With little previous experience, Hilary Spedding, principal of rural Millers Flat Primary, has introduced a French language programme for her 21 senior students.

“Seniors will be learning French”. The small item in the first school newsletter of the year marks a milestone for small Millers Flat Primary School in the rural Central Otago region, where sheep, beef farms and orchards surround the old gold mining town on the Clutha River.

Thanks to the initiative and commitment of principal Hilary Spedding the 21 senior students in Years 5 to 8 of Millers Flat School, which lists a total roll of 35, are now making the most of their opportunity to learn French – and mais oui are they motivated!

An idea ripens

It all started at the First Time Principals Conference 2015 in Auckland, an event Hilary attended after she achieved principalship at Millers Flat School and where she first came across Teacher Professional Development Languages (TPDL).

The idea to establish second language teaching at her school had been ripening for some time since she reviewed the curriculum areas being taught and noticed “that there was no language teaching happening”.

With the Ministry of Education funded programme, she found the support she needed. Neither the small size nor the remote location of the school would be an impediment.

As TPDL caters for teachers of French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Pasifika languages, a vote was held for the students and parents at Millers Flat School. French emerged as the most popular and in the beginning of 2016, Hilary was able to begin her new challenge – armed with little more than a French O level from her own school time in Britain, a vocabulary used on occasional holidays in France, and a previous experience in teaching ESOL to young Philippine students in Southland.

The pillars of TPDL

The TPDL programme combines second language acquisition pedagogy and in-school support with language study. “Language study is essential and the teacher has to be motivated to learn it”, Hilary says but also underlines the importance of the other two components of the programme. “Pedagogy is the background to any language acquisition and a chance to meet, connect and share ideas with others, while in-school support is essential for me as a teacher and for the progress of the students”. Hilary has now applied for an immersion award and hopes that this will take her to a new level in her own language acquisition and she will find out how a multi- level programme works in a French-speaking country.

“If I can do it, anyone can”

Half-way through the year-long programme, Hilary proudly looks at the achievement of teaching a progressive French language programme across multi levels within one classroom, similar to the school’s reading, writing and math programmes. “I can’t understand why there are schools not doing TPDL”, Hilary says. “If I can do it, anyone can.”

To take your school on a similar journey as Hilary, find out about TPDL on http://www.tpdl.ac.nz/, download the application form and apply now.