Updated: May 16
The second episode of my new podcast The Subject Leaders Podcast features Christian Kitley, outdoor learning subject leader at Manor Lodge School. He talks about designing curriculum so that it contributes to pupils’ SMSC development and supporting less confident teachers developmentally. He also shares about the outdoor learning curriculum he has developed at his school.
Find this podcast episode on your preferred podcast service: https://linktr.ee/subjectleaderspodcast
Below you can find the transcript for this episode of The Subject Leaders Podcast:
Aidan: Our guest is Christian Kitley. Hello, Christian. Thank you for being with us today. How are you?
Christian: Hello, Aidan. Yeah, very well, thank you. Thanks for having me on.
Aidan: Let's start by getting to know you a little bit more then. So who are you? Where can we get in touch with you?
Christian: My name is Christian Kitley. I'm the head of outdoor learning at Manor Lodge School, which is just on the border between Hertfordshire and North London. And if you want to get in touch with me I'm on Twitter @christiankitley.
Aidan: That's nice and simple to remember. Great, thank you. So can you tell us a little bit more about your experience as a primary teacher and as a subject leader?
Christian: Yes, I've been teaching primary for almost ten years now, mainly in key stage two, so I've had classes between year three up to year six. My specialism initially actually was history, so I've led history as a subject. I've now started in the last couple of years leading outdoor learning, which is very much my passion, which I'm sure we'll talk about later. I've also led Duke of Edinburgh at my last school as well, which was really interesting, though not especially a subject. It was an interesting one to lead on and it really crosses into so much of what we do. And I also am a head of house, so I really enjoy the pastoral side of primary school. I think it's so important at this stage of education, so it's something I really enjoy getting my teeth into, really.
Aidan: Would you consider outdoor learning to be your subject specialism or would that be history? What are your favourite subjects to teach?
Christian: I think certainly now outdoor learning. If an outdoor learning teaching position existed when I started teaching, I think I definitely would have gone down that road, as it were. It didn't so I've spent a lot of time doing history, so my first couple of schools led history in those schools from an early age, history has always been a passion and interest of mine, so it was the natural progression, really. So I did a three year BA honours at Canterbury Christchurch for my teacher training and that's where I went into history as a specialism. So it's very much been something I've been interested in for a long time. I recently completed my masters at the University of East London, and that's where I've really transitioned more into the outdoor learning side of things, done some really interesting research, or interesting to me, certainly, about outdoor learning, and it's just nudged me in that direction for subject leadership. I’ve always been into the outdoors, my wife and children are all very outdoorsy, and I've always been involved in the Scouts since I was a beaver aged six, started at six, haven't left. Still a leader now. So it's very much a part of my life and I think it's amazing job being a teacher, but it's certainly an amazing job being able to teach that area that you love and just infuse the children with that. So very much a leadership subject here.
Aidan: Great. I can hear your enthusiasm for that coming through. So if theoretically, the curriculum was being slimmed down, which subject would you fight hard to keep?
Christian: Outdoor learning, obviously, at the moment. I think especially post COVID schools are realising, people generally are realising a lot more how important that connection to the outdoors, that connection to nature is. And for lots of children, they will get that at home, they have that at weekends, they have access to nature, but actually, for a lot of children, they don't. And I think we often generalise and say in the cities, but it can be anywhere. You don't have that access to nature or you don't have that knowledge of where to go or the equipment to go. And I think that's so important that we enable every child to have those experiences. And it can be really wide ranging. I think one of the things about outdoor learning that I love is that there's no real definition, per se, of it. I spent many words in my dissertation trying to actually boil down to a description of what it is, and it was hard, but it means so many different things to different people, and I just think it's such a lovely, wide ranging subject that can be taken anywhere, really.
Although I'm afraid I'm going to go back to history and say that if something was to be taken off the curriculum, it should not be history. I think we learn so much about the future from the past and yeah, it's cliché, isn't it? And what I remember from year ten history, being told when I started my GCSEs, but it's true. And not to get political, because this is an education podcast, but a lot of the things going on at the moment, you can look back into history and you can draw parallels, rightly or wrongly, but it's just so important to see what's going on. And it's always going to be a fascinating subject, I think, for most people. But learning from the past, you can't get rid of that in my mind.
