St. Colmcille’s Community School invited Dragonfly Training to facilitate a Staff Development Day in early November 2011 & a Staff Development Day in March 2012.
Self evaluation has emerged as one of our school strengths and through these self evaluative processes the theme of ‘Creating Independent Learners’ had emerged as a priority focus for us for the academic year. In our commitment to pursue a deeper learning agenda we realised that we needed to seek external partners and resources to enable the progression of this work. Whilst this re-evaluation of our teaching and learning methodologies occurred as a result of our own internal reflective processes it is fortuitous and opportune that this dialogue coincided with the launch of the Junior Cycle Framework. As a school we echoed the sentiments both of Guy Claxton in his address at the NAPD Symposium and those underpinning the Junior Cycle Framework – our students need to pedal the Junior Cycle themselves, rather than be towed along or chased by teachers.
John Coolahan in his preface to ‘Learning Anew, Final Report of the Research and Development Project: Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century reflected that ‘Wholehearted engagement with well designed CPD activity can be a catalyst that unleashes new energies, fosters fresh enthusiasm, deeper understanding and fine-hones pedagogic skills’We were confident that in Dragonfly Training we had found a team of practitioners who would enthuse and energise our staff creating the catalyst which would further propel us on our journeyDragonfly Training is a UK based in-service training provider which has established an excellent reputation for facilitating inspiring, realistic and practical training.Their commitment to the delivery of training of the highest quality was evident from the outset. The fundamental principle of Dragonfly Training is that all their courses are practical. Delegates are given hands-on experience of their chosen area of interest to engage, inspire and motivate.All trainers are highly skilled and experienced in their particular field and all retain some level of teaching commitment either on a full or part time basis. They are therefore practitioners rather than theorists whose knowledge of education is first hand and hence their ideas, lessons and techniques are entirely relevant and can be adopted by any teacher.The Staff Development Day was for all staff although teachers were organised into subject groupings. We believed that this would create an opportunity for colleagues to critically review their own practice and plan collaboratively for the introduction of new initiatives which would impact on teaching and learning. The energy and commitment of the facilitator to meet our needs was commendable. Teachers were actively engaged in practical activities which were challenging, thought provoking and inspiring. If we are to concur with John Dewey’s assertion that ‘all learning begins when our comfortable ideas turn out to be inadequate’ then I have no doubt that that our learning opportunities were maximised on that day!.
Fullan (1991) argues that ‘educational change depends on what teaches do and think – it’s as simple and as complex as that’. Now more than ever the professional development of teachers is essential to school improvement. As school leaders we must ensure that our school cultures have the capacity to support and enhance teachers’ learning. As noted by the TL21 project the transformative power of professional conversations cannot be underestimated. As a leader of learning in my school I have always endeavoured to put learning and learners at the core of what we do. The development of a culture which supports and encourages professional dialogue, sharing of good practice and creativity in the development of teaching methodologies will undoubtedly support teachers in their growth as practitioners and the development of an enhanced repertoire of learning and teaching strategies. In developing St. Colmcille’s as a learning community where reflective practice and CPD are valued I have always displayed explicit support for work of this nature. The Staff Development day facilitated by Dragonfly Training was one aspect in the facilitation of this work.Our engagement with Dragonfly affirmed the best practice which I was confident was happening in the classrooms of St. Colmcille’s. It also however challenged us to reflect on and adjust what was happening in our school to ensure we were cultivating the skills and habits which will support our students into the future. Most importantly it inspired.When we began as a school to interrogate, explore and re-evaluate our teaching and learning strategies the key question for our teachers was ‘How are you asking me to be different?’. This question needed to be answered in terms of classroom environment, the focus being on the way that teachers work in their classroom. The most effective way to determine the success of our training day in providing some answers to that key question is encapsulated in the words of the staff. The quotes need no further commentary.‘This was a very inspirational and highly motivating in-service’‘The best in-service I have every been to- I wish I could inspire my students in the same way’‘Fantastic ideas which I think will be easy to implement’‘The day was very engaging – excited about applying these ideas next week!!‘This in-service has really made me look at and evaluate what I’m doing‘Challenged my thinking into how to deliver a lesson’‘Really thought provoking into the way we teach and the way that students learn in the classroom’Undoubtedly standalone in-service, no matter how interesting will be unlikely to lead to changes in classroom practice unless the culture within the school and the capacity within the staff to embrace new ideas are favourable. In schools time will always be an impediment to the development and embedding of new ideas and initiatives. It is therefore testament to the enthusiasm and motivation of our staff that the practical and usable strategies introduced have been experimented with, developed and refined throughout the course of the year.Following the in-service Prezi which is a cloud-based presentation software that opens up a new world between whiteboards and slides was certainly one of the most extensively explored resources. The zoomable canvas makes it fun to explore ideas and the connections between them, resulting in a visually captivating presentation that lead the audience down a path of discovery.In my end of year review meetings with my staff I was heartened to hear of the widespread application of many of the ideas and resources presented on the day, some of which are articulated in the direct quotes from teachers.‘I’ve used Prezi to revise Hamlet in a higher level English class. The students enjoyed it and also tried to write about the characters in the play. After the presentation I also set up a twitter account and this filters all the relevant documentation I need to keep up to date for my English students’‘I have used Prezi with my 1st and 2nd year History classes. They produced some excellent group projects on the Romans and The Plantations. They enjoyed the process and picked it up really quickly. All of the projects can be accessed via the school’s History blog’‘I used the idea of filming the class acting out an idea, I got my 1st year science class to split into two groups and see who could act out gases, liquids and solids the best. I filmed it on my iPhone and then played it back on the projector at the end of class. It was excellent fun, took very little effort on my part and the students loved it’‘I used the THUNKS by Ian Gilbert (‘a beguiling question about everyday things that stops you in your tracks and helps you to look at the world in a whole new light.’) which generated some very interesting and thought provoking discussions with my class. The depth and creative thinking in some of the responses really surprised me’‘The Planning Sheet for Outstanding Lessons was really good. Using this sheet challenged me to think about my lesson planning in the context of these key questions: How can I ensure students work harder than me?Am I promoting Higher Order Thinking?What choices have I given students?Are students limited in what they can achieve?Is there a range of learning styles?Could ICT enhance learning?‘Most of all I felt the presentation inspired me to be more innovative in the classroom and to be excited about preparing lessons again!’In evaluating Dragonfly Training I would conclude that they meet our brief, understood our context and stimulated the professional dialogue which must continue if we are to successfully respond to the opportunities that the New Junior Cycle Framework offers our students.