Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday's Keynote Speaker

Dr. Patricia Mannix-McNamara
Co-director of the Research Centre for
Education and Professional Practice
The keynote speaker for the final day of the conference was Dr. Patricia Mannix-McNamara, Co-director of the Research Centre for Education and Professional Practice at the University of Limerick The title of her presentation was: So What is all this Education For?  She spoke about the disconnect between what teachers do in classrooms and what is going on in society. Her concern is that the push for grades and high test scores, and the deep involvement of business and industry in developing educational policies and curriculum have changed the focus of schools from being concerned about the the development of the whole child to a narrow focus on achieving high grades and test scores. Her research has been conducted in numerous places in Ireland and also in other European countries.

She feels that the incidences of corruption and dishonesty we see in industry and politics and the bullying prevalent in schools affirm that something is deeply wrong in society and that teachers are not trained, nor are they given the class time to focus on mental health needs, self esteem and values. Ireland has one of the highest teenage suicide rates of any country and Dr. Mannix-McNamara feels that schools are failing young people in the area of human development. She discussed the fact that Finnish schools, often touted as among the world’s very best, have moved away from the exam system and to a more holistic system of education. 

Among the authors and researchers referenced was Sir Ken Robinson, with whom Dr. V and I are familiar. If you have not viewed his video on schools killing creativity, you may be interested in hearing his ideas

If you would like to read more about Finland's schools, here is an article from Smithsonian:

How can classroom teachers ensure that they are not neglecting human development issues as they ensure that they are teaching as well?

What resources might help teachers in this effort?

Is this an area where elementary teachers have opportunities that secondary teachers may not?

Do teachers have a responsibility to do more than teach content?

U.S. Embassy

The area around our hotel is the location of many consulates and embassies, including the U.S. Embassy It is a lovely area, described in tourist books as "residential and leafy."  We hope that we will NOT need the services of the Embassy, but it is certainly nice to know where it is!

Halloween in Ireland

Carved by the staff in Bewley's Restaurant
HaPpY HaLlOwEen!
The day has just begun, and we have been "warned" that Halloween is quite lively here in Dublin. We are taking a break between sessions and have not begun to prepare for pending celebrations, but the day is still when in Rome (or Dublin)...
This post is to be continued...

Paul Colella is a published author from North Haven and former history school teacher who writes about the history of Halloween at

Halloween in Dublin, Ireland

On the Telly

Before coming to Ireland, we wondered what news from the US might be covered in the Irish news and especially wondered what might be said about the upcoming election. CNN International was not available, but finally found the channel for Sky News which is affiliated with FOX News. We did hear assorted stories about the election and many people here have asked us about it.  Sky News is going to have live coverage of the election. As the hurricane grow closer to the US,, there was more and more coverage of the hurricane and since it hit, there has been nearly continual coverage of the aftermath by Irish journalists in the US. I feel like the coverage has been very comparable to what we would see at home and coverage has not been confined to NYC,  These two subjects have really dominated the US news focus. I have actually been surprised at the extent of the coverage of both subjects.

On the Irish side of the news, a teenage girl committed suicide in the past few days as a result of bullying. Ireland is experiencing financial problems stemming from the economic downturn. Irish banks lost a great deal of money in the credit crisis and there was a government bailout. The government borrowed money for this bailout and there is huge debt. Ireland had actually been experiencing strong economic growth and is now in a recession. Because Ireland is a Euro country, it cannot adopt its own independent economic and exchange policies. The Irish financial situation is generally mentioned.

There are many US television shows on Irish tv. Of course, these do not ALWAYS reflect the best side of America. (I can remember visiting England many years ago and someone told me that he knew what the South was like because he warched Dukes of Hazzard!) There are also Irish/British versions of reality shows and we saw an HGTV type show of a couple being shown several houses. Some commercials are actually the same voices as we have in the US. There is an absence of American football. Of course, soccer is called football here and it dominates tv sports. Colleges do not have sports teams, they are club type sports and the rivalries are regional and fierce. We had to rely on the Internet to check the football scores.

If you were to select a tv show to show another country the best side of America, what would it be?

We Finally Viewed the Original!

We have been waiting for this day...Wednesday at 11:00
to see the powerful painting which is also Ireland's favorite.
Waiting for the black doors to open...

