My ATS journey: Leona So

Leona So is a Lead Instructor at Code Nation and is currently teaching Level 2 and Level 4 Software development courses. Leona reflects on her "rollercoaster" Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) journey and the positive impact it had on her learners and subsequent promotion. 

Leona So (2)I went through a traditional form of education, and after completing my degree in Maths and Physics followed by a PGCE in Secondary Mathematics, I gained my Qualified Teaching Status (QTS) and began my teaching career in 2007.

Since then, I have been a maths teacher at a school in Rochdale and another in North Manchester. I then decided that I wanted a break from teaching, so I took a year out and did a Master's degree, and this opened up an opportunity for me to work at an FE College in Manchester.

My reasons for undertaking ATS

I heard about Advanced Skills Teachers when I started teaching and knew this was kind of the direction I wanted to work towards, but unfortunately this role ended a few years ago.

I have been responsible for a number of roles at the college, including becoming an Advanced Practitioner and an ILT Champion, but I was looking for my next challenge. This was when I read about ATS and knew this was it. I also felt that being able to gain ATS was a way of recognising this advanced professionalism nationally.

My ATS journey was a bit like a roller coaster! I began the process whilst I was teaching A Level Maths at the college, and then I had a new job. Moving from teaching A Level Maths to teaching Level 4 software development was already a big challenge. At the same time, I needed to be able to continue my ATS journey and make sure that I was still able to prove mastery in teaching a different subject was very difficult. There were times I thought about giving up, but with the support from my employer and my mentor, I was able to successfully continue my ATS process.

My research project and the impact on the organisation

The research project I undertook was on the methodology and effects of ‘pair programming’ as a teaching and learning tool. Pair programming is widely used in the tech sector to train/upskills or collaborate with each other. Utilising this non-traditional learning technique helped me explore and developed the range of teaching and learning skills. Since then, I have been able to implement this into our main curriculum.

This research project had a massive impact on planning and improving our curriculum to include employability skills, as well as pair programming. We are now also looking at other industry methods such as mob programming and speaking to our industry partners. We can also implement this into the curriculum according to how we think this could benefit our students’ experience with learning programming in different ways, and what they can expect in their future career.

I have learnt a lot about different subjects that I wouldn’t have thought I would have needed, for example questioning techniques with and without subject focus. 

ATS not only gave me an opportunity to reflect on my teaching, but also consider the impact on how I was mentoring others, training and upskilling staff, and making plans on infrastructure and staff development. I was able to apply a lot of what I have learnt into practice especially during this unusual circumstance this year with Covid-19.

Since being awarded with ATS I’ve been promoted from a Senior Instructor to a Lead Instructor. In addition to teaching, I am also responsible for the ongoing development and training of our instructors and innovation developers and their line management, as well as providing direction on the teaching and learning approach used at Code Nation.

Stuart Kirby, Next-Gen Talent Director at Code Nation (2017-20)

Leona talked very passionately about the ATS programme, and as she is one of our most respected and trustworthy members of the team, I was confident about the value that the ATS may bring to both Leona and Code Nation. 

There has been quite a surprising positive impact of Leona undertaking ATS! As the team became more aware of the ATS and the work Leona was doing, amongst our technologists it elevated their perception of formal teaching skills and qualifications in quite a dramatic way. Additionally, for our qualified teachers, there was a real feeling of pride in their profession when Leona and the team would talk about the ATS.

Her focus on questioning and assessment brought a tangible benefit in that we were able to redouble our efforts around innovative assessment methods and with the high-pressure environment that we operate in, the right kinds of questions can be the difference for our students in a very heightened way.

Whilst I hadn’t heard of the ATS programme before, I’m certainly a champion of it now. It has increased Leona’s confidence, skills and profile across the business whilst inspiring others in the team to level-up. I’m extremely proud of Leona, she’s exceptional and the ATS programme has really helped to push her. Culturally, I’ve been delighted to see the level of respect for teaching increase across our technologists.

To other leaders in education, my message is super clear; if you have a member of your team that wants to do the ATS, approve it immediately. If you have someone who is willing to put so much effort into a demanding programme like ATS that will challenge and stretch them, support your colleague and give them what they need. It’s a great programme that inspires positive change and skills development.

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