A Time to Reflect, Review, Discuss and Debate

Fáilte a Aire! - A Time to Reflect, Review, Discuss and Debate.

As I finish my thirteenth year as principal, I have noticed how our system has changed. Many changes have been very positive and some not so positive. We all know that the life of a school leader is not a simple one. In our jobs, uncertainty is the only certainty. This year certainly lived up to that. Who would have guessed what it has brought?

One thing that the pandemic has highlighted for me is how resilient and adaptable we are as a nation and this was highlighted within our school communities, through the adaptability of the teaching staff and the support staff both inside school and within our systems. The learning curve for us all has been huge, and we should celebrate that work at every opportunity.

I would not have liked to be in the position that the outgoing Minister and the senior officials were in. They had to make decisions under very difficult circumstances, with advice from the educational partners and various interest groups. We must trust that those decisions were the best they could make at the time, given the advice and information they had at their disposal.  It is very easy to throw stones. As for the return to work in late August, let us wait and see what that brings. 

There have indeed been many changes this year. Most of these changes, a lot of them good, will not make a difference unless we can at least reflect on our system as a whole and publicly acknowledge the changes that are needed to make a good education system great. We need to consider areas such as:  

  • The way in which our schools are structured
  • The composition and role of our voluntary Boards of Management
  • The continued resourcing of supports and services for school leaders  
  • The further development and coordination of our management and governance structures in the system.

We also need to reflect on the Leaving Cert and the emphasis on the CAO and University places in light of what happened this year. These are some of the issues or questions that require deep thinking and discussion in an open and safe environment. Let us have a National Education Convention, as we had in 1993, and as called for by the late Professor John Coolahan. Let us promote discussion and debate to aid us improve our education system.

Domsa, tugann an post seo fuinneamh dom. Mura bhfuil sin ann ní fiú é. Bímis buíoch d’ár foirne scoile. Thugamar faoi na deacrachtaí a cuireadh romhainn le fuinneamh agus le díograis. Tá éacht oibre déanta ag gach duine. Tá sé tábhachtach áfach go bhfoghlaimeoidh muid ón méid atá tarlaithe agus leanfaidh muid ag forbairt ár scoileanna ar mhaithe leis na scoláirí atá faoin ár gcúram. Dhein sé rí shoiléir domsa go bhfuil fíor tábhacht ag baint le úsáid na teicneolaíochta in ár scoileanna. Go bhfuil sé ar fáil do gach dalta. Ná caillimis an dul chun cinn sin.

Tá gá dár liom féachaint ar ár gcóras oideachais agus athruithe córasacha a chur i bhfeidhm. Ar a laghad bíodh comhrá macánta againn faoi.  Pé scéal é agus sinn ag teacht chun críche agus an oiread sin éiginnteacht ann faoi tús na bliana seo chugainn tá gá dúinn an sos atá tuilte a glacadh.

For the moment I would urge everyone to try to leave the school (be it virtual or not) in the next couple of weeks and take some time off to visit places in our beautiful country and to leave the uncertainty behind for the moment. Beidh an scoileanna fós ann nuair a thiocfaidh muid ar ais.

One person I guess, that will not be able to take a break this summer is our new Minister for Education Norma Foley TD, a fellow teacher and a Kerry person. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you well in the role. I look forward to you engaging with the educational partners. I would ask you to let it be part of your legacy to facilitate that meaningful discussion and to bring positive change to our students’ learning. Go n-eirí go geal leat i do ról fíor thábhachtach nua.   

Cathnia Ó Muircheartaigh is Principal of Coláiste Pobail Osraí, Kilkenny and a former President of NAPD.

Because 'reality is real'

As we come to the end of June for the first time in almost four months students have come back in through the doors of school

All be it to empty lockers I have really enjoyed this week talking and chatting to students from all year groups about their plans for summer and their experiences of the past few months. 

For most of them like me they want to come back to school sooner rather than later. They have missed their friends, their teachers and school life. Some have even said they would come back earlier than normal. While they were hugely appreciative for the work the school had done with distance learning and keeping in contact, they all would have preferred to have been in school. Fans of Sci-fi will get the reference from “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline or Stephen Spielberg’s movie adaptation. Remote learning, online communication platforms and the almost virtual world has allowed us to connect with students, with relations, with work colleagues over the past few months and like in Cline’s novel it has become almost home and intrinsic part of our daily lives but it isn’t real. Being face to face with students, friends, relatives that is what brings true happiness. Reality is real. Being in the classroom can never be replaced by online teaching. Over the past few months being with immediate family more has been the one huge positive from COVID-19 and for that I will be forever grateful.