Once unveiled, we were very surprised photos were allowed (without flash of course).
Have you ever had an experience where you have seen, heard or read something that literally changed you as a person?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

IICE Conference Workshop. Developing the "Other" Literacy: How Visual Arts Have the Potential to Deepen Student Understanding

Now for the Conference

Dr. V. and I were very intrigued by the title of this conference and we wondered if it would truly be an international conference. We need not have worried. Actually, I am not sure that we have met anyone from Ireland! Yesterday at lunch, we sat with participants from Chile, Italy and Germany and we have met participants from Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and other US states. The education aspect of this conference addresses much more than traditional K-12 or higher education. There are sessions dealing with different types of adult education such as entrepreneurship and technical and vocational training. Some are twenty minute presentations and others, such as ours, are 90 minute workshops.

Each day begins with a keynote speaker. Monday's keynote was by Dr. Cynthia Northington-Purdie who is a psychologist and life coach at William Paterson University of New Jersey. The title of her presentation was The Evolution of Academic Integrity. Her premise was that in the 20th century, the concepts of cheating and plagiarism were concrete and unambiguous. She asked us to consider if the evolution of technology and information should cause us to rethink our concept of academic integrity.

How has technology and access to information challenged notions of academic integrity? What can we do in our K-12 classrooms to make students aware of academic integrity issues and of our expectations in this area?

Tuesday's keynote was by Dr. Richard Cooper who is the Director of Disability Services at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, PA. He described how very differently some people perceive, process, and communicate and the implications for learning and instruction. He provided resources that we found very relevant and valuable and we think that you may also. Most of his handouts and some of the information he shared are available on his website: The information he provided was applicable to students and to adults and he works with both groups. I certainly found some useful information that I will be sharing with my classes. He spoke a great deal about visual perceptions, processing, and communicating, which we found very relevant to our research and to our  workshop. He will be speaking to the Birmingham Literacy Council next week.

Dr. Cooper prefers to speak of students who learn differently rather than those who have learning disabilities. What do you think is his reason for this?

We have been especially impressed by the concerns that everyone has expressed for the victims of hurricane Sandy in the States. They have made special efforts to share thoughts and prayers at the start of each session and throughout the day with those of us from North America.

Conference Dinner

Then There's Food

We have managed to eat while we're here, and we have eaten well. All parts of Ireland are so close to the sea that there is lots of fresh fish available and all that we have had has been great! The seafood chowder we had in western Ireland is still our favorite meal so far. We have actually eaten most meals the last couple of days in our hotel and have found lots of fresh vegetables. There was something on the menu called "rocket" and when we asked what it was we were told it was salad.  Dr. It was actually arugula, which is a bitter green. They served it on top of our pizza. We thought we were eating sweet potatoes but it was actually carrots and turnips which had been pureed together. We have also found that things such as desserts are not nearly as sweet as we would make them. Perhaps that's partly why we don't see overweight people! We think that food prices are pretty high, even outside of the hotel restaurant. Fortunately some great meals have been included with the conference registration.
My (Paige's) fabulous breakfast...the next day I doubled the mushroom portion.
 I have reverted back to my coffee only breakfast though; just can't handle that much food before noon!

Fabulous Latte's and I (Paige) especially like the Bewley's Mint Tea
and "Forest Fruits" juice in the morning.

Paige's meat and  "potato fest" conference lunch

Susan's salad bar lunch
 (one of the breads with hummus was for  Paige).

Still our favorite so far: seafood chowder at Gus O'Connor's Pub.

Paige's tasty asian noodle, vegetable, and chicken dinner.

Susan's plaice (fish) with fresh spinach and a butter caper sauce.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

1. St. Patrick's Day--At Least for Us: St. Patrick's College Drumcondra (the first post of a 4 part St. Patrick's series)

Dr. Santoli and South Paw in Dr. Waldron's office
at St. Patrick's College in Dublin, Ireland
Dr. V. and I have really been looking forward to today because we arranged to meet with colleagues at St. Patrick's College Drumcondra . We read about the wonderful reputation of St. Patrick's (or Pat's as we learned it is called) and were very eager to meet with Dr. Fionnuala Waldron, Dean of Education, and with others who might be available. We could not have dreamed of a more wonderful visit! We were warmly welcomed by Dr. Waldron who told us about  the history of Pat's. The college was established in 1875 and was all male until the early 1970s. The college was constructed around Belvedere House, which was once a beautiful home, with parts dating from about 1660. She was so gracious to share time with us talking about teacher education at "Pat's" and in Ireland. We also talked about our programs and left materials with her. We will be sharing some of our discussion a bit later because we know our students and colleagues will be very interested. Dr. Waldron is passionate about teacher education-this was evident in all she shared. Along with serving as Dean, Dr. Waldron also serves as the Chair of the Centre for Human Rights.  Her academic degree is in history, so I felt an immediate connection!

