Empowering eTwinning Schools: Leading, Learning, Sharing

Máire Jones from Moyderwell Mercy Primary School recently travelled to Rome to take part in the Empowering eTwinning Schools: Leading, Learning, Sharing conference. It focused on the key elements that characterise eTwinning schools, so that they can be further nurtured within and beyond the individual school. 

I am a full-time teaching Deputy-Principal at Moyderwell Mercy Primary School, Tralee in the Kingdom of Kerry. Finbarr Mullins, an eTwinning ambassador who also works at Moyderwell, strongly encouraged somebody in leadership at our school to apply to Léargas as a potential Irish delegate at the Rome eTwinning Thematic Conference 2018. As I am two-thirds of the way through the Centre for School Leadership Postgraduate Diploma, and buoyed up by the eTwinning movement in our school which has project links in many European countries, I decided to put in an application and attend.

I flew to Rome for the weekend before the conference began and had a chance to experience the city as a tourist before I registered for the conference on the Monday afternoon. Almost 250 European Principals, Deputy Principals and eTwinning Ambassadors gathered at the Gregorian University for three inspiring days.

An Inspiring and empowering keynote

Patricia Wastiau, Principal Adviser for Research and Innovation for a European network of 34 ministries of Education, delivered an inspiring and empowering keynote speech. Ms Wastiau spoke about the role of leadership as one that "reveals the leadership of all teachers". Every teacher, whether in a formal or informal role, can collaborate about what to do, reflect and share on what is working well, and thus lead the way for the teacher in the next classroom, teachers in the next school, teachers in another town/village, teachers in another county or country.

eTwinning teachers--who have time and encouragement to collaborate, act upon ideas, reflect, and share learning--can become agents for change both within their school and beyond. Ms Wastiau spoke about evidence of shared, distributed leadership having a positive impact on learner outcomes. She encouraged all participants to "be ambitious and allow all actors to deploy their full potential" because pioneering individuals make pioneering schools which ultimately can influence the education system. She invited all head-leaders to allow and trust their teacher-leaders to head up any project which is aligned to the shared vision of the school community and be involved in the evolution of what the school wants to become. Ms Wastiau warned that restrictive leadership practices weaken school leadership capacity.

Workshops filled with learning

The second day was filled with workshops. I chose to participate in workshops on Shared Leadership Practice, Resilience and Education and Redesigning the School Space. 

It was great to collaborate with delegates from other countries at these workshops and learn that the challenges and possibilities are the same for all of us wherever we are. This is the strength of eTwinning: a problem shared is a problem halved!

photo of teachers

The key learning points for me included:

  • team synergy: If the Principal-leader isn’t a learner, there won’t be learning teams
  • where there is shared leadership practice, leaders of projects will emerge rather than be assigned
  • emergent leaders must be given time to lead/innovate, and the Principal-leader must be creative in assigning time
  • Principal-leaders create resilient communities of learners by:
    • providing positive opportunities for meaningful participation, within a shared school vision (for example, give responsibility and let the person know you trust them)
    • allowing collaborative purposeful, self-motivating practices to take place, including observation, transformative goal-setting, planning, problem-solving reflection and evaluation
    • showing appreciation and giving care and support.
  • if one of the following pillars changes, the other two must also change, i.e. the Time pillar, the Space pillar, the Teaching and Learning Activity/Methodology pillar.
  • facilitated active learning (as opposed to traditional, passive, didactic teaching and learning) requires a shift away from conventional teaching and learning spaces (closed, square classroom spaces) and should build in fluid learning time (as opposed to a restrictive timetable).
  • in the knowledge society, schools must deal with different skills from those requested by the industrial society to avoid a gap forming between the world of education and the social practices of new generations.
  • while traditionally the classroom was the only place for education and all the other spaces in a school (corridors etc.) were subordinate to this centrality, in the school of the future, traditional single-use spaces will be redesigned.

Models for Inclusion and Leadership

Wednesday, the final day, featured two keynote speakers. Paul Downes, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at Dublin City University, addressed delegates on the importance of creating inclusive school environments conducive to learners who are disadvantaged due to ability, socio-economic status, race, or health. He encouraged environments of ‘concentric dualism’, which are interactive, inclusive, open, adaptable and fluid. He warned that if teachers operate in ‘diametric opposition’, which is powerful, closed, non-interactive, exclusive and rigid, their negative attitudes toward the marginalised can create a fertile ground for bullying and exclusion and therefore early school leaving.

Angelo Paletta, Associate Professor of Educational Management at Università di Bologna, gave the delegates a quick overview of three models of leadership--Instructional Leadership, Transformational Leadership and Distributed Leadership--and concluded that Principal-leaders and Teacher-leaders both play a part in forging an effective Leadership Relationship that is crucial for improved learner outcomes.

Building the future together

Anne Gilleran, an eTwinning Senior Pedagogical Adviser to the European Commission in Brussels, closed the conference with words of inspiration and motivation. She encouraged the Leader-delegates present to ‘Build the Future Together’ through eTwinning practices of leading, learning and sharing within schools and beyond. eTwinning is the ideal ground for supporting systemic change through Principal-leaders and Teacher-leaders due to its reflective, collaborative, innovative, cross-sectoral, and transnational nature.

Two other Irish delegates and eTwinning Ambassadors (Glenda McKeown from Wexford, Ronan O’Sullivan from Cork) and I whiled away the last Italian hours at a restaurant in front of The Pantheon, soaking in the buzz, the sunshine and the eTwinning friendship before our return journey.

I was inspired and encouraged by the Rome Conference and found that it helped me make a connection with emerging terminology from our own Department of Education and Skills: schools of excellence, creative schools, inclusion, differentiation, distributed leadership practices, and so on.

The wheel has been re-invented, let’s learn how to turn it together.  eTwinning is the perfect tool.

Find out more

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If you have any questions, contact our eTwinning Coordinators Liliana O’ Reilly and John Taite.

Photos courtesy of Máire Jones. Image credits: Léargas. We welcome contributions to ‘Insights’ at comms@leargas.ie.

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