Comparative Education in Ireland

March 13, 7:20 PM

I visited two schools today.  The first one was a primary school and then the second was an all-girls’ secondary school.  The wind, cold, and rain have me feeling a bit run down, and I can’t lie, I wish Lisa or Tina or Melanie or all three took this course with me.   As soon as I got back to the hotel, I walked to the drug store and bought cough drops.  I also keep walking into the Aran Sweater Store and debating about buying one, but they are all so beautiful I can not decide.

I digress, this is supposed to be reflective on comparative education.  The one theme that keeps popping up is mental health issues and extreme anxiety.  It seems that Ireland schools are also seeing a massive increase in mental health diagnosis, special needs with autism and ADD/ADHD and high levels of anxiety. It is not just an American phenomenon. Ireland is initiating a well-being curriculum to address the needs of the students, and the girls’ school I visited has brought visitors in to talk to the students and professional development for the teachers.

What I see that is different is the lack of technology at the fingertips of the students.  Both at the university and the primary and the secondary school taking notes by hand is still required.  Some may be upset by this, but after my neuroscience and creativity course this summer, this makes me happy.

What would I take about today and use it in my district if I were a leader?  I think the idea of professionals coming into talk to students about coping with anxiety.  I would not want it to be a lecture type talk with all the students in a large auditorium.  I think it needs to be more than one day and more than one professional to break the students into more reasonable group sizes.  After these meetings, find a way to determine what students would be interested in spearheading a Be-Well program at the school.  I think this could be a chance for students to become leaders to help their classmates.

What I loved most about today was watching the gym class at the primary school.  It was the beginning of teaching hurling.  I loved how the coach did a follow the leader routine to get the kids to do dynamic stretching.  It was genius.


March 12th the day written March 13.

Day two at the National University of Ireland, the class I attended was on differentiation. I have always had my issues with this concept because since it has been a big push, I feel like there has been a significant dumbing down in the curriculum. I’ve always felt that in differentiation we teach to the lowest because it is too difficult to create ten lesson plans for one class period. We don’t want the brightest to be bored, and we don’t want the lowest to be at frustrational level, I know we need all students at their ultimate instructional level – but when concepts are first introduced everyone would be at that instructional level – it is through informal assessment that we will notice who is independent and frustrational. Instead of looking at if that student is just “not smart or learning disabled, maybe it is just how it was presented. So can’t differentiation be the teacher reexamining the material with the students in a different way? Even those who may be at the independent would not be harmed by looking at a concept or problem from a different perspective.

I think I’m passionate about this issue because when we “differentiate” for the lowest student – we assume they can never grow and as a result, we never push them to see how much they can do. Sometimes I think when you push students to go above and beyond they wi respect you and work for you. Of course, you have to know your students and what they can do.

Ian, the professor, asked the students to take a hard look at the pitfalls of differentiation for just these reasons.

Here were his points from a research book, but I couldn’t see the book title.
Criticism of Differentiation
1. A dilemma in addressing values of equality and individuality
2. Different objectives, tasks, and assessments can devalue a student.
3. limited, narrow curriculum for the student.
4. restriction of students’ future opportunity
5. lower expectations

Ian ended this slide with the quote from the book, “All children are born with potential, and we cannot be sure of the learning limits of any child.”

I feel like all these critiques correctly summarize how I feel. Then, Ian attacked the popsicle sticks system for asking questions. He said it puts students on the spot who may have reasons to not want to answer, one of which might be that they do not know the answer at all or another might be extreme anxiety. I have heard them called equity sticks. I thought this was interesting.

While I was in this class, I just happened to sit with three first-year graduate students who also taught English. One girl just finished having her students complete writing a long fiction story, and the other girl just finished The Outsiders with her group.

We spoke with Jerry again in the afternoon, which I recorded.

Back to town, I took a five-mile walk around the bay and once on the path to the Lighthouse the Gail force winds came out of nowhere. I made it a quarter of the mile, stopped, and decided I did not want to die today and I especially didn’t want to die from the wind blowing me out to sea. I held onto the railing with white knuckles and headed off the lighthouse path.


