How Learning Thrives on New Ideas!

By 2020-08-20 11:46:20

Barbara Faria

Barbara Faria is the Head of Early Years for Wellington College International Shanghai’s newly purpose-built EYC (Early Years Centre). Barbara joins Wellington for her first experience of teaching in China as the latest step in a career spanning nearly two decades across multiple schools in the UK.

Have your inherent values as an educator changed or developed during your career?

Despite saying I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, my journey into education started thanks to the advice of a very close friend, after I had a brief venture into the world of law and international relations. I completed my degree in Portugal, where I’m originally from, and moved to the UK as soon as I graduated. I have worked in several outstanding children’s centres for 17 years, one of which I led, where I learned how to adapt a UK-based curriculum to a myriad of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds for the children who attended those schools.

Children in London come from all over the world, often with parents from different cultural backgrounds, and many speak at least two languages (or dialects) at home. The reality is that children must be able to adapt to different environments – family, school, community – with different expectations, customs and circumstances. I have always been impressed with how children assimilate social cues and language to easily adapt to new situations. I have witnessed very young children understand and communicate in English only after a few weeks of arriving in the UK or experiencing English-speaking environments. This is achieved by providing an environment that is language rich, with experienced and dedicated teachers, and fantastic resources; and this is the environment I experience every day at Wellington College.

I wouldn’t say that my values as an educator have changed so much as they have been informed and reinforced by my teaching experiences.

What new perspectives have you encountered and how have they inspired you to be a better educator?

I have always been very lucky to encounter people who have helped me to critically evaluate, think and adapt my ideas regarding education. I had truly inspiring teachers, intellectually challenging parents, dedicated colleagues, a visionary headmaster in a progressive school I attended for 13 years, and, most importantly, incredibly passionate and creative children who have perpetually challenged my ideas regarding the purpose of education.

I am inspired by various strands of thinking; whether they are philosophical, economic or literary in nature. These strands of thought offer endless opportunities for reflection that force me to be more openminded and to see education as a space for development and as a discipline that is in a constant state of transformation. I am also intrigued and motivated by the perspectives of Greek and postmodern philosophers, as well as economic liberal ideas and the financial changes that strongly affect education. There is also an abundance of new sociological ideas coming from French, Russian and English authors that endlessly inspire me.

Studying historical changes and shifts in political ideas, mainly related to revolutions (in Asia, the Middle East or Europe), offers critical points of view between progressive and traditional concepts, all of which are highly relevant for education today. The idea of combining tradition to preserve history, cultural customs and respectful values, with innovation (advanced technology, progressive thinking and adaptable human beings) is the precise reason why I chose to join Wellington College International Shanghai.

I realise I have omitted any mention of other Early Years educational curricula such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf or Te Whariki, because despite finding these perspectives immensely interesting (and I do pinch some ideas from them!) they were developed in particular historical and cultural contexts, therefore their practices and philosophies shouldn't be applied universally. 

What do you think all educators should strive for?

I believe that any truly inspiring educator should be able to balance children’s unbalanced worlds. By this I mean they need to be able to understand the children well enough to offer them a range of opportunities that they wouldn’t normally encounter.

Children nowadays are almost constantly exposed to and bombarded with technology, usually within indoor environments, meaning that they often lack the necessary opportunities and experiences that being outdoors presents such as the joy of challenging and exciting physical activities. While I believe that interactive programmes are very good for children in supporting their learning, they certainly should not be relied upon exclusively. Children must be able to experience indoor activities that vary like modelling with clay and play dough, using utensils such as scissors, brushes, hammers, and tweezers, and planting seeds in the soil to observe its growth and better understand where our food comes from. There are a lot of children who do not believe that chips are actually produced from potatoes!

To be at our most effective, we educators should be able to reflect on children’s cultural and linguistic backgrounds, the economic and sociological changes occurring around them, and the future job market to help them gain the capability to adapt to a rapidly evolving world as confident, happy human beings. At Wellington College, we want all our pupils to become the best version of themselves and I truly believe they have everything they need to achieve this goal and more.