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NTF 2021: Bluebells and branches – rewilding city-wide work

17 Sep 2021 | Chantelle Haughton 2021 National Teaching Fellow Chantelle Haughton, Senior Lecturer in Early Years and Primary Education and Co-founder of the Outdoor Learning Centre at Cardiff Metropolitan University reflects on her meandering paths in an ancient Welsh woodland and city-wide journeys in community campus approaches towards becoming an NTF.

I’m thrilled to join the National Teaching Fellow community in its 21st anniversary year! It feels emotional to be awarded this lasting reminder of how fantastic work with students and partners can progress beyond the ordinary, even in the most unusual and difficult times through collaboration. For me, this award illuminates our awesome students, colleagues and peers working together in Cardiff Met; values we’ve all succeeded in learning, fun, challenge and relationships. Thank you to all those around me, 2020-21 has been momentous, full of memorable intimate and public moments with highs and lows. I also turned 50, a lockdown birthday around possibly the weirdest academic year there ever was, but at work the focus has remained simply good practice and never basic.

Navigating through hybrid approaches has created a new drumbeat; we’ve all moved from what we knew to a sense of discomfort. The unexpected change felt uncertain, exhausting and exhilarating often simultaneously, flipping the fears, winging it some days (if I’m truthful), embracing new ways fast then becoming hopeful and real. It’s important our work holds meaning but values can be abstract, we need to strive better to weave them into tangible action in learning for sustainable impact and progression.

I took an unexpected path into lecturing, now as a ‘mid-life’ I see I’ve found my heart-work. In my 13th year here at Cardiff Met, I still feel lucky, excited to be here and naive whilst also enabled and knowing; ideas are welcomed in a myriad of opportunities for impact. From childhood I’ve learnt from, and amongst, extraordinary teachers; because of them, I’ve directed my conscious career focus with students and partners on cross-curricula projects enabling me to grow with a focus on learning, teaching and practice development in a range of professional positions within our University and Wales-wide communities, ensuring me time with people to learn and impact. I keep learning to appreciate how the versatility of our roles as lecturers is limitless.

This year, beyond Teams, I’ve concentrated on keeping some of the learning, teaching and shared wellbeing truly outdoor-able in our Outdoor Learning Centre. Our ancient Welsh woodland full of bluebells in Spring-term series felt even more open and luminary than usual. We’ve all had to find different ways for our students to learn. In the times where we were permitted face-to-face teaching in each of the three terms, we maximised on the opportunities for social learning, wellbeing and fun for students and for us working safely in small groups in the open awe of Queens Wood. Students were openly emotional and fired up to talk and share thoughts with each other. The students had missed sharing ‘real’ spaces, the enjoyment in learning was wonderful to see whilst they also made great use of online provision too. Other times during the restrictions when the students couldn’t be on campus, we recorded live Forest University sessions to support small groups of children of key workers and vulnerable community members, this footage provided current, critical, lively, heartfelt, mindful connections and talking points about outdoor play, learning, wellbeing and relevance to the New Curriculum for Wales. In our online lectures with students, whilst providing respite for parents working on the frontline and joyful adventures in the light of the forest for the children involved, some of them hadn’t played in the company of other children for over a year.

I found that the flexibility of virtual meetings and determination for change have also positively sustained and maybe even sped up some aspects of my multi-agency working. I’ve been hopeful and determined being part of national ground-breaking work with Welsh Government and BAME Ed Network Wales challenging and demanding change in critical issues for curriculum and education workforces from Early Years to Higher Education for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in Wales. This needs attention now and always has; in Wales though some significant step-change is in the expectations of the new curriculum for Wales and other government policy, action by all involved in education is the only way forward. I was honoured to be part of The Working Group with Professor Charlotte Williams on the ground-breaking trajectory report outlining 51 recommendations.

Zooming my work lenses into my own and Cardiff Met values help keep me grounded in live civic mission; I feel this is deeply important to me as an educator, woman, mother and citizen of Wales. It helps me question, learn, grow, enjoy and impact our students as partners and in collaboration with our wider networks. As a new Advance HE National Teaching Fellow, I am excited to wonder how I make best use of this privilege and opportunity as a catalyst to re-steer my career journey, improve myself and aim to enhance progression with our students, our peers, our institution and our wider communities in Wales.   

Nominations for CATE and NTFS 2022 open on Monday 4 October 2021. Find out more about the 2021 winners of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme and Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence.

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