Teacher Focus Colfe's School Riga & Tallinn

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Sally George Head of Russian

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John Patterson & Louise Lechmere
History Teachers, Colfe's School

Colfe's have been travelling with us since 2008 and run trips to Russia, Munich, Krakow and most recently a 6 day tour to Riga & Tallinn. They have a very forward thinking, dynamic History department, willing to explore new destinations and open students' eyes. John Patterson, Head of Department, and Louise Lechmere have both been Group Leaders on our tours and I caught up with them over breakfast in Tallinn.

TCBC: Could you tell us a bit about your school and the History department?

John: The department got 88% A* A in 2013 at A-level. That was a result of various things we’re doing working together. The school itself was the winner in the Education Initiative of the Year in the prestigious Independent School Awards 2014 for its work with the Tougher Minds programme. The department has 4 full time history teachers in it. We share a lot of ideas every 2 weeks. Looking to use Tougher Minds in our teaching, we share all our best lessons and we believe in using lots of engaging lessons with active history, decision making games, lots of images in the teaching and giving students the chance to make their own decisions through exploring events in the past so that they are the historians rather than us giving them the wisdom from on high.

TCBC: You’ve travelled with us 6 times. What is it you like about TCBC?

Louise: I think that the organisation of the company is exemplary. You feel like you’re going to be really well looked after. Everything’s run very efficiently. Also I think the tours are very personalised as well, so when we ask for specific requests, those are quickly researched and accommodated. You’re made to feel like nothing is too much trouble which is quite an important part of planning a trip, you’re made to feel like you’re well supported and that TCBC want us to have a really really good trip and that’s partly what you’re working towards as well. So I think that for me, having travelled with companies like NST in the past it feels much more personalised in your approach.

John: I don’t have any experience of other companies, but I think from the point of view of when I first started using you guys and I was a new teacher, I was very nervous about it, and the lady I dealt with at the time talked through everything with me. I’d call her up probably more than normal teachers would because I was inexperienced. My first trip was to Russia and that was a big deal. So it was the willingness to spend time and talk things through with me, that was good.

TCBC: What encouraged you to consider a trip to the Baltics?

John: The exam last year asked a question on the peoples of Russia and it wasn’t an area of the course where students were that well prepared for. I thought I needed to improve my knowledge for my teaching so a trip would help. Also on our previous Russia trips, the repression is something that I have felt is underplayed in the experience and the students get a less balanced view. You can really purposefully try to emphasise that in Russia, but I thought it would naturally come out from a Baltics trip. We’ve also been to Russia 2 times in the last 4 years so I wanted a different experience for myself and my colleagues.

Louise: Absolutely. Just a different perspective as well interested us - the impact Soviet history has on the Eastern bloc as opposed to just Russia itself.

TCBC: How is a trip to the Baltic region relevant to your course?

John: This trip is very relevant to the A-Level teaching of Russia 1855-1964 and the Nazi occupation of Estonia/Latvia we teach at GCSE. More specifically, the experience of people under the tsars and the communists is something they have to understand and have an opinion about. Whether they lost more under the tsars or the communists for example. The economic development of these regions and the government policies of those areas. Social experiences, you can learn about the ideology of the tsars compared to the communist ideology. Tools of government, repression under tsars or the communists, propaganda, so harsher or subtler means of control and that’s specific to our OCR F966 course, that’s very relevant. A lot of the students on this tour are going to do history at university, and they have been forced to recognise thorough this trip that history is not a neutral subject. People take sides. Everyone we’ve met has had their point of view on their country's history and in this case Russia’s role which I think has always surprised the students and been an interesting talking point.

TCBC: Is this a suitable alternative to a Russia trip?

John: Definitely.

Louise: Absolutely. For the points that you’ve just mentioned, but also, we went to see Kadriorg Palace which Peter the Great built, which exemplifies the types of palaces you would see in St Petersburg. We have seen the Russian orthodox churches. We have learnt about Russification which we would have seen in Russia as well. One thing that’s different, obviously if you go to Red Square, you’ve got Lenin still there, but here we’ve not seen any images of Lenin, any statues of Lenin other than the ones that have been discarded and are now being used as museum pieces so I think that’s an interesting perspective on the past that the students can learn about as well. The different ways in which the past was commemorated in Russia compared to the Baltic states, I think that’s quite interesting.

TCBC:  For your next trip would you consider doing Russia or the Baltics again?

John: I would definitely think about doing this again.

Louise: Probably, because its going to be the centenary of the revolution the next time in 2017 when we will be going, we thought that Russia would be a more pertinent place to go in that particular year but then we would definitely return to the Baltics at a future date.

TCBC: What have the students got out of this trip in terms of helping them and preparing them for their exams?

John: Confidence, with understanding that it's real life not a strange academic subject. They will be doing a project in which they have to use the images and facts from the tour to report back to the other students, so they will be seen as leaders of knowledge in that area. Spending time with the other historians as well I think is not to be underestimated in a social context of a trip. We’ll see from their results this year. Interestingly over the last 6 years the two best years for results have been when the year 13’s have been to Russia that year, that Easter half term, so I have high hopes. At the end of each day on tour, the students have all said it's been interesting and I think if you can engage and interest them then you’ve got a good chance of them wanting to spend the effort to learn. In fact in previous years they’ve enjoyed then going back and studying it afresh, it almost starts them again, so I think we have high hopes that when they go back to their lessons they will engage again and it’s not just an exam class.

TCBC: What stood out for you most on this trip? Any one city, any one site?

John: The occupation museums, the quality of the museums is higher than in Russia. The quality of the hotels, the safety and the feel of both cities, small enough that you can go out in confidence more easily in a group.

Louise: Yes the quality of the museums was higher than we expected as well. The human impact stood out for me actually. I don’t think I was as aware of the impact of the mass deportations for instance in the Baltic states than I was in Russia itself. Talking to Lagle, the first Minister of the Interior of the new Estonian republic, that was a really humbling insight into the personal histories of Estonia.

John: Maybe that’s an advantage of the trip - that you can meet prominent government officials like that more easily because it's a smaller place.

Louise: It feels more manageable than Moscow in that sense.

TCBC: Would you recommend our services to other teachers? What would you say to them?

Louise: Yes, absolutely.

John: What would I say to them? I would say, I know TCBC are great to work with, easy to get on with and they'll listen to you and provide you with something tailored to what you want.