20 February 2012

Our Background and Vision

For anybody who may be curious about our school and how it sees itself I would like to provide some backround information and some thoughts on how we aspire to carry out the important task of nurturing a thriving community of learners.

The first Educate Together schools were set up in the mid to late 1970’s. They were set up by a movement of parents who wished to have a different model of primary school available for their children. It was important that the child was considered to be at the centre of all activity based at the school. This ranged from decision making about how the school should be run to the very style of teaching to be encouraged within individual classrooms. It was also important to these parents that boys and girls be educated together.(At that time there weren’t that many co-educational schools). Being from  diverse faith backgrounds, or perhaps from a family which didn’t subscribe to any particular faith at all was seen as an issue which had not, until then, been fully understood and catered for within primary education in Ireland. It was important to these parents that children of all belief systems and none should have the opportunity to learn in the same school setting. It was also important that no specific religion or belief system should be treated as the only possible valid  perspective through which to view and interpret life and it’s meaning.

The exchange of ideas and perspectives on the type of school these parents would like for their children lead to the founding of the first Educate Together type schools. As a result of  discussions and explorations that took place on the journey towards setting up such schools a strong sensitivity and understanding of diversity evolved. This also lead to a commitment to equality which parents wished to be carried through to their own children’s learning. A final cornerstone of the Educate Together movement was the experience of using democratic methods of developing policy and guiding decision making. So,  democracy itself was identified as an important social tool to use and guide us as we both make decisions as well as  seek to encourage children  to engage with and partcipate in society.

How does that all influence how we teach and respond to the children at our school? I suppose that at first I need to say that the education of each child is seen as a collaborative venture. It involves parents, teachers and the children themselves interacting with each other in a way that supports the child to grow as a learner. For this to be real we need to focus on a number of things which I would regard as important. It is important that all members of the school community feel valued and involved in the task of supporting children to develop their own gifts and talents and grow in their understanding of the world about them. It is also important that we are open and receptive to children and parents when they come to our school. It is important that we connect with parents and children – that we greet them in a positive cheerful manner and listen to their concerns when they arise. It is important that we give useful relevant  feedback to parents and to children on how they are getting along as learners. It is also important that we enlist the support of parents in various learning opportunities we can provide to children such as tours, helping out with literacy or numeracy lessons and of course art! As teachers it is also important that we are open to each other as colleagues so that we share expertise and support and encourage each other in providing interesting, stimulating and relevant lessons to the children under our care. At the heart of all our interaction with each other is the need to communicate respect for each other, particularly if we disagree over something. Perhaps the most valuable lesson we can provide to our children is to witness differences of views or perspectives being resolved through genuine respectful dialogue.

And so, it is my hope that we have developed so far as a dynamic learning community committed to sharing views and to each others growth as learners. This could be learning as a child within the school, or, as a teacher  developing their own professional skillls, or, as a parent learning new ways to support and encourage their own child’s development.

Looking forward into the future I would see our school as a place where children from all backgrounds, with differing religious beliefs or with no specific religious belief, with special educational needs and also without such needs, feel welcome and excited about coming to our school to learn. I also see it as a place where parents themselves know that they are welcome and that their roles as primary educators of their children are respected and valued. I would like to see parents feeling comfortable to come forward with their own ideas and initiatives on how their children’s experience of school may be enriched and full of joy. I would like to see teachers feeling enthusiastic about their work  and fulfilled as a result of their efforts. I would like to see teachers’ interest in their professional development and their energy levels sustained and supported by the culture in which they find themselves working. I would like the school, within the wider community, to have a reputation for excellence with teaching and learning and for it to be known as a warm, inviting and dynamic place to visit or be part of.

I believe that the adults among us share a very special privelege – that is the privelege of bearing witness to the emergence of individual persons from  four year old infants to twelve or thirteen year old young people. Lets hope that together we provide a safe and vibrant place of learning for these important people and that we succeed in preparing them well for moving on to a new and fresh challenge – the next stage in their lives – secondary school.