Aidan: Great, love that answer and we'll get into more of that outdoor learning stuff that you're obviously bursting with on one of your later questions. What do you love about being a subject leader?
Christian: Being able to share my passion, really. And I would hope that I think most subject leaders are leading subjects that they love, they specialise in, they're passionate about and to be able to just spend pretty much all my time doing that, I love it. I can share my love of the outdoors. I'm very lucky in the school I'm in at the moment in that that is all I teach, I just teach outdoor learning, which I know for most primary teachers is unusual. So I'm very lucky in that sense and just being able to spend all my time outdoors, all my time developing my subject and sharing my passion, hopefully my knowledge and some expertise with children as well. Yeah, I love that. Just being able to give that one area my focus, my pure focus.
Aidan: So you must be very well kitted out with outdoor gear if you spend all of your time out there.
Christian: Very lucky to get yeah, lots of jumpers, lots of layers; I recommend merino wool as a good base layer.
How might subject leaders ensure that their subject's curriculum contributes to pupils SMSC development?
Aidan: Great. Well, let's get to your three questions. So the first couple will talk about subject leadership in general and the third one will get really into outdoor learning as your specialist subject. So the first question, how might subject leaders ensure that their subject's curriculum contributes to pupils SMSC development?
Christian: Yeah, I think planning is really important. I think you need to be embedding those four values in your lessons, in your planning and it has to come from there, really linking into other subjects and just bringing those four things into the real world, making them clear link, clear links into what you're doing. I think quite often SMSC stuff can be a little bit of an addition onto the end of some planning. How can we shoehorn this in? And it really shouldn't be. A lot of this is what we should be planning from the off. So I think socially, my subject particularly, we do a lot of teamwork and it's encouraging children to work together and that can be put into any lesson, any subject can have that in it and so it really should have that in it cultural as well. And depending on what area your school is in, your lessons need to reflect that and introduce the children to a wide range of cultural figures, cultures around the world, things like that. Just that variety of role models I think is really important as well.
So we're recording on International Women's Day today. I had some interesting discussions with my form this morning about that and some female role models and trying to get them away from just their mums, although their mums are very good role models, but just encouraging that kind of wider cast in the net, a little bit wider for that, particularly with female role models.
Aidan: So it's about planning ahead, thinking very specifically how you can include aspects of that and not just leaving it to chance, not allowing it to be a bolt on, but thinking very particularly. And you mentioned making links between different subjects as well. How easy do you think that is for subject leaders to do on their own?
Christian: I would argue that most things are done better in tandem with a bit of joined-up thinking, really. I think especially in primary schools, we tend to be smaller, our staff tends to be closer together and those little chats, even just in the staff room or after school, can be really helpful to balance some ideas off of each other. No man is an island, as the saying goes. And I think that's really relevant here, actually, in theory. As a subject leader, you are the expert in your subject. You have the knowledge, you have the passion, the expertise in that, and exchanging that with another subject leader, actually, how can we fit this in here and going back to what we were saying before, rather than just as a bolt on, how can we really embed this in what we're doing? I think that joined up, that symbiotic relationship between subjects is really important. My knowledge of one particular subject might not be amazing. Hopefully it's good enough. That might not be amazing. Someone else's is brilliant and they'll have those ideas or those lessons that they've done before that we can adapt and mould or they know of a person or an event of interest. Try not to just constitute history or outdoor learning here, but yes.
Aidan: So it's this concept that as a subject leader, even though you are the one leading on that area in your school, this is not something which is to be done alone. Actually, as a subject leader, you work in a network of other subject leaders, you're all leading a team of people, a team of teachers in the teaching of your subject. However, there is this idea that as subject leaders, you exist to work together. Can teachers plan SMSC opportunities, even when that's not yet in the curriculum documentation?
