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Blog 3 – Máire O’Higgins, Teacher

Education - Reimagining Education with the pupils from Larkin Community College. Copyright Tom Maher, photographer in residence at the Gaiety School of Acting

Máire O’Higgins
Máire O'Higgins

Máire O’Higgins is a teacher and an Assistant Principal at Larkin Community College Dublin 1. She also coordinates partnerships for the College and is the school Chaplain. Máire is 26 years working in the north east inner city. Before she became a teacher she worked as an actor and a Theatre Director.

Larkin Community College is a second level CDETB DEIS Band 1 school in the north east inner city of Dublin. It is a co-educational school with 430 students and a staff of 48. Students come from all over areas of socio-economic disadvantage in Dublin to attend the school. We are a mainstream school. We offer Arts, Soccer, Basketball and Academic Scholarship Programmes.

In the first of her blog series Máire discusses funding, partnership and documentation as part of the Theatre Making and Citizenship Programme with the Abbey Theatre.


Thursday 26th January 2017

Planning is crucial when engaging with partners. However, to paraphrase the poet Robert Burns, ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!’ Flexibility is paramount.

As our project has progressed we have been mindful of how best we can deliver on our aims and objectives for the project while adapting to suit changing scenarios during the project.

To this regard, in the time that we have been working on the project a few things have happened.

We have had to say goodbye to one of the Gaiety School of Acting facilitators, Gillian Mc Carthy.

We have struggled to connect with the organisers of TED ED TALKS with whom we had hoped to record the manifestos for the project. We have decided to make our own video of manifestos. The Gaiety School of Acting have a resident photographer / videographer Tom Maher. Tom will lead the video making for the exhibition for the project.

Another development that has impacted on our project has been the announcement by the Government in December 2016 of a five-year initiative, from 2017 to 2022, which places creativity at the centre of public policy. In line with this exciting initiative, which is called Creative Ireland, we have refined the scope and the theme of our partnership project to the following:-
“Reflecting & Re-Imagining Creative Education for a Creative Ireland -One school’s perspective.      

Reflections and Blue Sky Thinking with students, staff, partners and friends of Larkin Community College in collaboration with the Gaiety School of Acting.”

Creating Manifestos

And so we are in the throes of preparing manifestos and performance pieces on this theme for presentation at the Mill Theatre in Dundrum on Thursday the 30th March.

Eighty 1st year students are working on drafts of their manifestos.

They have started by looking at what they dislike about the school system they are currently in.

Here is a flavour of their complaints:-

School furniture is bad for your back! Why can’t students spend more time outdoors during school time? Schoolbags are too heavy! Why do we do so much homework? Why is the school day so long? Why do we spend so much time at a desk writing?
The students have solutions: moveable walls that change colour to suit the lesson; green for storytelling, white for writing solutions to Maths conundrums, blue for meditation. Leather chairs on wheels. Green spaces to break out into every hour and so on…. 
Now that students have had an opportunity to voice their objections to the systems as they are in education, they are currently working on blue sky thinking to re-imagine an education that they would like for secondary students in Ireland.
The next phase of our work will be to edit, rehearse and combine their manifestos to create performances and presentations.

Devising performances

The Arts classes are working with Michelle Fallon to dramatise their perspectives on education – then, now and in future.

This is an extract from Michelle’s documentation of the process:-

In Tuesday’s classes, I asked students to create a monologue/speech around their own perception of education. To begin with I asked them to think of a hook to draw in the attention of an audience- so a funny personal anecdote/ statistic/personal opinion/rhetorical question or quotation etc..  A lot of interesting opinions about their own educational experience to this point, emanated from this discussion.                                                                                                    

Next, I asked the students to think about the education they received during their primary schooling and compare and contrast what they thought were most and least effective and what elements of primary could be easily adapted to their secondary schooling to make their experience less restricted.     

I then showed them the short video ‘I sued the school’ and this generated further discussion. One of the first years said it gave her goosebumps! 

Perhaps we could do something similar in this particular vein?

Michelle went on to write:-
These are some of the issues that were highlighted by Tuesday’s classes:

  • Multiculturalism not reflected in the curriculum content ex: mostly Irish poets/novels studied at Junior Cert Level.
  • Most teachers within Larkin are of Irish descent – sometimes hard to relate to.
  • As a teacher, I made the point that the Leaving Certificate poets/texts that I am currently teaching, are the same ones that I was taught over 15 years ago.
  • Structure of classrooms hasn’t changed within 150 years – they were deemed rigid and restrictive. Students preferred sitting at round tables or in groups like in Primary school.
  • Interesting to note, students missed ‘golden time’ most from their primary education – whereby they could have an hour to themselves to do what they enjoyed doing- an award for good behaviour.
  • Students also appreciated the ‘Friday off homework’ notion in Primary school. They believed that it was recognition of a week well done and an incentive to complete all homework from Mon-Thurs.
  • Grading system wrong- students felt defined by the grade/letter they received in their exams. They admitted that one letter can completely transform the way they look at themselves and their self esteem.
  • Unhealthy competition to achieve these self defining grades.
  • Collaboration was deemed to be more beneficial than competition.
  • Confines of the examinations system – students felt it unfair that good work/behaviour/participation/dedication could be measured at the end of five years by a 2.5 hour exam. Structure too rigid and does not allow for personal issues, bereavement, illness, anxiety, nerves on the actual day of the exam.
  • Students believe that the exam system in place doesn’t cater for multiple intelligences.
  • We looked at the educational system in place in Finland and how it compares to ours(I think we’ll spend a class looking at Finnish schooling as they were quite interested ). I also think it might be fun to have an ‘Ode to Finland’ within our content!
  • I think that was most of what came up. However, they were to finish for homework so there might be more!
    Out of the research that Michelle and her students are doing, Michelle and Liz Tyndall from the Gaiety School of Acting will help students to create a script for the devised pieces.

Another new partner – the local Elderly Day Care Centre

Michelle took her 3rd year Arts class to the Lourdes Day Care Centre for the Elderly to conduct interviews around education in the past. The class will then compare and contrast the perceptions of now and then in other Arts classes.

And another new partner!

Two teachers from the Art Department in the school have now come on board with 1st year and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students and they are preparing artworks to respond to blue sky thinking about what an ideal education might look like.

Early February 2017

The team of teachers and partners from the Gaiety School of Acting are meeting with Kate Canning who is the Manager of the Mill Theatre, to decide on layout, structure and design for our event.

The challenge for us for the next few weeks is to find cover for teachers so that they can continue to work together on this project. This is an ongoing challenge in education. Collaboration, team teaching and cross curricular learning are central tenets of good educational practice but in reality these are hard to manage and cost a lot of money as substitution has to be provided for teachers so that they can meet to collaborate and plan ahead. Our staff members are good at working this way and teachers are kind and generous with their time and willingness to facilitate these processes.

A voice for everyone

In the video we are hoping to include the voices of teachers, students, partners and friends of the school. We would like them to articulate their ideas for an ideal education.

An invitation will be sent by email to all staff, students and partners asking them to respond in 1 minute on camera, to the statement:-
“Reflecting & Re-Imagining Creative Education for a Creative Ireland -One school’s perspective.”    – my thoughts (1 minute)

They will also be asked if they might like to create a visual response to the theme.

We will include their responses in the exhibition in the Mill Theatre as part of our project outcomes. The exhibition and the performances will showcase our school’s perspective on the potential future of education.
 Save the date…. Thursday 30th March 2017 1pm in the Mill Theatre Dundrum….



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