March 12, 2019 3:00 am

The course I am taking, Comparative Education in Ireland, is not part of the Masters in Literacy Education, but Shenandoah’s Doctoral program in Leadership Education. As a result, I am to reflect on if I were a leader what would I take back or change if I could.

A couple thoughts from today is about the push for one on one technology in the classroom.  The idea is that students do everything on the chrome book the school lends them.  I love technology, but only when it is appropriate for the learning task.  I have seen it just be another form of worksheets – this does nothing for the student especially since they just end up having several tabs open and they are distracted in their learning. Today in the classroom, three of the walls were lined with iMacs, and the students sat t tables armed only with paper notebooks and pens and pencils.  They did not have their smartphones out at all.  What I could do is change the layout of the classroom.  I could have the students begin with their bellringer/writing into the day on the schoology app, and as a teacher, I can time out the beginning assignment at which time the students can bring their laptops to a designated spot in the tables along the walls. I could present the lesson, complete discussion protocols, and when needed the students could go to their laptops for any part of the teaching where research or revising a downdraft or creating a project on the computer is required/necessary.  If I could change anything, it would be to get rid of the one on one and arm classrooms with enough iMacs for 20 students.  Classroom size would be something I would tackle if I were at the leadership level to make the change – the evidence already suggests that between 14-18 students is the ideal size for optimal learning.

Secondly, the transitional year was intriguing to me.  When I taught at the high school level, several seniors had an early release because they had the required course work for graduation and those the didn’t early release goofed off in electives because they were not concerned about their GPA since they knew wouldn’t drop enough, and they could still graduate.  Why not turn this into an intern opportunity for juniors.  They could take half a day – either the morning or afternoon and intern at local businesses.  Finland has a similar program for their at-risk youths, but it doesn’t have to be just for at-risk – it can be a program where the students explore different career choices.  That high school I worked at already had a career day where teachers invited someone from a local business into their classroom to talk about heir career and classes rotated into their regular schedule and listen to talks.  Why not do the same thing, but beforehand the students could create their own agenda through an electronic sign up (maxing out classes) and rotate through.  Then they could have the ability to choose businesses.  Instead of interning in the same company for a full year the school could employ a week at school and then seven weeks at the company and two weeks back at school, then seven weeks at another business.  The two weeks in between would be to complete reflection assignments on their position and then prepare for the next intern.  Since I am aware students also work because they need money, I feel the local companies would have to pay the students as if they were regular employees.

Can change happen?  Last year in Finland one of the attendees was a principal at an elementary school.  She worked hard and went through proper channels and made a change to her school’s schedule.  The teachers and students now have a fifteen-minute recess after a forty-five-minute class.  This is the Finland model, not just for primary, but also secondary. She is on this Ireland trip with us, and though there was initial push back from various other schools and parents and etc., right now her school is seeing an improved attention span with the students and less behavioral issues.  Her school is highly diverse and low socioeconomic status – in other words – the exact type of school that would typically never have an initiative like this happen or approve.  I applaud this principal for witnessing a program that worked and making the change.

March 11, 2019.

Wind, rain, dreary March weather affronted us as we left the hotel this morning, higher winds, sleet, dreary weather accosted us as we left the Galway University this morning.  The workshop and presentation were worth every drop of water that slashed across my face.


We trudged over to one of the buildings at the National University of Ireland, up the stairs of an old building, and into the classroom to eavesdrop into a master students induction on their project inquiry.  The student teaching in this master program is completed in blocks.  I’m not good at remembering numbers, but I think it was four weeks in their grad classes, six weeks in the classroom teaching/working with their cooperating teacher, then four weeks back at the university in class, and back to the same school for another six-week block, and the cycle continues.  Or the four weeks / six weeks are reversed.  The professor, who was very sharply dressed in a tweed, dark blue dress, introduced through power point a basic guideline to the PI and it was a bit of a review from their required reading.  Since I am in the midst of my PI, I appreciated that the outlines and information were very similar to what was presented in my class last fall.