Christian: I think sometimes, actually, the children come up with the best ideas for that and that child-led inquisitiveness, if you will. So a question could come up from a discussion you're having and that might actually take you down that route, to be able to include some SMSC without it being contrived or forced. Actually, that's what they are genuinely wanting to know, genuinely wanting to learn. I'm a big fan of a tangent, as my classes will tell you. I'm very happy to go off on a tangent, especially when it's relevant and I think you put a cap on it when it's gone too far. But in a way, sometimes that's where your best ideas come from. So in one class I might have that question that's come up and actually that's brilliant, that is a way I can now embed that. So I'll put that in my planning for the next lesson or the next time I teach that topic. As much as the subject leaders, we are the experts. Sometimes the children actually come up with more relevant things to them, more relevant questions to them, so I think it's really important not only speaking to colleagues but getting some input from children as well, going forwards and I think that can really improve our practise and improve what we do.
Aidan: Yeah, great. So we're balancing this idea of, yes, you need to plan ahead. You need to embed these things in curriculum. You can make links between different areas of curriculum, but at the same time, those opportunities come up in the classroom, where you can address these kinds of things and where the children bring issues to be discussed and so on. So we've got to leave space for that to happen, as well. This leads on nicely to your second question, because not every teacher might be able to make those links or realise those opportunities are there. So how do you support, as a subject leader, less confident teachers in a developmental way?
How can subject leaders support less confident teachers in a developmental way?
Christian: I think the most important thing is just building that confidence, which is kind of the question... I think there are a number of ways to do it isn't there? I think training obviously: going to courses... particularly with primary school, you're expected to be a little bit of an expert in all the subjects and all the core and foundation subjects, which can be really hard and I think there's the role of subject leaders perhaps signposting partly as well. So actually, I've seen this really good course, or I've heard this really good podcast, or this article I've read. Why don't you have a read of that? Why don't you listen to this? This will give you a bit more information. Subject knowledgeenhancers as well. I think certainly for subjects, if a teacher is not particularly confident in those. I think I was lucky doing a three year primary training degree. I had a lot of time, I had a lot of sessions with all the different subjects and I think that really helped me personally. Subjects like art - I was never a fan of art at school. I see myself as fairly creative, actually, but just not perhaps in a formal art setting. And spending that time at university, learning about all, learned about how to teach those was really helpful. I think if you've gone down a SCITT route or a PGCE route and you don't have that physical, just that sheer amount of time, I think it can be really difficult. So I think, yeah, finding different courses, different articles, podcast, things like that, to give to your team is really useful.
I think you need to be professional with this and it's not a patronising approach - it has to be supportive. I think also going to the other side, I think, realising sometimes that although, again, we're meant to be the experts in our subjects, there other teachers may have other ideas and better content and to listen to them. One of my team at the moment, she is absolutely fantastic. She needs to be more confident than she is, basically, because she is really good and she comes up with fantastic ideas that I haven't ever thought of, I've never heard of. So I think it's just making that culture where we all share our ideas, we can all share new training, new ways of working, new ideas, and that we're a team and no one is just dictating. I'm not dictating to the team. What they need to do is actually, oh, I've seen this, let's do this, let's try this brilliant idea. So I think that kind of that balance of building that culture within your team, I think is really important as well in building confidence.
Aidan: So celebrating the success of staff is a motivator to them, hopefully one that would build that confidence. What are the kind of avenues you can go down to develop staff, then, in terms of having those one to one personal relationships, where you can give them that kind of feedback, maybe not even one to one? What are the contexts in which this development takes place that you've found to be useful?
Christian: Yeah, I think building that relationship is the most important thing almost, isn't it? Having that... building that culture of openness.
