Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Post - Teaching Shoos

Ronan Swift is a teacher and a musician. He is also well known for his unusual choice of shoes! In this More Stress Less Success guest post Ronan recalls a particular question posed to him some years ago at the end of a lesson and uses his shoes as a platform for a provocative discussion on imagination, inspiration and creativity in the teaching profession.

“Sir, we were just wondering (giggles); why do your shoes (more giggles)…look like Cornish pasties?” Much giggling.

This little enquiry was a genuine end of class interaction some years ago now and the reason I’ve included it in my post is because it started me on a train of thought that has led me to writing this post.  Today, I’d like to talk to you about shoes.

Well, no what I really want to talk about is not strictly speaking shoes but has more to do with imagination, inspiration and creativity.

When a country decides what to include in the courses it makes for its children’s education it has to include all the building blocks of knowledge that are the basics upon which further learning can blossom. Every school system needs to both provide its young people with fundamental knowledge and equip them with certain skills so they can perform various tasks and so they can do their own learning. On this we all agree. It’s too easy to give out and say that our education system places far too much emphasis on learning facts and stats and not enough on cultivating imagination and creativity. That’s not really what I want to do.

I just would like you to be a bit more aware of the importance of creativity and imagination in making the world a better place and for you to be aware of the potential to be creative that you, that we all have. For me creativity begins with a sort of openness, with allowing thoughts, words or phrases, ideas to enter your mind, to wash over you and to allow your thoughts to roam, to make connections and links that may lead to a spark of something new and different. Certainly you can’t shut yourself off and be ‘closed’.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Survey on Stress, Well-being and Multiculturalism in the Irish Educational System

A researcher from NUI Galway is asking Irish teachers to take this short survey on stress, well-being and multiculturalism in the Irish educational system. Participants will be entered into a random drawing for a €100 voucher (although I'm not sure how, as the survey is anonymous). Well anyway all Irish secondary school teachers are invited to participate. All entries are confidential. To complete the survey click here, it just takes a few minutes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What is the purpose of education?


Defining the purpose of education in less than 500 words may seem like an easy task but, as I sit here gazing at my almost blank computer screen looking for inspiration, I have come to the realisation that it much easier to define what the purpose of education is not! But even then I am destined to take the high moral ground and try to make myself sound like the perfect little teacher and declare “it certainly isn’t about exam results anyway”.

Knowing how wonderful I now am, I begin to get a warm feeling inside. But it isn’t lasting long and the warmth inside is now being slowly replaced with disquiet. Because to say that teachers have no responsibility in ensuring their pupils succeed in state examinations is inaccurate. For our pupils to progress to third level education and, particularly in the current state of the Irish (and world) economy, to give them a greater chance of obtaining suitable employment, our pupils must ensure success in these examinations. In a sense they are bound by the system and, ultimately, so are we.

But of course the purpose of education is not wholly about exam success, despite how the media may represent it. It is above all else about inspiring and empowering our pupils. It is about giving our pupils the skills they need to succeed in the working work, in society and further education. It is about creating an environment for successful personal, behavioural, emotional and intellectual development. It’s about creating an atmosphere which allows young people to become self aware, socially aware and form mature relationships with both their peers and the adults in their lives. It is about letting young minds discover what inspires them, what their passion is, and to give them the confidence to explore that passion further. A pupil may fail state examinations but may succeed in becoming a balanced, self aware, mature, socially conscious member of society. We all know pupils like this, indeed I know family members like this. The system failed them but their teachers did not.

The true purpose of education is ambiguous to say the least, but there is certainly a differential in how the state assesses educational achievement and how teachers do. Do educational administrators care little for personal development and more about academic standards? Do teachers care about academic standards too or do they see the bigger picture? Are teachers the human side of the education system? What do you remember from your time in education, your exam results or the people you interacted with? I honestly couldn’t tell you about how I did in the leaving certificate history exam but I can tell you about the advice and support my history teacher gave me, how I still heed that advice and how I now pass it on to my pupils.

Whatever the true purpose of education, passionate teachers are needed to achieve that purpose.