School Leaders over the past few months have done an amazing job, this has been one of the most challenging times ever for school leaders. School leaders have guided schools through remote learning, through the calculated grades, supported our students and teachers, and dealt with the huge levels of uncertainty. Both as a school leader and as President of NAPD I will be forever grateful for the huge levels of camaraderie shown be fellow school leaders managing and leading through this very difficult time. I have heard of, seen and experienced school leaders coming together to support one another through this difficult time. Always remember that we are not alone in this job and that there are many of us going through the same challenges and that NAPD will always be there to support you. My advice is to take a break for July and early August at a minimum. We have had a long term, many school leaders have worked late into the evening, weekends and that is not sustainable.

 

Alan Mongey
Principal of Coláiste Bhaile Chláir, Claregalway, Co. Galway and President of NAPD

FET in a Covid-19 World

FET in a Covid-19 World

March 12th 2020 is a day very few of us will forget.  Just like for other life-moments, we will probably all remember where we were when we heard the news that from 6.00 p.m. that day all schools were to close.  While many of us had begun to make preparations for the expected closure, it seemed to happen all of a sudden in the end.  Teachers had already begun to move material online - course material left to cover, assessments left to administer, learning supports to be delivered remotely.  Completed assessments and laptops were put in the back of cars.  In the College Office, contingencies for the payment of invoices and the processing of the various payrolls had to be put in place.  To a person, teachers, administrative, maintenance, learning support and canteen staff all rose magnificently to the occasion - just like in every School, College, Institute of Technology and University across the country.

Killester College of Further Education went from the classroom to online in six hours.  It was truly a sight to behold.  Our contingency plan, developed with CDETB parameters and agreed with QQI, was in three parts – part 1: finish the courses, part 2: complete the assessments, and part 3: process and approve the results.  It proved to be a great collaborative exercise across CDETB, and I’m sure, for all other schools and colleges.

What staff missed most was each other’s company and camaraderie.  Weekly staff meetings every Monday on Google Hangout discussing the week just gone and setting out the week to come proved very important.  The Deputy Principal and I, and the entire College Leadership Team, checked in regularly with each staff member by phone to ensure that they we doing ok and to provide whatever support and encouragement was needed.  From a leadership perspective, the true leaders of this period have been the staff.  The best thing I could do was to stay out of their way.  It has been truly inspirational to see their dedication and commitment to our students.

I salute all our teachers and school staff who have shown themselves to be the ultimate public servants and true professionals.

 

Dr Rory O'Sullivan, Principal of Killester College of Further Education, and Chair of the NAPD FET Committee.

Ochoning for Cocooning

Ochoning for Cocooning  

Over my desk in my small home office, I have a large old- fashioned road map of Ireland. I put it there in the first week of my IPPN Presidency last September, to be coloured along the roads travelled after my planned multifarious journeys over the following two years as I contemplated the task of meeting and talking with as many school leaders as I could. Our September AGM season was a bright start as I clocked hundreds of miles visiting about ten counties, meeting lots of people, hearing of their good ideas and their concerns. In one particular week, I attended meetings in Roscommon, Donegal, Cavan, Kildare and Wexford, while in one day alone, I covered almost 600km in the car. Trips to Mayo and Sligo included several school visits, as well as calls to their Education Centres. Life was becoming a series of deli counters, diesel pumps, dodgy Wi-Fi and nightly road music from the kindly John Creedon as I urged the car back towards Tullamore and home.

When the Coronavirus emerged as a threat to world health and economic stability, it affected millions of people worldwide in how they would conduct their lives until there was some semblance of normality again. For me, it would involve a complete change of approach. Schools closed with barely a word of warning on March 12th. Many schools did not even have the chance to make sure their children took their school books home. Indeed, how to distribute school books to families after the lockdown formed a large part of the narrative over the following weeks. For schools involved in the School Meals Programme, it meant that serious challenges had to be met in distributing the food to children who relied on it. 

The DES Social Inclusion office sought the help of IPPN in communicating with school leaders during the Easter break after problems emerged with the food distribution chain. School leaders as ever, were wonderful and made sure that the food was received by those needing it, by a variety of means, including spending hours of their holidays handing boxes out in their school grounds, and HSCL teachers using their vast knowledge of local areas and families to deliver to children’s homes. I found the work with the School Meals distribution exhausting but very rewarding, and I got to experience at first hand, the extraordinary generosity of community spirit which existed in parishes, towns and school catchment areas all over the country. I would also acknowledge the incredible work carried out by the Community Champions service in bringing together the resources of several community and sporting organisations and clubs, and making them available where they were most needed.

