22 November 2016

Sharing the DNA of inspirational teaching

I want to empower girls to choose science and see what they can achieve,” Katie Miller, Biology NQT, Arthur Terry School.

Katie Miller will gladly let curiosity get the better of her. “I’m nosey,” she confesses.  “Even as a child I needed to know why and how things work. I like to explore.”

Her wonder of science was nurtured by the influential teachers at Walsall’s Queen Mary’s High School for Girls.  But before she ever set foot in a classroom, Katie had chalked out her future.

“Teaching is my dream. I always wanted to be a teacher from as far back as I can remember,” she recalls.

I used to line up my toys and play school!”

Katie studied a broad pallet of A-Levels in Biology, Chemistry, Geography and Japanese. The fact that she completed her studies – and with a clean sweep of A* and As – is testament to her strength of character.

When Katie was 16 her life changed forever following the death of her father from lung cancer. The enormity of such loss could easily have broken the teenager – and her studies. Instead, it made her more resilient, more focussed and had a profound impact on how she views the world.

She says: “I’m a positive person. It made me determined to live every minute.”

Up to that point, Katie’s interest in biology had predominantly centred on genetics. Understandably, her attention turned to the area of cancer research and an “amazing” placement at a breast cancer laboratory for her dissertation, enabled her to develop her research skills.

It was important for me to raise awareness of what you can do in science,” she says.

National Teaching School

Ever the academic, Katie graduated from the University of Birmingham with a first class degree in Biological Sciences.  She was now in a position to begin her teacher training and singled out the Arthur Terry National Teaching School’s School Centred Initial Teacher Training programme (SCITT).

The year-long programme combines traditional study and teaching placements, all delivered by experienced practitioners. “I was blown away by the teachers on the course,” explains Katie (who is pictured below with Paul Withey, PGCE tutor and Science and Subject Pedagogy Lead, Science).

“I liked the idea that you’re taught by ‘real’ teachers who are currently teaching classes. Plus, I was drawn to working at an outstanding school.”


The associate teacher’s second placement – at the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership’s (ATLP) Coleshill School – was an enjoyable time. Not only did it give Katie valuable classroom experience, but she also became involved with the academy’s Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) club.

Her first and final placement was at Arthur Terry School, where she was offered a permanent position, subject to the completion of the SCITT programme.

Katie says: “I felt so lucky to be offered the job. It motivated me to do my best in training.”

Katie has been working as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) at the school since September 2016, teaching years 7 to 12. She describes her classroom style as: “firm but fair.” First and foremost, she is Miss Miller, the teacher. But she also has the ability to step inside the mind of a 13-year-old.

Making science relevant

Like her students, Katie is of the digital era. She is perfectly at home using social media and technology to appeal to students – as demonstrated when she asked her class to create a profile of a specialised cell for Instagram.

She says: “I try to make the sciences relevant and interesting. For example, when we were working on the theme of sound, I asked the students to design ear defenders for the V-Festival.

“I also plan lessons around things that are going on in the world. I want the students to ask ‘why is this important?’ We put together some facts for the World Health Organisation around Hurricane Matthew that struck Haiti recently.

“I understand that not everybody is going to pursue a career in science, but I want children to be able to relate my lessons to their lives.”

Cue the story about the year 9 Arthur Terry student who went to watch TV’s ‘Supervet’ live.

“I had my first crying moment,” Katie reveals. “The Supervet was talking about stem cells and the student told me she knew what he meant because we had covered it in lessons – it gave me goosebumps!”

Outside of school, Katie has set up a new STEM club with fellow NQTs. She is also exploring the idea of forming an all-girl group called The Stem-ettes – but Little Mix needn’t hang up their microphones just yet. This will be a band of the non musical kind, a STEM club designed to attract more females into science.

Katie says: “I want to empower girls to choose science and see what they can achieve – whether that’s as an ecologist or a cosmetic scientist. We need to light that spark.”

Katie is one such luminary. Even sleep is no excuse for missing a light-bulb moment.

She says: “I’m a perfectionist. I like to innovate – to come up with new ideas. I even keep a Post-it note by my bed!”

A culture of praise

One of her latest ideas is based around Arthur Terry’s culture of praise. “What I love about this school is how they celebrate success,” she says.

She is sharing the motivators of incentive and reward with her students through a popular new raffle ticket praise system in Biology. Think of it as raising expectations through classroom osmosis.

Katie says: “It’s easy to fully immerse yourself in this school – to soak it all in. My department and the school are so supportive. People have time for each other and NQTs are supported and developed through training and mentoring.

“It’s brilliant and I’m very happy. There are opportunities to strive for. In a multi-academy trust you can move schools and roles and there is plenty of support, encouragement and continuing professional development.

“You have got to improve yourself and progress. I’d like to see myself with more responsibilities so I can be the very best teacher I can be.”

The road to self-improvement does not end there.

Next summer, Katie will be meeting the Teaching School’s newest cohort of associate teachers, when they attend an induction fortnight to prepare Newly Qualified Teachers for the year ahead.

That fortnight was great for relieving that pressure. It gave me a chance to find my feet,” reflects Katie.

This time around, Katie will be presenting the research that she first began on the SCITT programme and then continued this year as part of her continuous professional development (CPD). She will be completing a day of training at John Taylor School and conducting her own research, to look at how to stretch gifted and talented students at KS3.

Katie is grateful for what she sees as another opportunity for new ATLP teachers to journey beyond the timetable, in ways that benefit everybody.

So what advice will she be giving to the newest group of NQTs (Post-it notes aside)? “Put yourself in the students’ eyes. Catch their interest and keep their attention.”