After speaking with Dr. Waldron, we were so honored to meet the President of the college, Dr. Daire Keogh. His office is in a beautiful part of the building which was built in the 1960s-a wonderful contrast to the older part. He showed us several of the lovely rooms in the original building and we were able to speak with him about The University of South Alabama. It is such a small world: He was familiar with Mobile because he has in-laws in Pensacola.

Dr. Fionnuala Waldron, Dr. Susan Santoli, Dr. Daire Keogh, Dr. Paige Vitulli
President Keogh sharing the beauty of St. Patrick's with us.

Perceived Similarities and Differences:

Like USA, Pat's has recently undergone revisions in its teacher programs. In both cases, the addition of more extensive field experience was part of the revision. At Pat's, the primary (elementary) degree changed from a 3 year to a 4 year degree and the secondary program, which is all graduate, will be increasing from 18 months to 2 years.

The Special Education Dept. at Pat's is celebrating its  50th anniversary and was the first SPE department in Ireland. They do not have a dual elementary degree as we do, but we all agreed that one of the biggest challenges facing our students is effectively reaching students with special needs.

Secondary social sciences consists of history, geography, and science. There is no economics, civics/government or behavioral sciences component. Citizenship is addressed in Social Person and Health Education. As in the US, elementary social studies is often sacrificed for math and literacy instruction.

In secondary education, students enter the program with undergraduate content degrees. They are admitted to the graduate program through interviews. As with our elementary program, it is difficult to balance what content courses should be taught along with the pedagogy in order to provide a sound foundation in both. When the program was extended to 4 years, the humanities courses were reduced. Dr. Waldron said that the goal for their primary program was a very holistic, child centered curriculum. We all agreed that the content/pedagogy balance is a difficult one.

As in the US, Dr. Waldron said there is a real concern that many subjects taught in the schools are taught as more fact based, exam oriented, textbook centered. The goal of Pat's as, is our goal, is to provide future teachers with the tools they need to practice more inquiry teaching and to focus on critical thinking skills which transfer to all subject areas.

We asked about online courses as part of teaching training and were told that the online courses were mostly postgraduate courses, but they were moving toward a blended program in the graduate program. Technology use is definitely a part of teacher training, although the availability of technology differs among the schools, just as it does for our students.

Teaching is a very popular occupation in Ireland. The entrance requirements into Pat's are high and they take students from the top 10% in the country into the elementary program. Teaching has a very high status and teachers in Ireland are the highest paid in the European Union. Because Ireland is part of the EU, it recognizes teacher certification from other EU countries. Teachers can be asked to make up content gaps, but the certification is recognized. As in the USA, teachers can get certified through online providers and these vary greatly in quality. Certification qualifications do differ among institutions, but are fairly consistent between Pat's and Limerick College.  There are different models in smaller institutions. We told them this was true in the U.S. as well, and that each institution in Alabama submitted its certification proposals to the Alabama Department of Education so that there could be a variance in requirements. Interestingly enough, Dr. Waldron said that there is sometimes the view among other academics that a degree is education is not as rigorous as in other areas. We told her that was true for us as well.

As in the US, insuring teacher quality is a national focus. On the morning news, before we went to Pat's, we heard a report from Charlie Taylor, Chief Executive of the recently created  Teaching Agency in the UK, that additional entry tests in English and math would be required of those applying to teacher ed programs. Dr. Waldron said that similar conversations were going on in Ireland.

At the end of our conversation, we were so impressed with what we had learned about Pat's and with the wonderful hospitality of Dr. Waldron and Dr. Keogh. We will definitely be pursing some collaboration possibilities, especially those which require us returning to Pat's!

Dr. Waldron then took us to the gate house of Belvedere House which is the home of  The National Induction Programme for Teachers. We were so inspired and impressed by Billy Redmond and Mary Burke who are the NIPT National Co-ordinators. MUCH more on this later.

(Daire, Fionnuala, Billy and Mary - please do not hesitate to clarify or correct any misconceptions or errors a comment or e-mail us at or

***Students, please feel free to comment on any aspects of our post you found interesting or pose  questions you may have.***

2. More St. Patrick's: The National Induction Programme for Teachers

Halls of St. Patrick's College
Our time at Pat's was so professionally enriching that there is no way that one post can suffice. Actually, not even two can do it, but here is the second part of our visit to Pat's. After our wonderful visits with Dr. Waldron and Dr. Keogh, we then visited The Gate Lodge which houses The National Induction Programme for Teachers.  Billy Redmond and Mary Burke are the NIPT National Co-ordinators for the Programme. Their knowledge, creativity and energy are truly inspiring!
Dr. Waldron gives us a tour and accompanies us to the
Gate Lodge to meet with Billy Redmond and Mary Burke

Gate Lodge - Big things happen in small buildings!
The NIPT slogan on the website says, "to ask for support is a sign of strengh" and providing support is what NIPT is all about.  The Programme was established in 2010 by the Teaching Council which is the professional body for teaching in Ireland. We found out this differs from our state or U.S. departments of education because it is a self regulating body, in many ways, with teacher representatives on the Council. The Council was established in 2006.

