaking to some Dutch students they informed me that many of these objects did not originate in The Netherlands. For instance it surprised me to find out that tulips originated in Turkey. Clogs or ‘klompen’ on the other hand are assuredly Dutch and they take great pride in these.
The Dutch have been wearing clogs since medieval times. Originally, they were made with a wooden sole and a leather top or strap tacked to the wood. Eventually, the shoes were made entirely from wood to protect the whole foot. Wooden shoe wearers claim the shoes are warm in winter, cool in summer and provide support for good posture. The wood also absorbs perspiration so that the foot can breathe. In my estimation this sounds like the ideal shoe for healthy feet and one any podiatrist would recommend. Contrary to this in an extract by Wilson (1937), he argued that the only reason the Dutch wore clogs was because they lasted longer than shoes of a comparable price thus reflecting the notion of the Dutch being tight with money!
On our trip to Zaanse Schans we had the opportunity to visit a tradesman’s workshop and see the clogs being crafted. The shoes are made by machine today but there are still a few wooden shoe makers in Holland who are able to hand craft these shoes. Given the shape of the shoe and it being one single piece of wood with no joints it was very interesting to see them gradually take shape after beginning with a one rectangular piece of wood. Afterwards many of us had fun finding clogs our size and trying them on to experience them for ourselves. Personally I still cannot understand how they can be comfortable for everyday use as they are worn a size bigger than your normal shoe size resulting in your feet sliding about inside them as you walk.
As well as this there was an exhibition of the many clogs that have been made down through the years, all with different purposes and therefore varying in shape, design and colour. This was very interesting as we were able to see how the clog evolved and changed over time.
In speaking with a Dutch student he said that if you walked down a street with clogs on in the present day people would give you a funny look. In any case this is probably true as I have not yet seen anybody wearing clogs other than the tradesman at the clog workshop. He told me that only farmers, fishermen and factory workers still wear clogs. As well as being waterproof, clogs also protect the foot from heavy and sharp objects therefore being very practical for these people.
After hearing the origin of the clog and finding out more about its practicality and benefits I found myself wondering why the majority of society have stopped wearing clogs as part of their everyday life. The only possible conclusion I could come to was that of the modernising of society and the trends in fashion that are present all over the world. Down through the generations maybe these people have abandoned the uniqueness of the clog to conform to society’s notion of fashionable. This is also likely to be the case for our own society back home, down through the years I’m sure unique objects, events and ways of life have been abandoned by generations in place of more modern ideas.


Week 6

Professional Reflection
26th February - 5th March

Here I am again at the end of another week reflecting on what has been happening here in Nijmegen and what I have gained from these experiences. In terms of professional development this week has been the highlight so far.

The school building

On Tuesday morning Kine (who is from Norway) and I embarked on the journey to our placement school in Oeffelt. Without the help of a very useful Dutch website which planned our journey and gave us all the options of travel I don’t know how we would have got there. Stranmillis students complain about having to get up early during school based work, we left at 7:10am to be in school for 8:30am and still arrived late.
On arrival we were greeted by our mentor Hella who is also the teacher of one of the Grade 8 classes (11/12 yr olds) we are with. Being an international student stepping into a Dutch school for the very first time with little to none of the Dutch language was a very daunting experience but she made us feel at ease right away. She explained all the details we needed to know for the forthcoming practise and told us about the school and the environment we would be working in as well as answering any questions we had.
Basisschool het Telaraam runs under the ideology of the ‘essential schools model’ which on my first impression is very evident within the school. The common principles of this model are students taking centre stage as workers with the teacher acting as a coach, strong sense of democracy and equity, less being more – depth over coverage and personalisation for each individual to name but a few characteristics. The Coalition of Essential Schools states “We envision an educational system that equips all students with the intellectual, emotional, and social habits and skills to become powerful and informed citizens who contribute actively toward a democratic and equitable society.”
The surrounding area
As I we took a tour of the school and observed various activities and lessons going on I was able to see many similarities with this model and that of what the Northern Ireland Curriculum aims to engage children in and achieve. This being the case I look forward to comparing teaching strategies and gaining insight into innovative and creative methods which I am not familiar with and using these as a future educator.
One unique difference I have noticed and been taken back by is the relaxed atmosphere upheld by everybody in the school which is reflected in the positive behaviour of all pupils in the school. There is a strong sense of partnership and trust between teachers and pupils. In many ways teachers are on a much closer level with pupils. Children call teachers by their first names. As Hella told us, teachers need to know children but children also need to know the teacher. I can agree strongly with this, children are able to sense a teacher’s enthusiasm and commitment to their learning. A strong relationship is built on trust and respect from both partners. Pondering on my own experiences of education I can say that this was not the case for the most. As a class we openly shared our experiences but we never heard of the teacher’s experiences.
School Council
I noticed that teachers and the principal talked to children in an informal manner most of the time, had fun with them and made sure the environment was very positive with lots of laughing and joking. I could sense that the children were happy to be there and enjoyed school. On Wednesday afternoon we had the opportunity to attend the student council meeting which was a very beneficial experience in many ways. One particular observation that I still can’t get my head around was one of the younger pupils sat on the principal’s knee because there weren’t enough seats. It seems to me that this is normal behaviour. As well as this the pupils were eager for us to participate in a Physical Education lesson with them. I am constantly reminded of child protection issues, safety issues and the notion of ‘keeping yourself right’ if something were to happen which is central to all practice at home.
Reflecting upon all of this I feel much more comfortable in the schooling environment here in the Netherlands. If I were to comment on the relationship between the teacher and pupil back home I would say that there is a barrier between them. In some ways there is still the traditional view that teachers are on a different level to pupils which is reflected in the way they treat pupils and the authoritarian figure upheld.  
As a future educator this has made me ponder on how I will conduct my practice and develop relationships with pupils. According to Adler, “the purpose of learning is growth, and our minds unlike our bodies continue growing as long as we live.” In any case we wish to foster the notion of the teacher being the facilitator rather than the island of knowledge. We do not know everything nor have we got all the answers to questions, it is through experiences and interactions we too learn and develop knowledge therefore there needs to be an equal status in the relationship.
In all my first experience in my practise school has been a very positive one and I look forward to teaching my Group 8 class.