After the prof presentation, the students broke up into groups, and as visitors, we joined the student groups. My professor, J.L. and I were with a group of four students who followed a protocol for discussion and each student, who did not know what their PI was going to be, had an opportunity to discuss their main concern so far in their student teaching.  Then the rest of the students brainstormed ideas to help.  J.L. gave great advice to the students, and I quipped in with some info and ideas.

One student has an Oppositional Defiant Disorder student who is problematic in all classes.  The students never heard of ODD, I told them it is a real diagnosis.  Another student had an autistic student who could not write opinion assignments, so we brainstormed ideas on how to get her to write them. One way he explained what he was doing was by restating “how is your favorite character to “How did the author create his/her strongest character.”  I thought that was pretty good.

Their issues reminded me that students are once again the same all over the world.

When this course was finished, we headed back over to our meeting place for a quick presentation on the Ireland school system.  One of the facts I learned was that the church owns the schools as they are on church land, but the government provides the funds.  This is for 95% of the schools.

Also, where are high school model is only four years from 9-12 their secondary starts at our seventh grade, but after their junior exams which would be after our tenth-grade year, the students have the option to take a transitional year.  This year is a time where they can intern at other jobs, or do other activities out f Schoo and in school.  After the transitional year, they will then complete their senior cycle which is their last two years equivalent to our 11th and 12th-grade year.  As a result, their high school years (our 9-12) could last them five years instead of four years.  That extra year is not seen as a bad thing.  The students don’t feel the need to rush out of school.

I audio recorded the presentation.  It is almost two hours long, but play it on your smartphone while driving or working around the house.  It is worth the listen.




March 10, 11:52 pm

This evening we took a train from Dublin to Ireland. I had the pleasure of chatting away with the natives. When one noticed the tiny chapbook about the O’Shea family, and I told him it is a relative’s last name, and I know through my DNA that my Irish origins are from Munster, he was impressed and said, “Oh, you really are an O’Shea.” Before he exited, he gave me his ticket from the Ireland and France Rugby match he went to earlier today in Dublin. Granted we did discuss the game, but still this small gesture touched my heart, and of course, Ireland won the game. He doesn’t think Ireland can beat Wales in the upcoming match.

A girl who sat next to me, Catherine, graduated with a degree in Marine Science. We discussed the sea life around Ireland: how I may see a pod of dolphins, some small whales, and seals on the ferry out to the Aran Islands. We chatted about how Gaelic and Irish are two distinct languages, but each one has distinct variations in various part of the country. Then the pressure to pass the end of the school exam because your score can determine what college you go to. The test reminded me of the SAT and ACT, but it is their only test. If they do well, they do not have to go to school their last year (senior year), but she said very few students take that option. She lived in Colorado for a while and came away with two ideas about American Education: College is way too expensive in the states and we over test our kids in the U.S.; as a result; we teach kids that learning isn’t about discovery – which steals discovery away from our students. I could not agree more; I love her turn of phrase, “steals discovery away.” She also told me that while living in the states she learned she can not use the word crack because though it has a positive connotation in Galway; it is a very negative word all over the States. Yep, she’s right about that.

Later we discussed the Catholic Irish Guilt – how funny she brought it up as I was just discussing with one of my classmates about New England Irish Guilt. She is what she calls a lapsed Catholic, and her grandfather is very upset with her for that. Through this discussion, she told me about the laundry system. If you are a young girl and you get pregnant you are taken away from your home, and while pregnant you work in laundry factories, After your child is born, it is take away from you, and you go back to your life. She said that so many Irish babies have been brought to America in the early 1900s and that the American Woman would stuff pillows or other soft objects underneath their clothes to make them look pregnant when they arrived in Ireland, and the leave with one of these Irish babies.

Her fame to claim is that her great grandmother helped to weave the carpet that adorned the Titanic. I learned that Bram Stoker was on the Titanic and now I’m angry (but not really) at my eleventh grade English teacher for never telling me.

