Sunday, September 4, 2016

Could you teach naked?

Could You Teach Naked?

Every September it seems like there’s a new Whole School Initiative hitting the fan. As the Headteacher takes the podium on that first inset day, you hold your breath, waiting to find out what new, quirky trend will permeate your staff meetings for the year ahead…

But what if your headteacher stood up and told you that this month is all about #NakedTeaching?...

Are you game for it?

What is #NakedTeaching?

Ok, so I know I’m kind of known for controversial titles (see here and here), but no… it isn’t anything dodgy.  #Naked Teaching is imagining – just for a short time – what it would be like to have to teach without any resources.  I’m one of the trustees of the charity, World Wide Education Project which helps to provide an education for children in areas where school resources are scarce or non-existent. #NakedTeaching is about liberating yourself from physical resources, unshackling yourself from the whiteboard, releasing the learners from desks and freeing the learning space of worksheets, textbooks – everything!

So ask yourself: what would you teach and how would you teach it if, like teachers in impoverished communities around the world, you had no resources to rely on?

What is #NakedTeachingDay?

#NakedTeaching Day on Friday 30th September is an opportunity for schools across the UK to raise awareness of the plight of children who attend makeshift schools in slums, under bridges and in refugee camps. It’s a chance for teachers to stick the supplies back in the store cupboard, unleash their inventiveness and undress their lessons. You could even take the kids outside and lose the walls and the chairs too!

And remember, like most activities that include the word “naked”, someone has to be the first to take the plunge!...  So don’t dither shyly waiting to find out if your colleague down the corridor is going to partake – set the ball rolling yourself! Let your colleagues know that #NakedTeachingDay is coming! Build up the tension and create some anticipation in your school! Friday 30th September is the day to take some exciting risks and skip unfettered onto that cordoned-off section of the scholastic beach you’ve always wanted to try. ;)

To kickstart your #NakedTeaching escapades, try one of these 5-minute resource-free teaching strategies that can be adapted to teach just about anything: (But beware – as #NakedTeaching goes, the following ideas are hardcore because they don’t even involve paper or pens…)

1.       In pairs, learners sit facing each other and try to score points based on tennis scoring by coming up with words or ideas relating to a particular topic e.g. “features of persuasive writing” or “facts about the Tudors”. .As soon as hesitation or repetition occurs the opponent gets the points. This can be used for revision or to establish what pupils already know.

2.       Ask learners to choose a fact/quote/number/word/question/idea relating to the subject matter that they can repeat over and over out loud. Learners must get up, move around and speak their piece to as many of their classmates as possible. Each time they exchange an utterance, they must look for the links between what each of them has said. If they think carefully enough they will always find a way to link the two things together!

3.       Call out statements and ask learners to sit down if they think the statement is false and remain standing if they believe it to be true. This can be used to test understanding and knowledge, but can also be used to encourage personal response. Ask learners to turn to the person next to them and justify which position they chose or explain how they “knew”.

4.       In groups, learners make up a song/chant/rap to revise their learning in a topic so far. They should connect key ideas with catchy tunes and rhythms to make concepts doubly memorable. If the kids are brave enough, let them perform their Number 1 Hits to other classmates!

5.       Create a Sound Collage by asking learners to bow their heads and close their eyes. As you circulate around the space, tap random learners on the shoulder. As each person is tapped (and you can revisit certain people!), they call out their “most interesting idea or question” about the topic. Once the sound collage is finished, learners open their eyes and are asked to consider and discuss some of the “anonymous” ideas and questions they heard.

#NakedTeachingDay is organised by the World Wide Education Project. We’re hoping that your school can raise awareness and funds for the impoverished children around the world that we are currently supporting. And come up with some new ideas for their teachers too! See here for how you can donate.

Have a look here to see how you can help the fabulous Lisa Jane Ashes use #NakedTeaching to raise funds to educate children in Ghana who have nothing.

And have a look here to learn a little about our project in the Calais Refugee Camp - as well as all our other projects here

Join the conversation at #NakedTeaching and #NakedTeachingDay and share your pics and ideas!

Isabella Wallace X

Friday, September 2, 2016

My visit to the Calais refugee camp


One hundred metres into the refugee camp, I might have still felt frightened if it hadn’t been for a single, seemingly insignificant human act. It was something that Amy did. She lifted her smile to the curious, muttering groups of men and she called out “Hello!”

And with that – and a quick shot of self-reflection - I realised that the first strides of my journey into Calais’s stony, weed-ridden “Jungle” camp had seen me resort to the ridiculous pretence that people exhibit in the high street when a stranger approaches them for spare change. The old “I-can’t-see-or-hear-you-and-I’m-too-deep-in-thought-or-conversation-to-notice-you” performance…  I’d been keeping my eyes fixed ahead as refugees turned to stare or call out to us. And then I looked at Amy who, having visited the camp many times before with the Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity, was leading our little party of four through the dust and debris on the hottest day of the year. She was turning to meet each playful call with a smile and a genuine greeting.

*  *  *  *  *  *

In that moment, I realised that Amy wasn’t seeing a stranded, desolate crowd of thousands. Instead, she was seeing thousands of individual stories. As I began to emulate Amy’s behaviour, I looked into faces that were understandably inquisitive: why was this European woman here amongst the maze of tents? Why hadn’t she stayed beyond the metal fences that tower at the edge of the camp like a mob of barbed wire bouncers? Was she another tourist come to indulge her own curiosity? And now each of the refugees’ spirited “hello”s was a spotlight swivelling to turn and shine on another unique narrative of flight and affliction.

As I met and chatted with residents of the Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps over the next couple of days, I realised how easy it would be to just stick with FEAR.  – To take a glance or two at this encampment of unfamiliar “otherness” gathering on Dover’s doorstep and to scuttle away, coughing up alarm and suspicion with true Daily Mail swagger.

So let’s address the first of our sticky, uncomfortable points that inevitably emerge when we listen to people discussing the Calais refugee camp…


Where are their bare feet and rags?!... I'd feel more comfortable if they were wearing rags! ~ Anon.

When I told various people that I was visiting the refugee camps with The World Wide Education Project to see if we could help develop the education provision for children there, I became audience to a number of questions and musings . Often these pontifications started with, “Hmmm, it’s an awful situation isn’t it… But [uncomfortable cough]…what I don’t understand is…” One recurring theme that followed on from these tentative starts seemed to be rooted in a deep desire to see the refugees as penniless and uneducated, ignorant of technology and having somehow lived their previous lives in a primitive bubble – before downgrading only slightly to tarpaulin and pop-up tents.
“How come they all have mobile phones?” a group of (perfectly nice) Year 8 boys asked me. “If they’re so poor and we’re supposed to feel sorry for them, why are there pictures online of them all stood in designer clothes with iphones?”
It’s true that if these privileged, British schoolboys had ventured into the “Jungle” themselves in the hopes of finding the bare-footed, swollen-bellied toddlers that we expect to see in charity campaigns, their search would have been a disappointing one.  The fact that amongst the refugees there are former business owners, teachers and tradespeople who have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety, completely challenges our agreed picture of what constitutes “people in need”.  If tomorrow you had to flee from your home  – perhaps to escape terrorism – what’s the one thing you’d take with you? Those Year 8 boys of course immediately declared that it would be their mobile phones. And a charger. (Closely followed by a spare set of clothes!)


Once inside the camp we met up with some of the people who are working hard to provide an education for refugee children. Some of these children have now missed out not on months but years of schooling. As I write this, a recent census conducted by charitable organisations shows that there are now 761 children living in the Calais refugee camp. Whilst that figure in itself is shocking, there is an even darker element to the situation: of those children, 608 are in the camp alone. Without mum, dad, or any responsible family member. And did you know that 178 of those children have the right to be reunited with family members in the UK? But they’re simply stranded and isolated…

When I found out that the youngest child in the camp is just 7 years old, my thoughts obviously turned to my own 7-year-old son. My sweet, sensitive, trusting little boy. The thought of him lost, terrified and confused in this new land of strangers where comfort, certainty and reassurance are scarce, was just too heart-breaking to contemplate. When night falls on the “Jungle”, the camp is submerged in total darkness. No electricity: no light.

As I reflected on how easy it had been to enter the camp – no official entrance, no checking in or out – the horrifying reality dawned on me: how easy it would be for any of these hundreds of unaccounted-for children to be led away from their temporary community by a complete stranger. Calais has not introduced a system to count them, nor to note their names or their whereabouts. When the French authorities dismantled hundreds of homes in March this year, firing teargas canisters that apparently set makeshift shelters alight,  a shocking 129 children apparently ‘disappeared’ during the chaos that ensued.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

When I first met Fergal and Ciaran – two Irish  volunteers for the Refugee Youth Service (RYS) and key people in the setting up of provision for children in the camp - I was struck by how young they were. At first greeting, these two incredible life-changers would have looked more suited to a boyband than a charitable initiative for refugee youths.

But Fergal and Ciaran were my second thunderbolt reminder not to judge a situation too quickly.

With support, these two young men maintain a small classroom, youth centre and psychosocial cabin to provide education, safety and well-being to the refugee children. More significant perhaps, is the fact that through liaison with Les Medecins Sans Frontieres - the only organisation to have a legal and authorised presence on the land – the RYS have managed to place the school under its protection. Safe-guarded officially, now, from eviction, their little sanctuary is the only other set of temporary buildings that can legally resist the French authorities when they inevitably come to dismantle homes and bulldoze communities for a second time this year.

In fact, on this first day that I visited the “Jungle” there was a tense atmosphere crawling through its well-trodden pathways. The ominous and unusually heightened presence of the French Riot Police lingered at the edges of the camp. The officers were beginning their first phase of the next mass eviction, predicted to happen at the end of September this year. Today they were closing down the little make-shift shops and cafes set up from tents and huts by refugees to serve their own community. It is, of course, of central importance to the French authorities that the “Jungle” is not accorded official refugee camp status. If it becomes recognised as a legitimate camp, then the authorities would become more accountable for the welfare of the unaccompanied children living there. Apparently, they would be required to allow powerful organisations such as Save the Children and Unicef to set up aid in the vicinity and assist on a significant scale. To keep the refugee camp’s status as “not officially existing” , the police are required to periodically oversee the bulldozing of the camp in the hopes that the refugees will disperse to…well, somewhere else…

I heard chilling tales of the police confiscating food from the refugees – even from a hut set up by a British woman to provide warm meals to unaccompanied children. During the seizing of provisions, the officers allegedly scooped ready-to-be-served cooked rice out of barrels and dumped it into binbags; and confiscated bottles of safe drinking water which they then proceeded to drink  themselves.


The classroom run by the RYS is a small porta-cabin – a bit like one I had my A Level lessons in, only less than half the size. There are seats for 9 children, and as the kids – all of them teenage boys – arrived for a maths lesson, I felt awkward about my own presence taking up some of their precious learning space.

Outside the cabin it was 30 degrees; inside only slightly cooler. These boys had turned up in the sweltering heat to attend school out of choice.  As I watched the teachers greet the kids, it became obvious that the promise of new learning was not the only lure. Each boy was met by the adults with an effusive and genuinely friendly greeting. This simple expression of positive regard would perhaps feel like an entitlement to British schoolkids, but to these youngsters it was everything. It was a validation to these children that they were important; that they mattered; that they still had the right to a place in this terrifying, lonely world.

As the lesson progressed, more children turned up to stand in the doorway, unable to participate for lack of space but craning their necks through the gap in order to listen to the teacher and attempt to learn something. One boy had turned up with swollen eyes, red and streaming from being caught in the police teargas; rubbing his stinging face but still ready and anxious to learn.

The challenges presented by this maths lesson constituted every teacher’s nightmare. If you’ve ever taught a class, you’ll know what I mean. The kids spoke different languages from eachother,  they were all at different stages of mathematical understanding, most of them had very little English, and because of the lack of space, the teachers had encountered different kids for each of the previous lessons, so were struggling to ascertain individual needs and starting points.

At one end of the room, there hung – of all things – an interactive whiteboard. Donated by another charity, it hung there like some obscene joke in the electricity-less community.

These homeless children were anxious to learn. They followed the teacher’s every move, eyes anxiously searching the diagrams she pointed to, lips mumbling sounds in an attempt to repeat the teacher’s foreign words and commit the precious learning to memory. Yet, reassuringly, beneath their earnest search for education, and despite their terrifying life experiences, there still lingered a spark of irrepressible playfulness as they competed to complete the task in winner’s first place. And that badly concealed delight at receiving a lollipop, that you see in classes of mischievous Year 10 boys in the UK.

This throws up the second sticky point and popular query…


Why do they all seem to be male?... What have they DONE with all the females?! ~ Anon.

My neighbour’s take on this question is possibly a fairly common one. When I mentioned I was going to be visiting the Calais refugee camp, she spent a good 5 minutes attempting to delicately share her suspicion that the plethora of male refugees she’d seen in the media had all fled from disaster and conflict by cowardly surrendering their children and womenfolk to the hands of villains and then running for the grassy hills of England.
Of course we know that some of the male refugees have had to flee their homes in order to avoid being forced to fight and die for a cause they don’t believe in. But in many cases the refugees are the strongest, most physically resilent members of the family. They are the ones who are charged with making the perilous journey to the family’s “Land of Hope”; the ones who are fit enough to risk everything as they conceal themselves in refrigerated lorries or scale barbed wire fences to find a home and a future for their loved ones.
Beshwar,  a 25-year-old Kurdish man I met at Dunkirk refugee camp had been sent away from Iraq by his father when so called “Islamic State” invaded their village. Whilst his father remained to fight to reclaim the village, Beshwar was called upon to take his mother and younger brothers to safety. You can read his story here
The census shows that there are girls living in the “Jungle” too but in much smaller numbers. The RYS are working hard to locate these girls and ensure that they feel able to attend the school where possible too.

Talking at length with Fergal and Ciaran,  we learnt about the things they desperately need in order to support the children in the way they want to. The most obvious issue, of course, is the size of the current classroom. Enthusiastic kids are already learning not to try showing up for class because there is rarely enough space for them in the tiny porta-cabin. As our discussions progressed, the conundrum was how to create something which would cater for many more youngsters without falling foul of the strict laws prohibiting “building” on this unofficial camp.

My friend and colleague, Simon Devine – operational manager for WWEP – was able to quickly visualize a solution for this and drew up a plan for a spacious, robust teaching space in weatherproof materials that could be easily dismantled if (when!) the camp has to relocate again.  As well as building this new provision ,WWEP is hoping to provide teacher training support, experienced teacher volunteers, psychosocial aid, books and equipment, special educational needs support, and maybe even school meals.


The teachers have asked if we can do anything to help them source visual resources that feature translations in any of the following languages –

Posters would be ideal and home-made is just fine! We need visuals depicting things such as the colours, shapes, numbers, common phrases, etc in both English and as many as possible of the languages above. If you or someone you know speaks one of the languages above then we would be very grateful for your help and details about how you (or a whole class or school!) can assist are at the end of this post.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Walking out of the camp and standing sadly under the bridge at the end of the day, I watched groups of refugees trickling out of the camp. Rucksacks across their shoulders, eyes fixed straight ahead, they were embarking once more on their nightly attempt to conceal themselves in some unfamiliar cross-channel bound vehicle. Some might just succeed, others might die in the attempt, most would just get returned to the ‘Jungle’ by the French police, ready to try again the next day.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there’s a final sticky point that readers might still be grappling with, the biggest burning question of them all…


Why don’t they just stay in the first safe country they get to? Why keep heading for England?! ~ Anon

Each time a refugee asked me where I came from, their face would light up with an incredible joy when I answered “England”.
“England! England!” one delighted refugee cried and others quickly came over to join us, staring at Simon and myself as if we were  other-worldly beings from a superior diamond-encrusted planet. “What is England like?!” they asked, eyes shining. “Tell us about England!” It was enough for these polite, Kurdish people to simply hear us pronouncing the names of major cities they had heard of in their fairytales of English life. Watching intently as Simon drew them a quick map of the UK on a paper napkin, they rolled names like “Manchester” and “Birmingham” around in their mouths as if the words held some indescribable beauty and promise. Their fairytale had one desired ending – that they and their families would live happily ever after in the UK at the end of their long and terrifying journey.
Ciaran, who has developed a friendship with many of the residents of the Jungle,  has given this third sticky point a lot of thought. In his brilliant blogpost where he considers the sanctimonious question, 'Why don't they stay in France or, for that matter, the first European country they arrived in?' Ciaran describes what he sees to be a flawed but fundamental human instinct to “play big and win”. This makes complete sense to me. Can we truly judge another human being for seeking happiness rather than simply seeking refuge-from-death? I began to think about all the people I know who have taken a risk in the hopes of getting something “even better” than survival. The one who risked every penny to set up a business in the hopes of improving their family’s financial situation. The one who left a steady, safe relationship in the pursuit of a more exciting, fulfilling one . The happy, settled  couple who took a leap of faith and adopted a troubled child. The executive who gave up her 6-figure salary so that she could get more family time. The fact is that perhaps all of those people might have been better accepting their original “safe place”, but as human beings that’s often not what we do. If I were to judge those refugees for setting their sights on the UK as their ultimate goal, then I would need to judge myself for every occasion I’ve invested time, thought or money into chasing an ideal that was not a necessity, but a dream. As the blood-red graffiti staining the wall outside the ‘Jungle’ cries out to passers-by: “We too are human.”

As I stood under the bridge that marks the gateway between the “Jungle” and “civilization”,  I saw a large tatty sheet that some of the refugees had pinned up on the mounds of weed-covered earth beside their tents. They had carefully handwritten a message on it; one that would probably never be seized on and shared by the media. It read:

"We, the people of 'Calais Jungle', share our hearts to the people of Nice. We stand with the families of the victims and support you. Terrorists are our enemies too. We are one family:

French and refugees.

We are so sorry about your loss in Nice. We feel your grief. We hope that God will help you in your grief.

Any time the French want our support, we want to offer it.

Love from Refugees 💞"

Can You Help?

Would you like to help WWEP give the refugee children the chance of a better life through access to education? There are two ways that you or your school could make a huge difference:

1.      Could you organise an exciting fundraising event to raise money for the Calais Refugee project? We will make sure that your donation helps to provide essential resources for the school, the children and their teachers.

2.      Could you produce a high quality visual resource that can be displayed in the classroom to translate English and French into some of the refugees’ languages mentioned above?

3.      Could you donate exciting EAL (English as an additional language) resources that your school has found valuable in helping EAL children to access key concepts in English? These might be games, guides or equipment.

AND FINALLY... Do you know any brilliant people who would like to apply for the position of Education Co-ordinator or School Manager with the RYS in the Calais Refugee Camp?

Please get in touch at  We will be so grateful to hear from you!

You can follow WWEP on Twitter @WWEPUK and Refugee Youth Service on their facebook page.

Monday, May 11, 2015

#TwitteratiChallenge: Accepted!

Thank you to the fabulous Paul Dix @PivotalPaul for nominating me for the Twitterati Challenge.
Here is my #TwitteratiChallenge  video.


I nominate the following people:

1. & 2. @wendy21brown and @bones_carmel  

Wendy Brown and Carmel Bones are both former ASTs and are absolute stars for tweeting practical, realistic, useable ideas for teachers. You can look at their photo-tweets and immediately see how you can make use of their ideas in another classroom. They are well worth a follow if you're looking for a bit of daily inspiration.

3. @Janeh271

Jane Hewitt is an educator, freelance photographer and author of 'Learning Through a Lens'. She tweets some wonderful, thought-provoking images that can be used in the classroom. Most amazingly, she has just come back from Kakuma refugee camp where she and @debrakidd were working with school staff and pupils for @ITLWorldwide 's Big i Foundation.

 4. @ASTsupportAAli

When you're looking for teaching ideas, resources, challenges or just a bit of a pep talk, WHO YOU GONNA CALL?... Well obviously, Amjad Ali . Amjad is a serial sharer. The complete opposite of the crusty old HoD who keeps his precious set of prittsticks locked away in his filing cabinet and chides you for making too many photocopies. Amjad is the kind of colleague everyone needs. His blogs also have a truly earnest tone to them, which I really appreciate.

5. @PhilBeadle

Ok, so I know my Number 5 has already been nominated by Paul Dix, but I can't help noticing that Phil still hasn't taken up the challenge... So, as one of the geniuses I often take advice from, I'm challenging him again because, well let's be honest, who doesn't like to watch a bit of Phil Beadle on film?!...

So, to my lovely nominees, here are the rules of the challenge (as set out by @TeacherToolkit ):


There are only 3 rules.
  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life.
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge
  3. You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost and (the Rules and What To Do) information into your own blog post.

What To Do?

There are 5 to-dos you must use if you would like to nominate your own list of colleagues.
      1. Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you rely regulalry go-to for support and challnege. They have now been challenged and must act as participants of the #TwitteratiChallenge.
      2. If you’ve been nominated, you must write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost within 7 days. If you do not have your own blog, try @StaffRm.
      3. The educator nominated, that means you reading this must either: a) record a video of themselves (using Periscope?) in continuous footage and announce their acceptance of the challenge, followed by a pouring of your (chosen) drink over a glass of ice.
      4. Then, the drink is to be lifted with a ‘cheers’ before the participant nominates their five other educators to participate in the challenge.
      5. The educator that is now (newly) nominated, has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost and identify who their top-5 go-to educators are.