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Jenny Baldwin
Founder, SHAPES for Schools
Ambassador cohort

From teaching to making SHAPES

Jenny Baldwin talks about how she applied what she learned as a teacher to start SHAPES for Schools, an agency providing classroom content.

I'd always thought about teaching, it was something I really wanted to do.

Even when I was at school, I was passionate about how things were taught, how people learn and what inspires people to do well. I came from Wolverhampton in the Midlands, and I went to a standard comprehensive school. When I studied English Literature at Edinburgh university, I saw a completely different type of education. It spurred me to go into the profession myself because I felt there was a lot I could give back. From my own experiences, I saw first-hand how that difference in education can affect people.

'I loved being in the classroom'

I spotted Teach First at one of my university careers days. They always had quite a heavy presence, and I knew a couple of people who had been on the programme in the previous cohort to me. It just seemed like a good route into teaching.

I loved being in the classroom. I liked the challenge of it, I enjoyed the excitement of it. I had certain classes that I found difficult, but it was more of a test in resilience and patience. After a few months, they all get on side and things start to change.

I always enjoyed creating resources for the classroom and trying to find new ways for the kids to access learning. I liked to use colours, shapes and visuals. I once did a lesson where my Year 9s had to act in-role as triangles, squares and so on. The whole point was for them to eventually match different characters in Of Mice and Men to the same shapes – eventually creating their own shapes for different characters and scenes. They thought I was absolutely nuts, but they loved it! 

Linking children's books to the curriculum

One thing that struck me while teaching was the challenge in terms of literacy levels. Some kids came in Year 7 with very low reading ages. I’d teach children in Year 11 who could hardly write. It takes a lot of effort to correct those things. You want the best for the children that you teach as you can see their talent and all that they have to give. When something holds them back, you wish you could do more to help them. I was always aware of that and driven by it.

I became interested in how children's books link up to the curriculum, so I left teaching and went into publishing. I found that so many people were creating books and resources for schools, but they weren’t necessarily the right things, or they weren’t really visible to teachers. People in publishing used to come up to me and ask, "Can I pick your brains about schools?", "What do teachers want?" – because there weren't enough people in the publishing industry with teaching experience.

Having taught myself. I knew how things worked in a school setting. I knew how a lesson is broken down, the angles to take, the required outcomes, the moments for reflection, and I knew how to build this into content. To someone who has never set foot in a classroom, creating and delivering anything for it is hard!

An opportunity to join the dots

I knew that teachers were looking for new children's books and reading lists all the time. It clicked one day that I could work to provide those – that’s how my company SHAPES for Schools came about. It was an opportunity to join the dots.

SHAPES creates schools-facing content, strategy and marketing for classrooms across the UK. I work with lots of different organisations with the aim of supporting culture and arts provision in schools; I work with over 80% of children’s publishers as well as numerous other non-profit and corporate organisations.

I work with them to create content – such as free resources and workshops – that will support teachers to deliver the curriculum in innovative, interesting ways. For example, with Madame Tussauds I created a resource about Fake News, aiming to improve digital literacy at Key Stage 2 and 3. Similarly, I worked with SEA LIFE to create ocean-themed schemes of work and conservation projects for the classroom.

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