Before the pandemic, IPPN and ECSI (Education Centres) had been exploring ways in which we could support each other in providing support for school leaders. From my viewpoint, the ‘positive’ to emerge has been the rapid growth in the use of digital meeting platforms, which have allowed meetings and courses to be delivered remotely. Through the Education Centres and their reach, I have over the past weeks, spoken with principals and deputy principals, together and separately through several Education Centres. These meetings have proven to be a powerful way to meet many members in a short time span, hear their ideas, share what information we have, and gauge what issues are coming down the tracks. Many of the issues in particular around school reopening were highlighted through such meetings and were included in IPPN’s lengthy submission to the DES on the subject.

I have also been very pleased to see the extraordinary generosity of spirit between all agencies, organisations and unions in sharing good practice and working together to avoid duplication to provide the best support possible to all our schools and our precious pupils.

In the middle of all this, we must ensure that our own families and those dear to us are supported, we must mind ourselves. Our lives have changed- that’s for sure, but these changes have included many positives. Family, nature and our own downtime have all benefitted from this. Our gardens and houses have been seen to. Our dogs have had their paws worn down from walking. Whenever the new normality takes shape, we will hopefully bring some of the learnings from this time of pandemic with us. And possibly, park permanently, some practices which had hitherto affected our personal and professional lives in negative ways.


I might even use my roadmap to visit the odd place unrelated to work, but very much related to wellbeing!

 

Damian White is the principal of Scoil Shinchill in Killeigh, Co. Offaly and is currently on secondment as President of IPPN for the 2019-2021 term of office. 

Continuity of Teaching & Learning - an Education Centre perspective

When schools closed on March 12th, little did we realise that would be the last day the students would be in school for the 2019-2020 school year. The intervening period has brought change, uncertainty and anxiety to school leaders, teachers, students and their families.  What has been most significant however about this period of change has been the extraordinary efforts made by teachers and school leaders to embrace technology and online digital solutions to connect with students and to provide for continuity of learning.  Education centres have played their role in this. There was an immediate rush to collate resources, to source links and to communicate these to students to ensure that learning could continue. This initial period of time was transformative in the generosity of teachers to share their resources with each other, to collaborate with each other and to communicate these resources with their students. Education Support Centres provided training for teachers in platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Seesaw, Edmodo etc.  The most fundamental change however was the provision of training in the use of conferencing software such as Zoom. Thousands of teachers attended webinars on how to use them and subsequently webinars on how to use other platforms which were delivered on Zoom.  Education Support Centres conducted needs analyses with teachers in their regions and a broad spectrum of professional development was organised in response to the prioritised needs. The demand from teachers for this professional development was insatiable with webinars repeatedly booking out and waiting lists becoming the norm. It is an extraordinary highlight of the response of Irish teachers to Covid19 that they embraced online learning so enthusiastically and invested their personal time so willingly in upskilling themselves to connect online, to deliver recorded lessons online and to engage in live teaching online. It is extremely unlikely that any school's Digital Learning Plan ever envisaged the extent to which teachers have now embraced and implemented online learning.  

Our teachers are role models for their students, demonstrating that they are first and foremost learners, and through their level of care and concern that they have so enthusiastically embraced changes in their methodologies and upskilled themselves to meet the needs of their learners, rooted in the context of where their learners are at. History will reflect that this has been a transformative period in Irish education and that the teachers of Ireland significantly enhanced their rich reputations in responding to the challenges of COVID-19.  From a personal perspective, this has been an extraordinarily busy few months but extremely rewarding in being able to meet the needs of teachers and schools, to be able to provide professional development opportunities for them and to appreciate at first hand the efforts they have made in their own personal and professional development. 

Education is based on relationships and the success of online learning has been through those teachers who have endeavoured to connect with each other and connect with their students and with their school communities.  Irrespective of the platforms and technologies used, the success of their use is dependent upon the quality of the relationship between teacher and student.  

At a system level, school leaders need the connection with other leaders and with system leaders so that they can feel confident and empowered to be able to do their role to the best of their ability. This was very evident in the Principal WebMeets organised by Education Centres where the agenda was dictated by the needs of the participants and the predominant item on the agenda was that sense of connection with each other as principals sought the confidence to lead their staffs and school communities through the challenges posed by Covid19.

There continues to be uncertainty about the return to school.  It can be said with confidence however that school leaders have learned to deal with adversity and lead through a crisis, that teachers have embraced new skills and experience in online learning, that school communities have worked together to provide for the needs of those who are disadvantaged.  All these factors will stand to us and leave us in a much better position to face whatever challenges may come with the start of the new school year in September.

 

Ray McInerney is the current Director of Clare Education Centre and is on secondment as principal from Ennis National School in Ennis, Co. Clare.

 


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