I think team-teaching can be really useful. Helpful in moderation, I think, again, I think from before, that you need to have that that culture of, I'm not observing you, I'm not watching you do this necessarily. We're here to work together and we're going to bounce ideas off each other and I'm learning as much from you as you are from me, and it's keeping that balance, really, I think it's important. I think team teaching can be a really useful tool in just me demonstrating perhaps my knowledge or my methods and just learning from that, really. And I'm a fan of team teaching. I've done it since I was an NQT. That was one of the big pushes in the school I was in at the time, was team teaching. So I've done that quite a lot and I found it to be effective to us. But again, that relationship has to be there, I think, initially, before you begin that process, for it to really work as well as it can do.
Aidan: Is that a wraparound approach? Is there the planning prior to the teaching and then the feedback and reflection afterwards, is that part of that relationship building? Is that part of what makes it less judgmental? Because you've invested in that as well.
Christian: Definitely, it needs to be that three stage that three stage process, definitely, otherwise you don't have that understanding, that relationship. So we would look at planning together, what are we going to do here, what's our aim, what's our outcome going to be? Teach the lesson together, obviously, and then even if it's an informal chat afterwards on how did that go, what did you think? What we're going to do differently next time? That's got to be a big part of it, certainly the feedback, because I think if we're going to teach together or plan together, teach again and then not talk about it afterwards, then that's a totally wasted opportunity.
Aidan: So this is a model of leadership, not where you just stand back and dictate what needs to happen, but where you are in the trenches, you are doing everything that you are asking others to do, you're a part of it. What are the benefits of being a leader like that, do you think, in terms of supporting and developing other teachers?
Christian: I think the idea that we're all in this together, really we're all in the same boat here, is really important... that I'm not a dictator. I don't think anyone would call me that, I hope not. I think that team approach is really important.
So, my current role: there's only three of us in the team, we're a relatively small team and because of the subject, I can't stop mentioning outdoor learning, there is no real curriculum, there's no national curriculum expectations for outdoor learning. In fact, the only time it appears is really in the early years framework, so I'm in the, I think, lucky position, so I might not see it that way. I've been able to just make my own curriculum so there's no point me just designing that purely by myself. And the last couple of years it has been a real collaborative process that actually the three of us have worked together to create this curriculum, what works well and then we adapt, what doesn't work? Just any other curriculum planning, but we've got a lot more freedom. But then my own preferences, perhaps my own avenues of interest in terms of outdoor learning, I don't want to just push them, so I'm relying on the other members of my team as well to keep me in balance, which I think is really important and see with age groups as well.
So one of my colleagues works mainly with younger children, the infant age work from nursery up to year one, actually. She has a lot more knowledge of the younger children and their way of learning, their way of what they enjoy doing really outdoors than I do. So it would be a bit foolish for me to dictate what needs to be done without collaborating with someone who has that level of expertise.
Aidan: Great. So we've already talked about how as a subject leader, you might collaborate with other subject leaders, but now we've got this other line of collaboration. So those who are in the team, those who are teaching the subject that we're leading, we need to be listening to them, we need to be taking on board their ideas, learning from their expertise, holding at the same time the idea that, yes, I'm the leader, I have this responsibility to be the one who knows. Actually, that doesn't mean that I'm the only one who knows. And again, reducing that island approach to subject leadership, where you are just doing it alone and seeing that actually there are people who are in this with me and using that as inspiration, a source of information and so on for how you develop your subject.
What kind of advice have you needed to provide to others with regards to their teaching of outdoor learning?
Christian: I think it comes down to three main things, really, which are similar. Be bold, be brave and take risks. And that really would be my advice to anyone taking on some outdoor learning. I think so many schools, as I mentioned before, since COVID since everyone had to take learning outside, I think there's been a bit of a rush to, okay, we need to be outside, what can we do? And it's not necessarily fully thought through, but I think people take the easy option sometimes because it's the unknown, which it's a natural thing to do, isn't it?
At my school, I'm at the moment, we're lucky in the way that outdoor learning has been embedded in the school curriculum for many years, actually, long before I arrived here. So we're lucky in that sense that we've already developed a bit more of a bold, ambitious curriculum. And that's just my advice to anyone for out of learning, really, is that there's such a wide range of activities you can do and just take a risk. Not a risk with safety, obviously, but, yeah, be ambitious, try something new. We just started doing a metal casting unit, so we make jewellery, basically from pewter, lead-free pewter for safety.
