Reflections on Féilte

I got an email yesterday from the Teaching Council. After a momentary skipped heartbeat – ‘did I forget to pay my dues? will they cut off my salary?’ I realised it was actually an e-zine with links to a short video recapping on Féilte, the celebration they organised for World Teachers’ Day on the 5th October. They also tweeted out the link and they’re planning for next year already!


It got me thinking about what worked – and what didn’t – on the day and why?

Fintan O’Toole’s keynote address was incredible. I was humbled and amazed that a non-teacher could GET teaching in such a profound way; that a non-teacher could understand and articulate the challenges and the possibilities we face and embrace on a daily basis truly astounded me. Of course, later when the Youth Media Team interviewed him, he told us his wife is a teacher and ye olde cliché “behind every great man…” instantly sprang to mind! If you haven’t watched his speech yet, please do. It’s sooo good, I had a lump in my throat by the end of it.

The rest of the day had a ‘let it all hang out, self-directed learning, mix and mingle and chat’ feel to it that worked up to a point. For those, like me, who had a clearly defined role (I was working with the Youth Media Team, who reported on the day by recording interviews, taking photos, writing blog posts and tweeting) the day passed in a very busy blur. The students I worked with, whom I’d met for the first time the previous night, were amazing! Dedicated, professional, organised, diligent, enthusiastic – and wrecked by the end of it all! As ever, spending the day with Pam O’Brien and Bernie Goldbach was a joy and I got to collaborate with Conor Glavin for the first time in person; our previous interactions had been mostly virtual ones.

I also got to make some great connections outside of the media team, which was fab; to my mind the opportunity to share and learn from other educators is what makes these events so special. Chatting to the @BeoIreland team led to my TY English class entering their songwriting competition (and winning second place!) and I had great fun with the folks @Bridge21Learn. In fact re-connecting with @kevinsullivan79 and organising a visit to Bridge 21 is on my to do list as soon as my TY group finish their current project, which is the Press Pass Initiative.

During the day there were quite a few workshops going on in different locations around the building. I was sad to miss out on these but duty called and for me all in all it was a super day. However, word on the street was that the places in the workshops were limited and the people who didn’t get to deliver or attend workshops had a more mixed response to the event. For the teachers who attended, particularly if they were flying solo (and a lot of people were because attendance on the day was done on a lottery basis), once you’d browsed the stands it may have started to feel like you were just hanging around. In fact, quite a few people left before the afternoon session. I guess they just felt at a bit of a loose end.

As a teacher when you put massive effort into planning a positive learning experience, as the Teaching Council team obviously had, it can be disappointing when it works for some and not for others. I know for me it’s often tempting to ‘blame’ those who didn’t fully engage – an ‘it’s not me it’s them‘ mentality. But imagine for a second that the voice saying this is the devil on your shoulder. And the angel on your other shoulder is saying, reasonably “well, not everyone learns the same way” (proof of this can be found in the crowd-sourced book “How I Learn” launched that very day by its creator Helen Bullock).

Bearing this is mind, I do have a few suggestions for next year.

The first is around helping teachers who have similar interests to connect. When I was at the ADE institute in Cork, we all typed a word or two that represented our main area of interest on our iPads and then held up our sign and wandered the room looking for kindred spirits (I wrote “Film & Poetry” on mine). I don’t see why this couldn’t be done at next years Féilte with paper and markers – in this way you could form interest-based groupings of four or five teachers who could just sit and share good practice with each other for twenty minutes or half an hour – or a lifetime, if the connections stick!

My second suggestion is around the learning spaces provided. Those who were manning a ‘stand’ I’d say felt more like vendors than presenters and for next year ensuring that every presenting group has a discreet space in which to showcase the great work they’re doing is to my mind a top priority. I also think this should be loosely timetabled, perhaps in half hour slots so that the presenters don’t end up repeating themselves ad-infinitum and those who are talking to them don’t feel rushed to get out of the way of the other people who are queuing up to ask questions.

One other option is to borrow an idea from the CESImeet nano-presentations – if each group got 60 seconds on the main stage after the keynote address to quickly introduce themselves, the teachers attending would know which projects were of most interest to them! You could make it fun by having a countdown clock projected onto the screen behind them and a foghorn alarm when their time was up!

Finally, and I’m not even sure if this is an observation that anyone should pay any attention to, because I’m quite ambivalent about the idea of quotas as a concept, but the video recapping on the day was dominated by male voices even though the teaching profession itself is overwhelmingly dominated by females. Perhaps they should dub the voices so the men all sound like chipmunks??? Or just have more female voice in the mix next year…

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the day finally committed to virtual paper so I can close the chapter on this one and hope I get selected in the lottery to attend next year’s event 😉






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