According to the NIPT website, it's goal is "to support the induction of newly qualified teachers into the teaching professor...The main objective of induction is towards promoting the professional development of NQTs by way of systematic support in their first year of teaching...A key characteristic of the Programme is access by the NQTS to a mentor at school level or in a neighboring school. Mentors are experienced teachers who are fully probated, have a minimum of 5 years teaching experience and have undertaken professional training for the role..."

Unlike our teacher licensure in Alabama, teacher in Ireland are granted a probationary license. Full licensing (called full registration) is conferred after meeting the probationary requirements. The probation period is for a amximum of three years. During this time teacher must take 12 professional development workshops (evenings, after school, weekends), create portfolios, be observed and evaluated, and complete a certain number of teaching hours.

NIPT provides support at five different levels--this is taken from the Framework of Support on the NIPT website. The five levels are:

1.  Workshop Programme:  There are 12 two hour workshop required of probationary teachers. Three are offered together for both primary and secondary and nine are offered by teaching level.  These workshops are delivered by practicing teachers who have undergone training for the presentations. Two hundred fifty teachers are involved in delivering the workshops which provide very practical experience. There are 21 Teacher Education Centers throughout the county. We told them about our Regional Inservice Centers in Alabama which provide a somewhat similar function.

2. School Visits: (I believe this is probationary teachers who do not have mentors) If extra  support for NQTs is needed, school visits can be arranged through the NIPT office- again, very practical, formative assistance to teachers.

3.   Professional Support Groups: These are sessions that can be arranged for groups of teachers and are very individualized. For instance, if a groups of teachers needed some help with classroom management or special education students, a support group could be held for them.

4.  Website Support:  The NIPT website is a continual source of support.  Billy said that there would be a re-launch of the website in Dec.

5.  School Based Support:  This is really at the heart of the framework because this is the commitment on behalf of the school to support its new teachers. The mentoring program is a strong recommendation, but does not occur at all schools.

Susan discussing teacher induction with Mary and Billy
It was fascinating for us to hear about this wonderful induction program. There are states in the U.S. which have probationary licenses. I don't know enough about the requirements teachers must meet to become fully licensed, but that is something I would like to research once I am home. I think the concept is so sound--kind of like a learner's permit in driving. I believe it could greatly reduce the number of teacher who leave the profession within the first five years, which is very high n the U.S. a 2006 Washington Post article estimated the percentage as 50%, which is shocking and tragic!

Mentors for new teachers are used in many schools. Again, I want to look into this more. Billy and Mary said that they had examined the PAR program in Ohio, the CTTEAM program in Connecticut and the New Teacher Center at Santa Cruz. The mentors participate in a 20 hour program, over 3 Saturdays, which require them to engage in reflective experiences. They have a wonderful notebook to use. They receive a one class per week release time to serve as mentors. Billy said that a side result has been that the mentors report that their own teaching improves as a result of the mentoring and that school climates often improve. He and Mary said that problem is that mentors get so motivated that they often move on to administrative positions which necessitates training new mentors. Mentors have to be nominated by their principals.

As I looked at the workshops required of new teachers, I could identify many concerns expressed by our students and by new teachers:  planning for effective instruction, classroom management and organization, behavior management, meeting the needs of a diverse student population, differentiating instruction, literacy, working with parents. Isn't it interesting that these are such common concerns! These topics are particularly important for teachers in Ireland as Mary estimated that 60% of elementary teach in classrooms with more than one grade level. Billy said that in the Gaeltacht (see below), there were often even more grade levels in a class--very much the one room schoolhouse idea. Think about how many lesson plans that would take for each day! We asked about circumstances, such as over crowded classrooms and Billy said that teachers would not allow that to happen and could say no to too may students in their classrooms. I'll have to admit that I'm unsure if unionized teachers can do this or not, but we shared some of the overcrowding situations with which we're familiar.

We talked about student diversity in terms of ethnicity. Billy said that there were 19-20 nationalities present with the largest being Polish. In terms of language diversity, Irish teachers face a situation that our teachers do not. In 2005,  legislation was passed which restored Irish as the country's official language with English technically as the second language. Billy said a goal is that 1/3 of new schools will be Irish language schools. All students take courses in, and must pass exams in Irish. Additionally, some areas of Ireland speak Irish as the first language. These areas are called Gaeltacht. Instruction in schools in these areas  is in Irish. Billy said that teachers who are fluent in Irish are quickly hired. All teachers complete an Irish school experience. All materials produced by NIPT are in both Irish and English. Workshops must be available in both!

