We've just experienced two years of digital revolution as the Covid-19 crisis unfolded. Now the question is whether it is time to reimagine organisational culture - what can we take from this experience back into our practice in education? Is it time for a change audit for schools?
At ETSS Wicklow, right from the beginning, we embraced the opportunity to work online. We were well placed for this transition because all the students had iPads. The teachers upskilled significantly quickly and now find there are many opportunities to bring those new skills back into mainstream school life. Firstly, screencasts have become the norm - teachers have great expertise in putting together tutorials and webinars which are interesting and engaging. Secondly, we have developed a parent-teacher meeting model which most parents and guardians believe is better than the events we used to run at the school. A majority have requested we stay with this new model where families can meet teachers for ten minutes from the comfort of their own homes - the added positive impacts are less traffic on the road and more time saved. Thirdly, we developed an online Model United Nations template that replaced our planned hotel event and now find ourselves ready to run high quality international virtual events. This is a new way to connect with many other schools at home and abroad. School exchanges have never been easier - during lockdown we were connected with schools in France and Spain for lunch time exchanges. Fourthly, staff meetings have worked out very successfully online - teachers leave the school, drive home and then attend the meetings online - is this something that should be continued in the future? There are strong arguments that such meetings are more time efficient and facilitate greater collaboration with breakaway rooms so easy to organise. Fifthly, online school assemblies have been very successful - teachers are now experts in setting everything up quickly and students like participating from the comfort of their own classrooms. Sixthly, livestreaming classes to students in social isolation or with Covid-19 has created the possibility of livestreaming to students who are out of school for some reason but can still attend classes. This is very valuable service schools can now provide in the future. Seventhly, electronic surveys have become the norm - evaluation of service has never been easier and feedback has been enhanced significantly.
The above points are just the start of the conversation really, and are a fair indication that we may find the post Covid-19 world a very different one indeed to the world we knew before.
ETSS Wicklow has been growing steadily for the past two years with school numbers about to move to 160 students approximately this year. The news that the Department of Education (DE) will renovate the former Abbey Community College and provide new temporary accommodation for the next two to three years was welcomed by the Board of Management as an important landmark in the school’s development. Danny Haskins, Chairperson of the Board of Management and Educate Together Director, told the Wicklow People 'We would like to thank the DE and Kildare Wicklow ETB for supporting this move to the former Abbey Community College.'
A new school starts in temporary accommodation because it needs time to grow. While this happens, the DE starts working on acquiring a site and then planning and building the permanent school. For the first two years, ETSS Wicklow was in a temporary site at Crinion Park designed to cater for the student cohorts for the first two years. Everyone at ETSS Wicklow found it a wonderful place for the school to begin its life and cannot speak highly enough about the location and the brilliant neighbours who supported us every step of the way. However, as we enter our third year, with numbers increasing, John Maddock, Acting Deputy Principal and Mathematics Advisor to the DE School Support Services, believes we have found the perfect location for the next stage of development in improving the service of the school while the DE continues working on delivering the permanent school building project: 'We're striving to provide a first-class curriculum here and be leaders in education. That's always a priority for an Educate Together school. As well as providing the main subjects you'd expect everywhere, we've added new opportunities. Teachers have been creating innovative courses for public speaking, linguistics and horticulture. Now we can broaden the curriculum even further to offer technology, woodwork and construction studies. The Student Council have been listening to student reactions on this news and we know these extra subjects will be really popular.'
The former Abbey Community College is steeped in the educational tradition of Wicklow Town. Parents and grandparents of many ETSS Wicklow students went to school in this building. Staff feel proud to have the opportunity to introduce the Educate Together educational model in this historical setting. ETSS Wicklow has a strong theory of learning which involves blending the best of traditional educational values with modern forward-thinking innovations. The school places importance not just on the content being covered, but also on the processes of learning and the skills being learned. In this new location, with so many students and staff joining the project next year, the school can now develop its work of celebrating diversity, encouraging everyone to be themselves, promoting student voice and embracing technology as part of preparing young people for the world they will inherit.
John Maddock explained: ‘We are really excited about the opportunities the move to the Abbey grounds gives us. ETSS Wicklow teachers pride themselves on being resourceful and now we’ll have the perfect setting for the next couple of years to continue reimagining our approach to education. As a maths teacher, I’ve already booked multiple whiteboards for the maths room – every wall will be the ‘front of the class’ where students can work together!'
Details of our new location can be found on the 'Contact' page.
It's not often a new movement of schools emerges in the Irish education system, so we want to take this opportunity to be creative and innovative. Already ETSS Wicklow has created a high tech online Model United Nations event for Junior Certificate students all over Ireland and a national debating competition for all 23 schools in the growing Educate Together Secondary School network.
We hope as you explore this website you will see our forward-thinking approach and find our way of looking at education refreshing.
This competition is a first of its kind in Ireland and it was created by our school - the idea is to connect Educate Together Secondary Schools through the great art of debating by using the expertise gained of online education during the school closures. We are delighted to have developed this high-tech online Ireland Debating Competition. Debaters worked through league stages and into knockout rounds and two teams remain in the competition ready to battle it out in the final - Galway ETSS won the final against Cork ETSS with the motion under discussion being 'Free Speech does more harm than good!' This competition also takes an innovative approach to developing student leadership by involving students not only as chairpersons and timekeepers, but also in the judging - students from Malahide Portmarnock ETSS and ETSS Wicklow were among the judges in the final, along with teachers from both of those schools and representatives from Head Office.
Speaking about her remote learning experience, Ayah said, ‘I really enjoyed being at online school on Friday 23rd. I was able to learn a lot.’
Thanks to all staff members involved for embracing our livestreaming service for students cocooning/social isolating/experiencing difficulties in travel arrangements due to the Covid-19 pandemic .
We want to be leaders in technology and we're living up to our promise - yet another great example of the innovative spirit at our school!