March 10, 2019 around 4 in the afternoon:

I’m a sentimental person, and Guinness falls under that realm for me and all because of one man: Dr. Woodland.  I can’t imagine my college career without him in it.  I can’t imagine my college career without any of the theatre professors who became an integral part of my life.  Dr. Woodland and Guinness are intertwined in my mind – and when I enjoy a pint, it is Guinness all because of him.

There is the distinct aroma in the brewing process at St. James Gate that reminds me of my home in Summit Point, the smell from the basement as it wafted to the kitchen: the scent of my former husband’s brewing from the added hops we grew along the split rail fence of our front yard.  I walk up the seven floors of the storehouse now converted to a museum and redesigned in the shape of a pint glass, and I immerse myself in the history and raise my toasting glass to Dr. Woodland.

Later, I visited the Book of Kells and the Longhouse at Trinity College and once again, I fell back into the land of imagination and wish I could have been a part of the creation of the Book as I stared into the glass showcase and wondered at the skill and talent of the artists who painstakingly drew such tiny, intricate details.

Upstairs in the Longhouse, a leather musk permeates the air as soon as you step into it.  I fantasize jumping the green braided velvety rope and placing my hands on just one of the books and opening it up to read the mysteries within; instead, I look to the wooden arches bring to the mind ship the bottom hull that protects the contents.

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral I relished the sound of the choir practicing and breathed in the aroma of the earth from the beam and stonework.  I left with a purchased rosary.







Choir practice. I was not allowed to photograph or video the choir, so that is why this is the floor.




March 9,  2019 around 9-10 at night:

Per my class instructions, I need to write each day’s reflections. I have decided to add to the top of the page each day instead of the bottom of the page.

A mystical aura fills the air as I walk around the city. I am standing amid centuries: stories told and others lost forever. I contemplate on the stories we don’t know, the voices drowned through the years, the ones who built the wall to protect Dublin in the 1100’s, the children who suffered at the hands of a church in the not too distant past, the British kings who visited and the real motives behind those visits. The gifts, the wars, the laughter, and the tears, the love, and I’m sure the inevitable infidelity.

I walked through the door of Christ Church Cathedral and wondered in awe of the masonry and the talent and strength to build it, I know it is not the original structure built by a Viking King in 1030, but the site remains the same when the Anglo-Normans rebuilt it in in the 12th and 13th century. How much of the original look remains the same?

After my visit, I walked around the city on this rainy day and found myself looped around and at the St. James Brewery Gates. I didn’t go in, but the gates reminded me of the book In Search of God and Guinness in which I learned of Arthur Guinness’ kind heart and generosity to his workers. He set a gold standard that too many CEO’s fail today.

In the evening after dinner, I studied the angles and perspectives of the streets, a city design I recognize from my time in Prague. I will forever and always be fascinated with how light plays a role in perspective.





On March 8, 2019, I will be flying to Ireland with my graduate class to visit schools in Galway and the Aran Islands.  My goal is to post my daily reflections on this site.  As I ready myself for the trip by reading articles on  Ireland Education and watching Irish movies on Amazon Prime and Netflix, I thought back to my trip to Finland last year.  I made the mistake of not bringing a laptop with me to end the night by posting about the day and downloading pics.  When I came back, I did work on my required presentations to my school, community organizations, and for a school board meeting.  What stood out to me is how Finland relied on 80% lecture notes that the students took by hand. Then there was an individual objective test, which determined what students needed reteaching.  Then an individual project, and then after that was completed a group project – what we refer to as project-based learning.  They reasoned that students needed to know the material before he/she could finish a project on it or even begin to work collaboratively with other students on a project.

I am excited to see what I will. learn in Ireland.


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Can you imagine implementing a 15 min break after a 45 min class here? I advocated for just 5 min for our middle school students and was told that we would need to lengthen our school day. 15 min would be a dream.

Lori Melton
Lori Melton

I agree that teaching mental health wellness to students is increasingly important. Everyone would benefit from learning strategies to cope with stress and anxiety. Everyone benefits from learning basic “mental health first aid,” just as we all benefit from learning first aid in general. I think that is some good, forward thinking by the schools participating, and should be an ongoing topic, as you suggest.