students on the sofa

Staff Spotlight: Rachel, our Dedicated Teaching Partner for Years 4, 5 and 6

It’s time for ‘Big Studies’ in the Madiba classroom (Year 4 and 5), the pupils are busy, engaged in four activities. The bright classroom, overlooking the playground, is a lively hub of activity. With four activities to rotate around in the two-hour session, the focus is on personalised learning approaches to literacy and maths.

On the wall a projected image showing four groups and four activities enables the pupils to take responsibility for their learning. Pupils choose where to work, clustering beside the bright windows, on the comfortable rug and quietly reading in the Zen Den next-door, they are actively involved in designing their learning environments, while also developing a self-directed approach to learning that they will need in the upper school.

Rachel, the dedicated, skilled Teaching Partner who works with Madiba and Kahlo (Year 6) classes, is already in action. Clustered around a table with four pupils, she engages them individually in spelling practice and revision. Her warm and approachable demeanour puts the pupils at ease, creating a positive learning environment for what could be a mundane, routine activity.

“Yes! 100 hicky dicky doos for you!” Rachel exclaims, congratulating a pupil for getting a spelling word correct on the first try. “75 hicky dicky doos for you because you got it on the second try. 50 if you need a third try, and then you can always phone a friend.” The pupils beam with pride as they receive their points, eagerly keeping a record of their hicky dicky doos, the currency for an imaginary game, Rachel created in response to the children’s desire to make spelling more fun. Extending the scope on the spot Rachel encourages them to challenge themselves suggesting they can use their ‘picky dicky doos’ to “buy” things in the imaginary virtual shop, such as space travel or new skins for their avatars.

As each child spells their words of the week, they are tasked with choosing five challenging words to focus on for the following week, from a list in their diaries, personalised to challenge each individual appropriately.

It is a far cry from the intimidating, whole class spelling test of years gone by, the air is filled with playful discussion and laughter. Practicing using the words in sentences and learning how to spell them, Rachel’s approach is both nurturing and effective. “Remember, it’s got a trigraph in it. What might that be?” she prompts, guiding the students through words like ‘naught,’ ‘brought’ and ‘thought.’

While each child works individually with Rachel, the others diligently practice writing the words on their pyramid spelling sheet, offering a range of ways to practice. The children are empowered to choose what works for them. ”Some of the children have specific lists of words that are right for them,” Rachel explains, emphasising that all children are at different stages with spelling and other subjects.

“Your first word is accommodate … yes you got it first time, now amateur,” Rachel says to one pupil, while another works on simpler words like arrived or early. For the more able pupils, instead of correcting their spelling, she offers a dictionary and thesaurus to look up the meaning of words later. This not only stretches their spelling skills but also enhances their vocabulary.

“When you’re at home, make sure you take the time to look up the words you are choosing and write them into your vocab book so that you learn what they mean as well as how to spell them,” Rachel advises. Her encouragement to continue learning outside the classroom is met with enthusiastic smiles and nods.

“Your first word is ancient,” she says, to which a pupil jokingly retorts, “You know how to spell that because you are ancient!” Rachel plays along, laughing and knowing that playful humour is part of building rapport, which she has with all the children in bucketloads.

Around the room, other children actively engage in Prodigy Maths, English, or quiet reading. The freedom they experience in class is evident. One child sprays, brushes and ties up her hair while working on her English practice on Prodigy with a friend. No one bats an eyelid, no unnecessary challenge is made to what the children do as long as they are learning and not distracting others.

Talking with Rachel between lessons, it’s clear that her focus is on building resilience in the children. “It’s about knowing they are measuring themselves against themselves,” she says, “and their fellow pupils support that, there is no comparisons made or picking on people.”

Having been a Teaching Assistant in mainstream education for six years before joining Atelier 21, Rachel understands what it’s like to work with the diverse needs of a large year group. The contrast to the small, nurturing environment of Atelier 21 is stark and requires a different type of approach to the role.

Rachel shares, “Working in small classes across a range of year groups certainly keeps me on my toes! It’s exciting and challenging, in great ways, to meet each pupil where they are each day and support their personalised goals as a person and as a learner.”

With every interaction, Rachel is smiling, clearly enjoying and personally being enriched by the varied interactions with the pupils. Her focus on building rapport and connection with every pupil while working collaboratively with her colleagues, the class teachers, makes her a respected and loved member of the school community.

Moving on to the morning maths session with the Year 6 Kahlo class, Rachel normally takes a small group of four pupils who benefit from additional support. The nature of the role means being adaptable and pupil focused is a key skill. Today, the class are working on a mini project connecting their learning to a real-world application. The teacher, Michelle and Rachel quickly discuss and agree that today there will be more benefit to all if the students integrate with the rest of the class, allowing both Michelle and Rachel to support the whole class with their applied learning approach.

“I’m going to do a Mexican wave around the room for you to tell me how many minutes there are in an hour,” Michelle announces, engaging the class in a fun and interactive way.

The project for the double maths lesson involves calculating the lengths of wood required to create wooden planters and benches for the new Little Barn Owls nursery. The pupils are tasked with working out how to approach the problem, what operations they will need and making a cut list of components. Michelle demonstrates to the whole class using her desk as an example, while Rachel sits with the students, ready to assist as they embark on their project.

Ever vigilant, Rachel notices one pupil looking disengaged and out of character. She gently moves to support and reassure them, ensuring they feel included and capable of completing the task. Moving around the planters and benches outside the year 6 children work independently, each challenged by applied, real life maths they express how it’s ‘harder but more interesting’ than just doing exercises in a book.

The role of the teaching partner is diverse, requiring flexibility, adaptability and rapport-building skills. Like a chameleon, Rachel adapts and shifts to meet the pupils where they are. She is a skilled coach and facilitator, adjusting her support and approach in the moment to keep students engaged. Constant communication with the teachers she supports is essential, with preparation often being adjusted as the day’s plan changes, all to meet the needs of the children.

Through Rachel’s dedication and ability to create a supportive, engaging learning environment she embodies the school’s commitment to fostering resilience, curiosity and self-directed learning in every pupil.