And I think a lot of people would look at it and think, oh my goodness, molten metal. Are you sure? But it all comes down to that planning, really. And be bold and take risks, but take the right risks. So be ambitious in what you do, plan it safely. And that's my big advice, really, is just see where it can take you. As I said before, there's no national curriculum for it. It's up to you. It's up to you what you do. And there's so much out there. Loads of people I follow on Twitter tend to be some outdoor learning people, and just a range of activities they do is amazing. And so, again, I suppose that's another piece of advice, really see what other people are doing. It's not stealing ideas, magpie the ideas from them, if you want to use that phrase. Incredible inspiration is out there and you just need to look.
Aidan: So what is on your curriculum? I'm dying to find out. I have in the past been a part of putting together an outdoor learning curriculum, but I'd be really interested to hear more about what's on yours.
Christian: So we're really lucky at school because I say outdoor learning is embedded into our curriculum. So the children at our school, from nursery all the way back to year six, they have an hour a week as a focused outdoor learning lesson. And then in their other lessons, the teachers will often take them outdoors. Very much the approach that learning doesn't just happen in those four walls of the classroom. And that's very much kind of our ethos, our culture is to get outside. So my role is supporting other staff, getting their lessons outside as well. But my main focus is on those outdoor learning lessons that hour a week. Initially, when I arrived, I tried to break it down into a number. Of areas, like a nature theme, a bushcraft theme, outdoor cooking theme. But there's so many overlaps and so much cross-pollination, cross fertilisation, if you like that. It just got ridiculous. I was up to about twelve areas and decided that needed to stop. So I haven't gone down that route anymore, but we try and give as much variety as possible to the children. So we do a lot of outdoor cooking.
That's a big focus of mine. We try not to do marshmallows because we try not to pander to the stereotype. So we try and be a bit more ambitious with that and use a range of cooking methods. So we're going to be doing hot cross buns in the next couple of weeks, which would be really exciting for Easter in the Dutch oven. So that's a good one, doing that. We try. And also between sweet and savoury stuff. So I try and do some outdoor cooking with them at least every half term.
We do a lot of tool work. So the children are using the bow saws, they're using knives. They start to use axes. And billhooks as well. Often when we talk to parents, especially on open days, I think their faces get a little bit worried. But once you tell them what it's about and actually, this is about children building confidence. It's about them being safe and understanding that these are tools. We use them for a purpose, and they become not dangerous at that point, once that thing is embedded with them. So, yeah, we do a lot of tool work cooking, the usual shelter building. They love a den, all children love a den, doesn't matter what age they are. I'm convinced by that. So we do a lot of that stuff.
Then we go into a bit more nature based things. So we do some nature art, we do tree identification, plant identification, planting of trees, flowers, plants, things like that. Just we're about halfway through a new project. We've got an allotment project at the moment that we're doing in collaboration with the parents. So building like a walled garden with raised beds, having an orchard, some chickens and some bees, looking forward to them in the summer, that's going to be good with the idea to teach them all about the growing cycle and get them involved in every stage, really. the planting, the harvesting and being able to sell them as our own little farmers market is the plan. So trying to get them involved with that as well.
Really trying to get a lot of IT involved as well with this idea that the outdoors and technology doesn't have to be polar opposite. There's often so much of kind of the advertising of why we do outdoor learning is kids are on devices too much, they spend too much time on tech, let's get them outdoors. I subscribe to that in part, definitely, but actually, there's no reason why we can't combine both, and I'm passionate about that. They don't have to be totally disconnected. So recently, year six have been doing a tree trail activity. So they've created, well, they started, they, they found a tree in the woods that they liked, basically. We were very lucky, we've got some woodland at school. They found a tree that they liked, maybe quite old ones, unusual shapes, things like that. And then their brief was to create some content for that tree, for the younger year groups to view, to use. So some of them created videos, they've done film trailers. There's an app called Chatterpix, where you can animate a tree if you like to tell a story. And they really ran with it and they loved it. And so we created a QR code trail with that. So their videos are securely hosted on our internal servers and they've got QR codes on these different trees. The younger year groups, they can take their iPads around and they can scan those, they view them. And the idea or their brief really was to yeah, to create something to educate, inform and entertain. Sounds a bit BBC, I think is where I got the wording. And they really ran with that and they loved that. And that idea of combining technology and the outdoors is something I'm really keen on exploring further.