#496 Words - For more from the #purpos/ed debate visit:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Building Social Awareness in Schools with Habitat for Humanity

There are few teachers would argue that schools have an enormous responsibility for not only the intellectual development of our pupils, but also for their emotional, spiritual, career, personal as well as social development. Many schools now run major social awareness projects in their schools, principally as part of their Transition Year programmes, which can aid in developing a social awareness amongst the pupil body. In my own school, we have partnered with the charity Habitat for Humanity (HFH) in designing a social awareness initiative that meets the needs of our pupils, staff and school community as well fulfilling our duty in helping those less fortunate than ourselves.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-denominational Christian Charity, which helps build houses for people who simply can't afford them. Habitat works in partnership with families to build their own homes and other homes in their community. It is completely non-profit, with all funds used to build houses and create the structures in other countries to do the same. Since its inception in 1976, HFH have built over 250,000 homes in more than 100 countries, including Ireland. Once built, Habitat supplies the family with an easy to pay loan. The family will help build their own house but also build other homes in their community, a term described as "sweat equity".

Since 2007, the school has been sending pupils and teachers to building projects with HFH in Hungary, a country we have fostered a great relationship with since our first visit. We worked for two years on a building project in Csurgo (during St. Patrick's Day in 2008 - hence the dodgy photo above), one year in Hajdu and this April we will travel to Miskolc in north eastern Hungary to continue our work.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Inspirational CESI Conference

Last Saturday morning my colleague Julian Girdham and I set off for Portlaoise College to attend my first (and I believe his second) Computers in Education Society of Ireland Conference (#CESI2011). We had been pencilled in to give a short presentation on “Building & Growing a Subject Blog” in the late afternoon but were also keen to attend several of the other workshops and talks on offer in the impressive itinerary. I, personally, was eager to finally meet all those “tweachers” and edtech tweeps with whom I had been conversing with since I joined Twitter way back in November ‘09. Inspirational figures like @simonmlewis, @rozzlewis, @pajo23, @fintanmurphy, @anseoamhuinteoir, @pizievondust, @fboss, @magsamond and @lismiss (to name but a few) were all in attendance and I was excited to see each of them in the flesh. Needless to say, all were equally as impressive in person.

The day began with an inspiring and motivating presentation from @tombarrett, a powerhouse in the world of educational technology (or simply education in general). Tom spoke passionately about his views on education and offered some simple yet practical advice for getting the most out of our charges. Indeed, Tom was eager for all of us in attendance to contribute too and he asked each of us to write just one simple idea on a post-it. Since then, Tom has collated all those ideas and created a “mosaic” of all our suggestions including my own: Become a Tweacher, Connect on Twitter!

Unfortunately, so many of the presentations I wished to attend conflicted on the timetable (despite some being repeated) but I still got great enjoyment and inspiration from those I did attend, namely the excellent presentation by Ross Mahon from Google (with the guys from Camara) on Google Docs and @pajo23’s superb presentation on “Extreme Twitter”. I wasn’t sure if this was going to involve bungee cords or a parachute but it turned out to be a brilliant talk on using twitter for sharing news and information (or for the occasional treasure hunt) within the school environment – really inspirational stuff!

The day ended with a couple of hundred techie teachers singing in Zulu, all thanks to the inspiring figure of @markpentleton. And I think inspiration is surely the recurring theme of my first trip to a CESI conference. I was frankly astounded by the wealth of talent and enthusiasm amongst the delegates and workshop presenters. I genuinely feel that teachers are often excessively modest and don’t give themselves the credit they deserve, but the teachers I met as #CESI2011 warrant every plaudit. These individuals are experts in their field and in any other profession would be placed on a pedestal and praised from on high. Yet they seek no praise and do what they do, simply from a love of teaching and a willingness to share their passion with others. If that isn’t inspirational, then what is?

To see some photos from this year’s CESI Conference click here. Please leave a comment below if you were at this year’s conference and let me know which workshops you attended and who inspired you!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

CESI Conference 2011 - Building & Growing a Subject Blog

This afternoon I will be presenting at the Computers in Education Society of Ireland Conference in Portlaoise. along with my colleague and SCC English mastermind Julian Girdham. Together we will giving a presentation  on "Building and Growing a Subject Blog". Below is an embedded copy of our Prezi presentation and here is an information sheet with links to many of the Web 2.0 tools, links, articles and more mentioned in today's presentation. We would appreciate any feedback on our presentation.