Reflections on Beacon School study visit to Poland: Torpoint Community College

My name is Charlotte Lane and I am the UCL Beacon School Lead Teacher at Torpoint Community College, Cornwall.

Our college is a proud UCL Quality Mark Beacon School; we were awarded the UCL Quality Mark last year, after becoming a UCL Beacon School for Holocaust Education in 2016. Despite being a small semi-rural secondary school, we are one of only two Beacon Schools for Holocaust Education in the South West of England.

I have been a teacher in secondary schools across Devon and Cornwall for 20 years and have taught History for the past 5 years. My background is in the Arts, which I have always said provides me with a different insight in to teaching and researching History.

Nothing however, could have prepared me for the single-most unique and inspiring event in my teaching career; the UCL Study Trip to Poland.

In 2016 I returned to college following the UCL Beacon School CPD event in London, my brain bursting with ideas about working with my team to build a new, purposeful, stimulating and inspiring Scheme of Learning for Year 9. Just before the Study Trip, we were halfway through delivering the new Scheme of Learning and I had already witnessed and experienced a real change in not only students work and responses, but also a real shift in my own teaching; one of real purpose and genuine desire to offer students an experience in my classroom which would challenge them and their thinking.

Prior to the Study Visit to Poland, I went through a huge range of emotions; trepidation; excitement; but mostly a real desire to take whatever experiences I could back to my students. The Study visit not only more than fulfilled my desire, it genuinely challenged me intellectually and emotionally.

It soon became clear that this wasn’t going to be any normal ‘field trip’. We very quickly became immersed in the history and experiences each site had to offer us. Around each corner there was something to really make us think; not just about the activity itself, but also how to transfer this knowledge and experience in to our classrooms. I don’t think I have ever had so many thoughts rushing around my head at once!

It quickly became clear that I needed to do more than take photos. Sometimes, it wasn’t appropriate to take them and sometimes I simply found that I needed to ‘be’ in some of the spaces. I found a small sketch pad really useful (I filled two on the Study Visit!) and spent the time in between sites, reflecting on the coach, scribbling and drawing furiously. It swiftly became clear that I was already planning new activities for the Scheme of Learning that I had almost finished teaching back in the UK…I wanted more time on this Scheme with my students, as the experiences on the Study Visit only enriched the activities the students had already undertaken.

The day following our return from Poland gave me an opportunity to think carefully about my next steps…yes, I was tired, emotionally and physically, but so inspired as a teacher of History. I started teaching new lessons to my Year 9 the following day. I still have a huge journal of photos, notes and ideas for teaching about the Holocaust from this Study Trip alone; something I find really useful when thinking about the Scheme of Learning, now in its third year of teaching and still being adapted and refined!

It goes without saying that this Study Visit not only hugely impacted my students but also inspired me as a teacher. Not just in the short-term, but still to this day. As I sit here writing this, my heart quickens and I think of yet another activity, another ‘way in’ to inspire, challenge and motivate the young people that I teach.

Charlotte Lane, Torpoint Community College

Charlotte’s students undertaking activities inspired by her study visit:

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