Rianna Farr teaches at Paroa School, south of Greymouth, which is next to the beach and is home to wildlife, including little blue penguins.
Her students study the penguins for science and use the entire foreshore as an inspiration for literacy. Rianna says, “We get them to sit down on the sand and absorb what they see, hear and smell, and then write about it. They get fresh air and fresh experiences that contribute to literacy.”
Rianna returned to New Zealand in April 2018 after teaching for two and a half years in Leytonstone, north London, which she found very challenging. Happily ensconced in her new position at Paroa School, five minutes’ drive from Greymouth, she is certain she has made the right move.
The country school has 152 students, and its own school house, in which Rianna lives. She says there are many positives to living in London, especially the ease of travel to European destinations, but ultimately it was the quality of life that shaped her decision to return to Aotearoa. She loves the rural lifestyle, but the big city lights of Christchurch are not far away, just two and a half hours’ drive.
For her Year 4 and 5 children, the beach is one of many environmental experiences they have access to which inspires observational and descriptive writing. The primary is an Enviroschool, its emblem is a little blue penguin, and the students regard the beach as part of their school. Their current inquiry focuses on recycling and care for the environment, and the children help with beach clean-ups.
Rianna says, “We have a culture of caring and support, and tuakana/teina is very strong. There is no barrier between students of different ages and all the seniors have a younger buddy they look after, and help with reading skills, for example.”
Structured tuakana/teina time is built in to learning activities four days of the week to help build relationships between younger and older students.
“Here, the focus is on children being children. In the UK, in my experience, the teachers taught in silos and there was an emphasis on academic achievement exclusively, particularly literacy and maths.
“The system here is a lot less competitive for the children. It’s calmer and nicer. In London, the pressure on teachers was intense, the workload was huge and the bar was almost always moving. I was working 12-hour days, as were the other teachers.
“When I was applying for this position at Paroa, I looked at the school’s values, and found they aligned with mine. The staff are very supportive of each other, and we constantly collaborate.”
The school’s values are to support student achievement through the “Four Cs” – creative, connected, caring and confident.
“Everything we do is linked to those values, and we encourage children to use their voice, to express their ideas and to feel confident in speaking up,” says Rianna.
“Sport is massive, and they have the chance of lots of learning outside the classroom such as building huts, going into the mountains and bush, and tramping.”
Over the summer months, the seniors start the day with exercise by running or walking around a bike track close by the school.
The Year 8s take part in the William Pike Challenge Award involving up to eight pursuits including caving, rafting, tramping, and rock climbing, all of which develop teamwork, resilience and a sense of achievement through overcoming obstacles.
Being able to buy her first house by herself is the cherry on top for British-born teacher Emma Denne, who originally came to New Zealand as a backpacker then decided she wanted to stay here permanently.
Since starting her role at Paroa School, she has become a proud homeowner.
“With property prices the way they are, the West Coast is affordable for me, and for anyone in my situation. I could never have bought a house by myself close to where I work back in Britain.” She paid under $300,000 for a property 10 minutes’ drive from the school.
“In the UK I was living at home with my parents and couldn’t imagine buying a three-bedroom house.”
Emma says she has a lot more freedom as a teacher than she had in the UK. “Teaching is very structured there, and it was very stressful because of that. The long commute to and from work was also a hard slog.
“Now I have the creative freedom to plan and work independently. I also work closely with my fellow teachers, and really enjoy those collegial partnerships because it helps the children’s learning.”
She taught in the UK for two and a half years before getting the travel bug and taking off to see the world, eventually landing in New Zealand, where she toured the country on a Kiwi Experience bus. After deciding she wanted to teach in the South Island, she applied for a role at Paroa School in 2017 and was successful.
Her mother is Australian, so Emma has dual citizenship, and did not have to apply for a work visa.
There are 21 students in her class – fewer than she had in the UK. In the mornings, she teaches maths and literacy, and in the afternoons she works with the students in other curriculum areas through inquiry.
Emma finds The New Zealand Curriculum gives a crisp focus for her teaching plans.
“It’s so cool because you can actually understand it, unlike its British equivalent. It is broken down into manageable portions, and the learning intentions and objectives can be seen clearly.”
While the school environment at Paroa School is relaxed, she is impressed at the learning self-management by senior students.
“They are very independent, inquisitive and find creative ways to share their learning.
“They’re also way better at technology than me, so I’m on a learning curve. I still remember dial-up internet!”
Emma loves the rich humour, the verbal flourishes and the ‘Britishness’ that writers such as David Walliams bring to their books.
“The children read David Walliams’ books for literacy. He’s very funny and they love him. But there are lots of text references the children may not have come across before, and jokes they may not ‘get’.
“So I explain to them what is meant by ‘a magnificent bouffant hairdo’ and why the ‘beloved headmistress’ of a girls’ school could ‘give the willies’ to the children just by looking them up and down through her ‘half-moon spectacles’. Some things do need translating!”
Principal appreciates team fit
Paroa School principal Vic Hygate says Emma and Rianna work well together collaboratively and Emma brings cross-cultural richness to her teaching, not just from her British background but also from her extensive travels, which help to introduce a global perspective to the children’s learning.
She says Rianna is a great fit for the school as she is a passionate, enthusiastic and skilled teacher. “She also provides strong collegial support to other teachers and is developing her te reo Māori skills rapidly, and is also helping Emma with her te reo journey.
“Paroa is the perfect place for her to have come home to.”
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Source: Education Gazette