From making friendship soup to den building, Mrs Towers gives us an insight into life in Reception at Cricklade Manor…
When she’s not busy in the classroom, you’re likely to find Jenna Towers curled up with a fantasy novel, or striding across the fields with her cocker spaniel, Blink. It’s fair to say books are something of a passion for our Reception teacher, who moved to Cricklade Manor from London two years ago.
‘I love reading, and I have books everywhere in my classroom,’ she laughs. ‘Whether it’s Art, Maths or Phonics, the children are constantly exposed to texts. I want them to learn that they are special and something to be valued. It’s lovely to see them using their fingertips to turn the pages, instead of swiping like they do on a screen – you’d be surprised how common that is!
‘Sitting down with a book teaches children how to decompress and enjoy a moment of calm, away from any worries they might have. I encourage them to look at the pictures, and spot any sounds they don’t yet know. I read them stories too, with lots of silly voices, and we have class puppets who get involved. It really engages the children, and they feel excited about learning to read.’
A space for calm
Alongside the academic curriculum, values and resilience form a core part of Mrs Towers’ teaching. And while you might find myriad books in her classroom, one thing you won’t find is clutter.
‘I’m a big believer in classrooms being peaceful spaces,’ she explains. ‘Just before lunch, we’ll lie on our backs, put on some music and play Sleeping Lions. Some of the children struggle to switch off at first and can’t help fidgeting, but within a few weeks they’ve learnt to be still. They love it, and they are so calm in the lunch hall afterwards.
‘Throughout Reception, my four big rules are to be kind and friendly, good at sharing, helpful and good at listening. Being kind and friendly is the biggest, and I reward it constantly. Of course, I want our children to be great at maths and reading, but personal and social development is key at this stage. They need to learn resilience, independence, how to look after their friends and how to say sorry.
‘I encourage them to go to each other for help, and if a child helps a friend zip up his coat, I make a big deal out of it. I want them to be a close-knit team, who support each other, stand up for each other and know they can tell me if they feel sad or excited. These are essential life skills that will see them through.’
Mrs Towers’ firm belief in the importance of values stems in part from her experiences teaching in London, where she learnt first-hand the true meaning of kindness and community. She and her husband Tommy Towers, Cricklade Manor’s Deputy Headmaster, both taught at an outstanding primary school near Grenfell Tower, where 72 people tragically lost their lives in a fire in 2017.
‘It was nearly three years ago, but it feels like yesterday,’ she says. ‘We walked past Grenfell every day on the way to our school, which was the closest primary. On the day of the fire I remember running downstairs at six thirty in the morning, thinking “what’s happened” and ringing up families to find out if they were alive. Thankfully two of our children were on a school trip with my husband, but we lost two former pupils and their family. We were very involved in supporting the community through the aftermath, and it taught me so much about the power of kindness. I’ve been able to take everything I learnt and bring it here.’
A recipe for friendship
So how does Mrs Towers instil her four, fundamentally important life values? Stories, hand puppets and a sparkly ‘friendship soup’ all play an important role.
‘We have 16 little Woodland Explorer puppets in Reception, including Friendly Frog and Resilient Rabbit,’ she explains. ‘I make them talk, and they bring lessons to life for the children. During Anti-Bullying Week, Sammy Snake came in to see us, but he wasn’t being very kind to the other puppets. So, we all made a friendship soup in class, using different ingredients. We threw in glitters for values like kindness and sharing, then when we felt the mix was just right, we fed a spoonful to Sammy. When he tasted it, he said he was sorry and asked to be friends with everyone.’
The puppets frequently pop up in other lessons too. ‘They’re a big part of the class,’ adds Mrs Towers. ‘We have Creative Caterpillar in the art area, Mathematical Mouse joins us for maths and Sporty Squirrel comes to sport. The children love making dens for them during forest school, but we did once leave Sporty Squirrel behind after games. Luckily one of our teachers took him home and tucked him up in bed! We also have a parrot called Rupert, who often gets his counting wrong. The children practice their numbers when they correct him, but it also teaches them that it’s ok to make mistakes, and that we learn from them too.’
A focus on each individual
After a decade spent teaching across London, life in rural Wiltshire has certainly come as a welcome step change for both Mrs Towers and her husband. And she’s enjoying all the incredible opportunities Cricklade has to offer.
‘The classes are much smaller here, which means I get to sit with every child, and really focus on each individual,’ she says. ‘The specialist teaching is amazing too, as are the grounds. I take the children on welly walks with our dog, Blink, and we’ll look for autumnal leaves. They love our forest school sessions too, when we’ll spot rabbits and tiny grass snakes. I think I’m every bit as excited as they are – I just feel very lucky to be here. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was three, when I used to line up my cuddly toys at home and take the register.
‘I definitely think there’s a warmth that separates Cricklade from other schools. Of course, academia is important, but we’re also about looking after each child, settling them in and really caring about them. As a result, they are so happy, they learn without even realising they’re doing it. I’ve had parents tell me that their children have learnt more here in a week than they did in a year at a previous school.
‘The teaching team here at Cricklade also model positive behaviour all the time, and that really rubs off on the children. We’re not afraid to be silly and get up to dance during singing assembly, but we can be serious when we need to be too. We love working here and we all look after one another – when the children see that, they thrive.’
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Find out more about life in Reception at Cricklade Manor here.