So, in a very long winded way that's just some of the things that we do.
Aidan: sounds amazing, really inspirational. And I know that other teachers, not just leaders of outdoor learning, if such a role exists elsewhere, I'm sure it does in places will be so inspired and we'll be able to run with so much of what you've just said there. What I'm hearing - and I'm trying to identify some different strands in what you've said - So you've got this very specific outdoor learning strand, which is outdoor learning. It's not learning about another subject whilst outdoors. It's very specifically, these are outdoor learning things - that's this domain. Then you've got well, you can learn other subjects outdoors as well. So you can go out in your maths lesson or your English lesson, whatever. So you've got those two strands. Then within that first strand, there are actually so many subject links, aren't there? You talked about using tools, cooking. So that's your DT. You talked about nature, art, so there's links to art there. You've talked extensively about how you're bringing IT outdoors as well, which sounds brilliant. So as well there're these subject links within the specific outdoor learning curriculum. And then there's a fourth thing that I think you touched upon, and that is the skills, the attitudes, the things that you want children to achieve beyond just knowing about the different kinds of trees, beyond knowing how to use a Dutch oven to make a hot cross bun.
Can you just tell us a little bit more about those things? Have you identified those specifically kind of the skills and attitudes? Is that part of the curriculum?
Christian: Yeah, I think one of the things I often tell parents when they're coming around and asking me, what is outdoor learning, what do you do? A lot of what we do is developing those soft skills is how I often define that. And so that teamwork, that resilience, all those skills that we talk about all the time, and we don't necessarily have a firm plan of how we're going to get those in. But yes, so we do lots of the work they do is in teams. So we do a lot of teamwork, particularly teams that they wouldn't necessarily choose themselves. And I think that's a really important skill that we're hopefully enabling them to develop is that working together with people, you don't necessarily choose, but how we talk to other people, how we talk politely to other people, how we negotiate. Our idea, we think, is always the best idea because that's human nature, I think, and it's developing that okay, I'm going to listen to someone else. We're going to exchange ideas here. So I think those soft skills are really, really important. And developing that curiosity, I think is really important. A lot of times in my lessons it will be, what's this? Why is that that way? And so developing that inquisitiveness that curiosity, I think is really important, as well as another soft skill, should we say?
Aidan: Brilliant. Thank you. Yeah, I can see how what you've got going on at your school and what you've developed as a subject leader and with your team as well is something that's going to have a real positive impact on children. Is there anything else you'd like to add about your role?
Christian: The only thing I would really say in terms of outdoor learning, if this was my sign off, as it were, we're very lucky at school. In the grounds that we have the space that we have, I would say you don't need loads and loads of space to take your learning outdoors. You have a bit of grass, you have a few trees. You have an outdoor space. You can do outdoor learning. It shouldn't be restricted to just places that have large amounts of space. You can do outdoor learning in towns and cities. You can do it in the countryside. And I think that's just that be brave message really is the one I would send. If you haven't thought about taking your learning outside, if you haven't thought about doing specific, discrete outdoor learning lessons, try it. You'll be impressed, I think, with how much the children love it, how much will come from that, and just that being in a different environment from your day to day classroom just has such an impact. And I think, yeah, my signing off message would be, yeah, take your learning outside. Try it, see what happens. You just need a coat.
Aidan: Brilliant. Thank you so much, Christian. I've loved speaking to you today about outdoor learning and about these aspects of curriculum and teacher development as well. Thanks so much.
Christian: Thanks very much for having me on, Aidan. It's been it's been pleasure to talk to you and share my share my passion.