Conwy to Toulouse: My five stages of Geography inspiration, part 2

Matt Podbury

Matt Podbury is head of Geography at the International School of Toulouse, France. He is the author of, a free repository of teaching and learning resources for secondary school Geography. Matt is also the co-creator of Together with Jim Noble (@teachmaths), he administers the ‘Live Your Dream Foundation’ at the school in James’s name.

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The job at the International School was advertised in the January of 2009, and after two interviews, I was appointed two months later. I would taking over from Richard Allaway of geographyalltheway fame at a laptop school, and teaching International Baccalaureate (IB) having never previously taught KS5! This seemed like a big deal, never mind the move to France, taking a significant hit on the sale of our house in the UK and the packing up and leaving my home country perhaps for ever. On the plus side, I spoke some of the lingo having been together with Gaelle, my French wife since late last century.

My first introduction to my fifth inspiration came during my interview when the teacher who was to be my closest colleague grilled me on the use of technology in my school. He didn’t seem to be in the slightest bit impressed with my library of PowerPoints and basic creations for the interactive whiteboard, and he had this permanent grimace on his face as if he still hadn’t forgiven Richard for jumping ship. If I had researched a little more thoroughly, I would have realised that I should have worked a little harder to please Russel Tarr.

My first task at IST was to persuade our principle that Geography trips should be reinstated after a ban lasting for several years following an unfortunate incident with a group of previous students. Toulouse is located in a fantastic geographical position and apart being a beautiful city of 1.5 million people, the Pyrenees are located to the south, the Mediterranean to the south east and the Massif Central to the north. I couldn’t be surrounded by all this exciting Geography and not take our students out to explore. After much persuasion and the introduction of new paperwork, the first residential Year 9 trip to Rocamadour left incorporating caving, kayaking and a bit of limestone scenery. Thankfully, it went without hitch, the principal was suitable satisfied and in the months after that, school trips were gradually followed.

Orphanage work with IST in Mumbai, 2010

I have been very fortunate to work at IST, and in particular with Russel, since 2009. He has really raised the bar to make me work harder to develop my own teaching technique, as well as encouraging me to build my own website while incorporating a wealth of different technologies into my SOWs across all age ranges.

Russel also encouraged me to join and use Twitter properly, create Facebook groups for students and teachers and is a non-stop, one man fountain of pedagogical knowledge! I have never met anyone who works so hard to give his students the best all round experience in the History classroom, and who gives up a lot of his time to advise colleagues and to organise the best CPD activities that I’ve ever been involved in. Together, we have worked hard to bridge that gap between the two subjects and the actively promote the ‘collaboration not competition’ approach to design some excellent cross curricular projects, ranging from a Year 7 Otzi Iceman Breaking Bad style unit of work to Year 13 joint projects on the Geography & History of the Arab Israeli conflict in the Middle East. More about these in a future article for Innovate My School.

Otzi Iceman with Russel Tarr, Toulouse, 2009

In a department of one, I don’t have an Ann and Anne to rely on and so have had to build my virtual Geography support network firstly through the SLN Forum and now through Twitter which is my single biggest source of up to date Geographical information. Reading blogs is now high on my list of daily priorities and those written by Alan Parkinson, Jo Debens, David Rodgers and Paul Berry should be a weekly calling point for all Geography teachers out there. I try to network more than ever before and try to attend as many conferences as possible, although the joys of having a 20 month old bouncing bilingual baby boy perhaps means that I can’t go to everything, nor would I want to spend too much time away from someone who is my top priority.

I am lucky to work at school that encourages me to be dynamic in my curriculum planning and trusts that as a subject specialist, I will design the best SOWs for my students. There are few constraints to what I can or can’t do and simple things like YouTube being allowed in the classroom makes my life much easier. In 2015, 99% of my Geography lessons happen online, and this technology enables me to bring that sense of awe and wonder to accompany the learning while attempting to be a Stephen Taylor to my classes. He made Waugh’s Integrated Approach so interesting back in 1995, God knows what his lessons would have been like with Gapminder and Google Earth!

I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Toulouse for and, like most others, I check on what’s out there from time to time. The school is great, the kids are brilliant and we have a superb staff. Where would I like to go? Perhaps Spain or Australia, maybe one day I’ll end up back in North Wales. Who knows and that’s the beauty of teaching Geography in an international setting. The world is certainly getting smaller, but there’s a whole lot left to see.

Finally, my story is nothing out of the ordinary and I’m acutely aware that I have colleagues out there who have visited more places and teach in far more spectacular locations than I ever have done or will do. I have been incredibly fortunate to have seen my career develop in the right place at the right time with the amazing input of my five key people. Maybe one day, I’ll make it on to that list of a future Geography teacher and I constantly wonder who will be my inspiration 6, 7 and the rest. After all, we all need these people to keep us going.

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