At my first staff meeting as Principal of RETNS came the annual question –“ What will we do for Winterfest this year?”
“Maybe it’s time for another whole school performance,” said one voice.
“Yes, why don’t we do that,” said another.
“Are you sure?” I cautioned, being new to the job of Principal and wanting to make sure they wouldn’t take on too much. After all, it’s not an easy job taking on to do a whole school performance in a primary school while still carrying on classes as normal. But they were sure. “It’ll be good, let’s do it.”
Once the idea took root it couldn’t be stopped. And so, with everyone’s agreement, Winterfest 2013, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was born.
We had the idea so now we needed a script. A team volunteered to work on that and adapt the story for our school. I’m reliably told they were up until after midnight on a Friday night getting it finished! As always our main priority had to be having something in the show for each and every child in the school. But there were also some main parts to fill – so next came the auditions. For days children were practising lines, dancing and singing at every opportunity, in the hope of getting their chosen part. In the end I’m sure there were some disappointments as the staff felt that there was just so much talent to choose from. Still, all the children knew there would be something for everyone, and they were all happy to proceed.
Once the parts were decided rehearsals began, while behind the scenes the Willy Wonka factory cranked into operation. A call went out to parents for help with the costumes and props, and did that help come! Before long there were groups of parents in the multi-purpose room making buttons, groups of parents on the stage assessing what would be needed by way of scenery and props, groups of parents meeting in houses to discuss what they could do to help. It soon became a whole-school community in action. While regular classes were still continuing for the children, a whole flurry of activity was going on behind the scenes! We even had an unexpected offer of help with the dance routines, which we gratefully accepted. Catherine worked with some of the classes and turned ordinary dances into something amazing!
As the day of Winterfest approached the activity intensified. Teachers and SNAs met on numerous occasions after school to clarify progress and iron out any problems. Nothing was too much to do in an attempt to put on the best show possible and to give the children as much enjoyment in the process as possible. With all hands on deck, last minute frantic efforts were made to get everything finished. I’m sure at home nerves have been frayed and patience tested, but it school everyone has remained calm and good-humoured. It has been real teamwork at its best!
And finally the day arrived. From the opening curtain it was obvious to see that all the hard work had paid off. The backdrop and props were stunning, the costumes amazing, and most importantly, each child on the stage felt special and proud to be part of the performance. Thanks to the hard work of the production team, the children’s voices were clearer than ever, they moved expertly on stage, they sang and danced beautifully, and above all they thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.
On Friday December 6th we held a special Whole-School Assembly to introduce our recently trained Anti-Bullying Ambassadors to the rest of the school and to launch their campaign to help create in our school an atmosphere of positive relationships in an effort to have a bully-free school.
In the days prior to the assembly, posters with smiley faces had been mysteriously appearing around the school. Any adults who were asked about them, strangely did not seem to know what they were about, so the children engaged in much speculation! At the assembly each Ambassador came up to the stage in turn, wearing a t-shirt with a smiley face. They introduced themselves, then referred to the posters and explained that they were part of the launch of their anti-bullying campaign. They engaged with the children, asking them questions about bullying and explaining about different types of bullying. They then did a short sketch with the strong message: “It’s good to tell!” Finally, they explained that there was a smiley face sticker for everyone caught smiling at lunchtime!
Role of the anti-bullying ambassadors.
Some of the anti-bullying ambassadors had been confused about their role initially, as they felt that there really is no bullying in the school. As we teased out the issue, they accepted that occasionally subtle bullying can be going on and they realised that their role is to help build positive relationships within the school and an atmosphere where no bullying of any sort will be tolerated. Once they had established their role, the members of the team took on this role with great enthusiasm.
The Anti-Bullying Ambassadors will continue to meet during the year and they have a number of other initiatives planned to keep the momentum going and to build a truly positive school atmosphere where bullying won’t be tolerated by anyone.
In September 2013 the Department of Education and Skills issued new anti-bullying procedures to be followed by all schools. The main key principle outlined in these procedures as being best practice for both preventing and tackling bullying is “a positive school culture and climate”. The very successful Anti-Bullying Campaign, started in 2003 by Seán Fallon in Coláiste Éanna, has recently been extended to include a programme for primary schools. The Anti-Bullying Campaign has a two-strand approach. Strand 1 raises pupils’ awareness about the nature and unacceptability of bullying, enabling them to Recognise, Reject and Report bullying when they see it. The campaign recognises the invaluable role which pupils play in this process. Strand 2 offers a six-step approach to dealing effectively with alleged/suspected bullying situations. Central to this strand is the Reform, not Blame approach, which overcomes the ‘no ratting’ culture and empowers pupils to report bullying without fear of any backlash. Our anti-bullying ambassadors were introduced to the key principles of the anti-bullying campaign at their training day and we hope, through creating a positive school culture that says an emphatic “NO” to bullying, and by encouraging pupils to tell if they are a victim of or see bullying, that we can have a school that is a complete bully-free zone.
Parents will be updated as our campaign continues in the New Year.
On Saturday, November 23rd last, Mary Griffin and myself set off into town to attend the annual Educate Together Ethos Conference. As we gathered in the foyer of the National College of Ireland for pre-conference coffee we had a chance to meet some old friends and become acquainted with many new faces. Over 90 people attended the conference this year, which the organiser, Fionnuala Ward, said was “a real testament to the Educate Together model and to the importance placed on ethos within the sector.”
The opening address of the conference was given by Frieda McGovern, former Principal of North Bay Educate Together and co-author of the Learn Together programme. Frieda presented the findings of her doctoral research on experiences of minority ethnicity children in Irish schools. Frieda pointed out that most schools have anti-racism policies and would aim to be inclusive but there is a need to interrogate attitudes and create proactive initiatives. She emphasised the need to create a critical Intercultural curriculum and to be aware of the centrality of the children’s voices. She gave some practical suggestions which we took back to school and will consider as a staff.
Frieda’s address aroused some interesting discussion from the floor. One participant, who identified herself as being Pakistani/Irish, talked of the importance of the language we use, particularly the use of the term “non-national” as a blanket term when referring to those of a minority ethnicity.
After Frieda’s address there was a brief discussion on review of the Learn Together curriculum and a proposal that there may be a change of language regarding the core principles. In order to get the best possible feedback from the whole Educate Together community on these issues a preliminary meeting is to be held in February with a view to formulating motions to bring to the AGM. ET would like representatives from each school community to attend, and we would hope to have a good contingent from RETNS at the meeting. With the announcement of Educate Together second level schools there will also be a need for widespread consultation and discussion throughout the ET community as to what the second level ethical curriculum will entail.
The conference catered for all partners in the education process and there were different sessions and workshops for teachers, boards of management and parents. A call had been sent out prior to the conference for discussion topics for the teachers’ workshop and a number of very interesting and topical subjects came back in, which gave rise to much sharing of practice among different schools. This workshop provided a great opportunity to hear how other schools have dealt with certain issues, was helpful for emerging ET schools to “pick the brains” of more established schools and gave everyone a chance to pick up new ideas to try out.
After our participation in many different workshops and our “networking” opportunities over lunch, Mary and I definitely came home from the conference with some food for thought for RETNS!