Working with alumnae teachers to prepare student teachers for professional practice

Photo credit: unsplash, Digital5 Elements, CC0

In this post, Deborah Holt, Bicentennial Fellow in the Moray House School of Education, highlights how she works with her alumnae teachers to support and engage her students for professional life as teachers…

I work in Initial Teacher Education and a substantial part of my work is to prepare students practically, emotionally and academically for professional practice during their programmes and for their first year in the profession. I was a school teacher. I still am a teacher in higher education, but I feel that my words do not have nearly as much impact as those of practising teachers when it comes to preparation for professional practice. I have been drawing on the alumnae network to enhance our teaching on a range of programmes since I came to Moray House in 2010. These sessions tend to be rated highly by students.

It all started with a focus day on outdoor learning. We managed to find a dynamic and engaging teacher to talk about the Forest Schools work he had done with his pupils. Our students had already received the theoretical background and some guidance on planning for outdoor learning but this was all transformed from the abstract to something achievable by the descriptions, photos and anecdotes of our visiting teacher. He shared his experiences, tricky and enjoyable, gave advice, showed images and videos of real children in a real primary school and, afterwards, he was able to answer questions and engage in discussion with our students. They loved it. They were inspired and motivated. They wanted to use what they had learned on their next placement.
Inspired by this success, I went on to embed input from alumnae into a range of aspects of the various ITE programmes in which I work.

One of the most memorable and successful was a group of three former students who returned at the end of their probationary year to give a session entitled, The things they don’t tell you: Anti bac, wet wipes, snot and blu tac, in which they took turns to talk about the highs and lows, challenges and joys of their first year in school. It was entertaining and informative, but what made it most effective was that our students connected and identified with the alumnae who remembered very clearly what it was like to be a final year student ready to leave for a post in school. Our guest speakers’ laughter, earnest advice, tales of angst and perseverance were emotion-filled and genuine. They had impact, and it was great to find out how these former students whom I had known well were getting on as teachers. I learnt alongside my current students.

Life as a probationer. Photo by former student.

Working with alumnae does not always entail visitors coming with a prepared talk. This year, on our final preparing for practice session, we held a Question Time panel, and two alumnae were joined by others from the profession to answer questions submitted in advance and on the day by the finishing 4th year students. We had a lively debate that was informed by student interests and concerns.

Storyline in action – samples of work

We hold focus days to prepare students for specific elements of placement. One of these is on StoryLine. Students learn about this approach in taught sessions and are then joined by former students who share their experiences and advice on how they have managed to put the approach into practice.

Advice from former student presented at Storyline session 2017

These are just a few examples of the ways in which alumnae with relevant experience have taken part in lectures and seminars to prepare current students for a specific element of professional practice. One initially unintended benefit of drawing on alumnae in this way has been the relationships that have been established between our students and alumnae in the profession. So many former student speakers willingly shared their contact details and our current students have been able to ask questions, share experiences inspired by the alumnae, and maintain some kind of professional dialogue with the visitors during their professional placements and ongoing afterwards in some cases. I hasten to add that this has not been a case of alumnae as unpaid agony aunt to current students, but rather the beginnings of communities of sharing practice and professional dialogue.

Deborah Holt

Dr Deborah Holt is a Bicentennial Fellow in the Moray House School of Education and Sport. Since 2013, she has been depute and programme director on the BEd Primary and MA Primary Education programmes with responsibility for preparing students for professional placements on a range of ITE programmes. Her research is in positive mental health promotion in education, and she specialises in pupil wellbeing and health and wellbeing teaching in primary education.

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