Why First Impressions Matter

Steve Wright

First impressions count from the moment you walk into a room. For our trainer, Steve Wright they started on the train to his destination.

Having worked for Talk The Talk for eight years now, and with many theatre companies and university outreach programmes, I can often predict how the day will go in any particular school before signing in at reception.

As I tell the students in our oracy workshops, first impressions really matter, and one forms a feel for a school from one’s first encounter with its staff and students. On the train from Wrexham General to Hope, I saw children happily talking to each other and not sitting apart staring at smartphone screens.  The happy conversations continued along the path from the station, I could only conclude that the students at Castell Alun were happy to be going to school.

This is in itself a rare experience, but the welcome we all received each morning from the busy receptionist was professional, genuine and human. It is not uncommon to be left feeling more than a little “in the way” when standing in a busy school reception.  A warm welcome goes a long way towards helping relax a stranger into a new environment and ensuring the day runs smoothly and successfully.  

Image credit: Google Images

Teacher involvement in our workshops is really important

Too often the teachers in the room do not engage in the workshop. This sends a message to the class that the school isn’t taking the workshop seriously, so as a consequence the students themselves tend not too. 

The teachers at Castell Alun were happy to join in the debates, games and exercises in the workshop, and to share stories about themselves to encourage the same from the students.  It was obvious to me that this was not purely window dressing for my benefit, but that this is at the core of the philosophy behind the teaching at Castell Alun.

Teach by example.  It’s such a simple cost-free idea, but so rare to find.  In order to produce respectful and confident students who are equipped for the inevitable obstacles that life throws up, the students at Castell Alun are treated with respect by all staff at all times. 

This respect does not translate into pandering to students’ natural fears, or sheltering them from the realities of life.  Instead, students at Castell Alun are encouraged and supported to step outside of their comfort zones and build resilience and self-belief by accepting failure as a necessary step in learning new skills, rather than seeing it as something to be avoided through fear of ridicule from their peers. 

Castell Alun is a beacon of light and hope in an often bleak and jaded education system

Steve Wright, Talk The Talk Trainer

It was a real joy working with the students at Castell Alun.  They were completely engaged and eager to learn.  They showed respect for me, for each other, and most importantly, for themselves.  The supportive and collaborative atmosphere we created together was the perfect environment for all students to face their fears and overcome their perceived barriers to learning. 

Socio-economic barriers to learning

These students face the same social and economic problems and obstacles as students in any town or city anywhere I’ve taught in the UK, yet they are ready to face the world, and eager to learn the skills and knowledge they will need to achieve their goals. 

Rural Wales has its share of poverty and dysfunctional living conditions.  Socio-economic barriers to learning are not confined to post-industrial cities and towns.  With fewer public transport links and fewer prospects for local employment, it could be argued that rural students face a bleaker future than their city-dwelling peers. 

I can only speak from my own experiences of teaching in all kinds of schools and learning establishments, and my experience tells me that the staff at Castell Alun are doing something fundamentally different to the burnt-out and stressed teachers I meet in the “exam factories” I visit everywhere I go.  

The students at Castell Alun respect themselves, and by consequence they respect others.  They are happy to learn because learning at Castell Alun isn’t something to be feared. Working with them was one of those rare days when you feel that what you’re doing is making a genuine and lasting difference, and that the seeds you’ve planted will be watered and fed by the entire staff.  Castell Alun is a beacon of light and hope in an often bleak and jaded education system, and should be heralded as a model for all state schools and academies to emulate. 

Respect costs nothing, but the rewards it brings are priceless, and if all schools built their teaching on the same bedrock of mutual respect, then all schools could produce well-adjusted young adults ready to find their way independently in the world.  I only wish that my own children could have attended a school with such a positive and nurturing philosophy behind its approach to teaching.  I count the days until I am lucky enough to return.

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