Shared Education: Has an overly literal sense of “campus” excluded willing participants?

Garry McIlwaine is Principal at Ampertaine Primary School in County Lodonderry Schools in Northern Ireland are being encouraged to think ahead and to envisage how our education system might evolve in a developing political, economic, social and financial climate. As a community as a whole, we are, it seems, being directly tasked with shaping the…

Shared Education: Has an overly literal sense of “campus” excluded willing participants? was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

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Garry McIlwaine is Principal at Ampertaine Primary School in County Lodonderry


Schools in Northern Ireland are being encouraged to think ahead and to envisage how our education system might evolve in a developing political, economic, social and financial climate. As a community as a whole, we are, it seems, being directly tasked with shaping the organisation and delivery of education to provide for togetherness of learners and involvement of all sectors. We are to deliver educational benefits through efficient use of resources, equality of opportunity, good relations, diversity and community thorough creation of campuses.(DENI:2016)

Whilst it will be up to all of us to challenge / develop / pursue Shared Education, it seems that lessons of huge potential from at least one previous and one ongoing initiative have been overlooked.

The Dissolving Boundaries (DB) project, led by Roger Austin and Marie Mallon had the simple aim of connecting schools from all over Ireland so that learning experiences could be facilitated through the use of ICT which would, in turn, enable collaboration, create learning groups, upskill teachers and children etc. etc. It would also “dissolve boundaries” to whatever extent individual partners might be able to accommodate, given their contexts. In our school, DB was a first “toe in the water” which eventually enabled us to make applications for Integrated Education and Promoting Integrated Education (PIE) grants.

In practical terms, the DB project provided the finance for in-service training, collaborative meetings (I had never before met with teachers from the South), some hardware, online materials and, vitally, the technical support we so badly needed. Awareness of “internet safety” issues were addressed in a real way in a safe environment.

Sadly, withdrawal of Department of Education funding brought one of our school’s most fruitful, inspiring and enabling projects to an abrupt end.

We have recently undertaken work within the “CyberSmarties” social media project for 6-12 year olds with total support from parents and rave reviews from our children who are now involved in forming appropriate “friendships” through social media, gaming and problem-solving in a very tightly controlled online area. We believe that our potential to fulfil our E-Safety aims are hugely enhanced through this online facility.

The magic of DB was that no matter (almost!) where you were in Ireland, you had the potential to team up with, engage and invest in other real learners. As a huge bonus, children by the thousand were able to meet face to face with their partners at least once per year. Friendships were cultivated and nurtured in an Irish / Northern Irish “Campus.”

Isn’t is sad that the current Shared Education scheme in place in Northern Ireland is missing a ‘campus’ trick? Shouldn’t the powers-that-be be encouraged to harness the power of technology so that more remote schools like ours can be supported through their work in virtual campuses? Wouldn’t we all like to harness the potential to enable our young folk to work, learn and live together in ‘campuses’ through projects like Dissolving Boundaries and CyberSmarties?

Shared Education: Has an overly literal sense of “campus” excluded willing participants? was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Why Education should Flourish

Patricia MaMcnamara_Facebook

Dr. Patricia Mannix McNamara
Senior Lecturer, Education Dept. University of Limerick

I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse be reduced by it.
-Maya Anglou

Mostly we think we are mentally healthy because we do not experience mental illness. We are inclined to think that absence of mental illness means mental health by default. This way of thinking has its roots in the medical model, which has dominated our understanding of health, but this is really problematic because the absence of mental illness does not presuppose good mental health. We assume that we are experiencing physical and mental health and well being if we do not evidence symptoms of illness. How do we know? If we assume that mental health is the absence of psychological illness or distress then if we are meeting daily challenges isn’t that enough? Actually, the important measures are simpler:

· Do I experience moments of happiness daily?
· Do I feel joy?
· Do I love?
· Do I laugh often (really laugh)?
· Do I feel free to say what I really think and to act feely upon it?
· Do I have goals in life? Am I capable of meeting them?

We often confuse existence with mental health but absence of mental illness is not synonymous with mental health or wellbeing. Languishing is not enough. Passive definitions of mental health (absence of illness) do significant disservice to health gain. Some people like Corey Keyes and Maureen Gaffney argue that flourishing is what we should strive for. Flourishing they see as active living and reaching the most optimal level of human functioning. A flourishing person’s life is filled with happiness, goodness, creativity, growth, and resilience. Sound good?

The reason why this is so important is that as adults if we settle for existence rather than flourishing as our way of living, and if we accept existence as our standard of mental health then we teach our children that this is standard to live by.

Recently I was attending a conference about teaching and there was a young child present in the audience beside me. The speaker asked the audience a seemingly simple question: What makes a good teacher? The answers from the audience (of academics) were of course informed and included things like excellent pedagogy (teaching strategies); excellent subject knowledge and care for student learning. I turned to the child beside me knowing that they were best positioned to answer this question because they live with this every school day. So I asked him:

“What do you think? What do you think makes a good teacher?”

His reply was simple, only three words and quite profound:

“A happy one.”

It does not get any clearer than that!

A happy teacher is more than likely a flourishing one, whose professional life is fulfilling and who communicates mental health in their very being. This challenges us to ask are we happy? Do we experience moments of happiness daily? Do we communicate mental health in our very being?

Why settle for existing…isn’t flourishing worth striving for?

Why Education should Flourish was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog