Professor Peter Finn
Recalling the underlying theme of these workshops, Professor Peter Finn, Principal of St Mary’s University College, Belfast started the day by introducing us to the Irish Gaelic word ‘Nasc’, which means connections, as our theme for the day and recommended the building of bridges to enrich Initial Teacher Education. Peter reminded us of the complexity and sophistication of teacher education – a theme which would be often revisited during the day – and suggested that there is a lack of understanding of this complexity. The core business of teacher education cannot be done in isolation, it has to outreach and relationships must be nurtured to enhance the quality of provision for students. UCET (the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers) is highly valued in Northern Ireland as it provides a bridge to other universities and it is essential that many links are forged. Peter went on to speak of the characteristics of effective connections which involve such things as clarity of purpose, effective decision making, high levels of communication and trust and respect. Finally, looking forward to the future, he first looked back to the Review of Teacher Education carried out in Northern Ireland in 2003. He suggested that unfortunately not enough had come from this and that the time was now right to dig deeper and start again to overcome frustrations and feelings of being ‘left behind’ in teacher education in Northern Ireland.
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To start the afternoon, Gerry Devlin, Senior Education Officer from the General Teaching Council of Northern
Ireland continued the theme of the complexity of teaching by acknowledging the multi-faceted role that a teacher embraces in the 21st century. He introduced us to a project being undertaken at the moment (2011) which is looking at problem-solving as a significant technique in schools. A school or teacher identifies a particular problem, looks for tentative solutions, looks to eliminate errors and then moves on to a new problem. Those involved in the problem form a community of practice ‘ informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise’. Gerry gave delegates a practical example – Pupils in Key Stage 3 don’t work well in groups. The community of practice, brought together by joint interest would research the background and then make tentative solutions to be trialled before moving on to a modified or new problem. Management cannot mandate successfully for this to happen but can create the infrastructure to nurture such communities of practice.
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Tom Hesketh, Director of the Regional Training Unit in Northern Ireland addressed delegates on The Centrality of Teacher Efficacy which he considers to be a key ingredient. The future is about Teacher Education Advancement with the emphasis on advancement. He reminded us of the McKinsey report which seemed to state the obvious by stating that the quality of teaching cannot exceed the quality of its teachers, but this thought is well worth revisiting. He emphasised the importance of leaders who want ‘to make a difference’ to promote efficacy amongst teachers and constructed a diagram of pathways leading to teacher efficacy – from isolationism, insularity and professional impoverishment to collaboration and connectivity. This diagram is best seen through Tom’s PowerPoint which is available below.
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The three presentations thus formed a very thought-provoking backdrop to delegate group discussions where all delegates were given the opportunity to add their comments to the day. Group discussion feedback form