Now for the even more amazing part.  We asked who had created all the the materials-the workshops, the mentor program and mentor notebooks, the website, the new teacher workshop and who trained the workshop presenters and visited schools which needed to be visited. The answer is Billy and Mary! Paige was especially impressed with Billy's instruction design expertise as she looked at the workshop materials. When I first contacted Billy, I was told that he was not often in the office and NOW we know why! We feel so fortunate to have come at a time when they were both in the office. These are two of the busiest people we have ever met-they are responsible for new teacher training across the entire country! They not only administer the Programme, they created every workshop, every piece of information, every structure. They do have some assistance now which must provide a bit of relief! It is a good thing that they are also immensely passionate and organized.
Susan, Billy and Mary

We left Pat's with new friendships and lots of ideas about improving our own practice and the practice of our students in the College of Education!
Paige, Billy and Mary

What do you think about a probationary teacher license?
What are your thoughts on having a mentorship program for first year teachers?
What are the most challenging areas in which you think new teachers might need support?

3. And Even More St. Patrick's: St. Patrick's Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral
After leaving St. Patrick's College, we took the bus to O'Connell St., one of the main thoroughfares of the city, then walked over to eat fish and chips at Leo Burdocks. For whom is O'Connell Street named? We then walked to St. Patrick's Cathedral though the Temple Bar area via beautiful Christ Church Cathedral. It is one of two Protestant cathedrals in Dublin, with the other being St. Patrick's. It is very unusual to have two cathedrals together because these were the seats of the bishops as Catholic Churches. However, in Dublin, Christ Church was inside the city walls and St. Patrick's was outside. I noticed that Christ Church looked very Norman in style and found out that it was begun in 1172 by Strongbow, a Norman baron, so that explains why. We didn't go inside but the photos of the cathedral are lovely.

Paige at Christ Church Cathedral

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Walking down a steep hill, we arrived at St. Patrick's Cathedral. St. Patrick is, of course, closely tied to Ireland. While lots of stories have been written about him, many which may be legends, he was an actual person and was responsible for introducing Christianity into Ireland in the 400s. Supposedly, he was baptized from a well near the present day cathedral and there is a carved stone well cover in the cathedral that is reputed to have been the cover for that well. St. Patrick's Day actually commemorates the day of his death. Can you think of a story that is associated with St. Patrick?

The original cathedral was begun in 1192. I am always in awe when I think of the tools and technology with which these cathedrals were built and the time-sometimes centuries-that it took to build them. I love Ken Follett's book, Pillars of the Earth, which explains some of the processes. It was a cloudy, cold day when we visited, so the inside was pretty dark and cold. There are wooden chairs for the congregation with beautiful needlepoint kneelers. When it was built, the congregation would have mostly been standing. Of course, after Henry the Eighth's Act of Supremacy and Cromwell's subsequent actions, all Catholic cathedrals, churches and abbeys became Protestant and were often desecrated. Many of the decorations that were once in St. Patrick's are missing or vandalized, and Cromwell actually stabled horses inside the cathedral. The cathedral was restored primarily due to the Guiness family, who have been great benefactors in Dublin and throughout Ireland.  There are beautiful windows, statues, and memorials. One memorial is to the family of Robert Boyle. For what is he remembered?

One interesting thing to see is the tomb of Jonathan Swift who was Dean of the cathedral in the 1700s and a great friend to the Irish people. Swift was born in Ireland to English parents and was educated at Trinity College, but as a Protestant, might have been expected to be more sympathetic to the view of the ruling country. He was not. His Gulliver's Travels was written as a satire on British government and society.  I used to assign my students portions of Swift's  Modest Proposal to read. In it, he proposes a solution to Ireland's overpopulation and hunger problem by selling Irish babies to serve as food and goes through very logical reasoning as to why this would be an excellent solution.

I'd like to add to Dr. Santoli's fascinating background information. I feel the history of people is  important to preserve and fascinating to discover (at a personal as well as civilization level). It is often only through the surviving artifacts, such as the visual arts, architecture, and literature, that events are documented and we learn about past generations. It is also important to remember the layers of filters the information passes through over time, including the perceptions of the creators and the interpretations of the viewers. ~Dr.V

With that in mind, my question is: Have there been any "artifacts" in your life which have revealed information about the past? What were your perceptions?

South Paw at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland