Exemplar teacher helps students thrive with mentor scheme

Green Spring Academy in Shoreditch has run the First Give programme successfully for three years, with the help of the Jack Petchey Foundation. This year the lead teacher, Ms Higdon, delivered her best First Give programme yet, using competition to boost the new social action element and using older peer mentors to support students on the programme. The Final was spectacular, and the winning team, supporting the charity Addaction, put on such an impressive and gripping performance that they will be performing at the First Give awards 2018 in Cardiff. We caught up with Ms Higdon to find out more.

Ms Higdon is Head of Drama and oversees student leadership, so the programme was run in drama lessons, which is not typical. This meant the presentations were highly creative, including a lot of role play, which is something First Give strongly encourages to ensure the presentations are memorable and hold the audience’s attention.

What also made the Green Spring Academy approach unique was that Ms Higdon recruited sixth form mentors to support and motivate the Year 8s on the programme. “As a teacher, I appreciate you sometimes don’t have time to call charities or oversee all the social action activities when you’ve got exams coming up etc. If you’ve got some autonomous Year 12 students, they actually did a lot of the tasks, like supporting a student making a phone call to a charity.”

Ms Higdon explains how Green Spring has a focus on positively utilising older students’ resourcefulness and drive. "Ikra, who sat in on a lot of the [winning team's] lessons, would come in and offer critique and talk from the perspective of someone who doesn’t do drama A level and struggled with confidence when she was younger. I think the students really appreciate that."

Alongside supporting the presentations, the mentors helped drive the students’ motivation to undertake effective social action. The winning team organised a variety of activities such as bake sales, collecting loose change in the school community and staff car washes.

Ms Higdon discusses how she got her students excited and motivated to perform social action “I think older students coming in and talking about the values of helping other people rather than yourself. It’s hearing it from students who are older than them that have now matured, so they can see the immediate, relatable benefits. Also, every week a big chart would be up showing everyone the social action and money raised, so the competitive element was there."

"I’ve been working here five years now, each year I want to do things slightly differently or build on various things. The introduction of the social action aspect definitely gets them to think about the social issues in a lot more detail and I think it’s a brilliant move to incorporate that."

The mentors were also heavily involved in making the Final event extra special. "Some girls from our Year 12s run an independent dance group with the lower school girls, so they constructed a contemporary dance piece representing all the different themes of the charities, which opened up the Final. Also, some of the inspirational Year 11s delivered a speech at the Final about the importance of expressing yourself through drama. It was very much a student led programme and event."

It is clear this structure helped the benefits of First Give spread to other students, not just the year group participating. "At the Final, the Year 12s got very emotional. A student had given a bag of presents to one of our sixth form mentors. She wrote a beautiful card about how it was one of the most enjoyable moments of her school life. She dedicated a lot of that to him and his support of her and her group."

As we have seen at Green Spring Academy, social action is taken seriously. As well as First Give, the school are heavily involved with the #iwill campaign. "#iwill is all about trying to do things that are not just in the walls of your school but in some way will benefit your external community. First Give supports this. Even students buying a cake at a cake sale are involved, they’d ask ‘well what is this all for?’"

The students agree with their teacher. "At the beginning of the year we had an #iwill sticker. We wrote a personal target that we try and keep up for the whole year. First Give is really important and has really helped me reach mine".

When asked what they'd learnt, the whole team nodded in agreement when one class mate said “How to work as a group - I've familiarised myself with other people in my class who before I wouldn't socialise with." Another student added "For some in the team, it's helped build their confidence massively." Lastly, "I've learnt independence, here we actually did it all ourselves."

The students have evidently been impacted by First Give "It's an honourable feeling that you're doing something for someone else who are less privileged than you. You're giving to others and I think that's just great."

Thank you to Ms Higdon and Year 8 at Green Spring Academy!