Assistant Headteacher at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School, and longstanding teacher leader in the Facing History network, Sanum Khan was recently invited to supervise an exchange trip to Murcia, Spain, with her school’s Spanish department. It was a chance meeting in the corridor that led to her attending the exchange, but it ended with lasting change for all. Here, Sanum discusses with Carla March Ferrer, Head of Spanish, the deeply impactful experience for the students and colleagues involved and how Facing History UK helped make this happen.
Sanum: What were your hopes for the students and how do they compare to the actual outcomes?
Carla: I hoped the students would feel proud of themselves for stepping out of their comfort zone, that many of them would improve their Spanish noticeably and that some students would make long-lasting friendships. I wanted our students to travel with a true purpose - one that goes beyond the search for beaches and good weather. It was important to me that students saw that their way of living was not the only ‘normal’ and that their way of seeing things - routines, relationships with parents, school life - was not the default way the world does things. I knew they would sometimes feel ‘othered’ but also knew that, in feeling a little like this, they would grow immensely.
I particularly enjoyed being able to show them my country, build their confidence in their linguistic skills as well as empower them as young citizens.
I think these objectives were achieved quite well as both parents and students confirmed that in spite of their initial hesitation, they highly enjoyed the experience. Not all of them would do it again, and that is fine, but all of them felt that the experience was well-worth it, and some of them felt that they had made long-lasting friendships. With regards to their language skills, I cannot yet speak about their actual GCSEs and A Levels, but to give you an idea, some students who attended the exchange have managed to get +2 grades between the November and the March mocks.
Something I had not planned for but did work well was having mixed year groups (years 10-12). Students who had never spoken to one another before were now greeting each other with warmth every morning. A few moments stand out in particular. One was a student who said “if his Spanish is that good now, mine could be that good in a year too!” Students also spoke with us more openly and modelled that so well for younger peers. One student sprained his ankle but, as I recall it, the only thing he wanted to talk about was how many peers were messaging him to see how he was doing. And we now have 16 of our 50 GCSE students opting for A Level Spanish - a huge achievement!
Sanum: How do you think these outcomes were achieved?
Carla: It’s a combination of factors. Certainly, I was clear with all involved that this would be a challenging exchange that would push people outside their comfort zones. The students and families came with open minds and a thirst for an adventure. They were also emotionally invested in their journey and eager to have meaningful conversations and reflect throughout. I was very lucky to share the trip with you because you came with the same openness and willingness to grow. We managed to model what we wanted the students to do. We didn’t plan for that, but I’m grateful it happened so naturally. Oh, and lots of paperwork and planning!
When the students and staff of Jose Planes came to visit us in the UK, we did a Facing History and Ourselves lesson with them. Could you outline what we did and why?
Carla: First, I want to point out that it was a pleasure to see you in action preparing and teaching a Facing History lesson! Even reluctant students shared and reflected by the end of the session and that was great to see. Team-teaching the lesson empowered me as a language teacher to carry on my journey to challenge students’ views and it motivated me to revise my pedagogy.
As colleagues, we talked lots about identity and belonging when we were in Spain. We hadn’t planned for this for our students and said that, in future, we should make time for this. We decided to do that for the Spanish students when they returned to us, though.