gAIL cUNNINGHAM Teacher of English, Debating and Public Speaking Coach, Lead Professional of the Koinonia Programme
As if teaching English with the motivated and aspirational boys of Merchiston was not enough fun, I also have the pleasure of taking a lead with the Koinonia programme.
Every Wednesday I am responsible for the LVI reaching out into the wider community as mentors; care workers with the elderly; teaching assistants with pupils with additional support needs; rugby trainers for P5 and P6 pupils across various local primary schools. This hugely rewarding programme means that Merchiston boys come to see and experience their role as pastoral support to others. It is testament to its success that the numbers involved in the community is growing and that many boys sign up for a second year as community helpers.
Coaching debating as part of an enriching in-house and competitive debating experience also brings great rewards. Developing your skills in persuasive arguments is one that cuts across all disciplines but crucially it enables us to become critical thinkers; able to marshal and debate with argument. In 2019, Merchiston teams were Scottish runners up in both the National Debating Matters Tournament and in the St Andrews Day National Debating Competition run and held at the Scottish Parliament. We meet every week for a two hour session of short prep debating and this is the corner stone developing those prerequisite skills
I came to know of Merchiston in my role as a debating coach engaged with national competition. The confidence coupled with the respectful politeness of the Merchiston teams struck a real chord. It was the boys and not the resources and leafy parklands that made me want to come here. I was not wrong in thinking there was something unique and unashamedly old fashioned about the way the Merchiston students conduct themselves. They are, by dint of their position here, privileged, but they are also aware that this is a responsibility. The values of community and being part of an enabling school were the main drivers for me.
My greatest achievement is never losing sight of how magical the classroom discussion can be at Merchiston. The boys want to discuss, engage and debate with you and that means the classroom is an electric light show of critical thinking and argument.