'A busy week at boarding school'
MY EDUCATION WEEK: Anne Dowling, principal, Rathdown School, Dublin
We started the week with a maths-themed assembly; 312 students were playing games and doing quizzes before the school week even began. Just as well we’re all hitting the ground running: this is a very busy week in the calendar of Rathdown School.
The girls have a big show to prepare as part of their annual charity drive; a Model United Nations Conference to organise; and a Friendship Week to plan. For my part, I’m engaging with the global student audience to attract more international students to our all- girls’ boarding school. I’m also looking ahead to a year of 40th-anniversary celebrations at Rathdown.
After a meeting with the deputy principal to review the previous weeks’ targets and set new ones for this week, I make for the classroom. I still teach German for a number of hours a week. Even though it’s not easy to make time for teaching amid all the responsibilities of running the school, it’s a great way of staying in touch with the students.
I started the morning with a meeting with our graphic designer. He’s putting the finishing touches to a brochure for students from abroad who are considering coming to Rathdown. This year we are focusing on India and Asia. We already have many European students but we would like an even greater spread. Our boarding school continues to thrive and our international students are an integral part of our boarding community.
Then I had a meeting with Zhida International, an organisation working with the IDA to arrange cultural exchange programmes between Chinese and Irish students. It is hoping to identify schools in Ireland with a caring, supportive environment where Chinese students could integrate easily. This year we have introduced Mandarin Chinese into the curriculum and have forged a connection with the Confucius Institute at UCD. There’s huge potential for Irish education in the emerging Chinese market. These links will be mutually beneficial to both our girls and our future Chinese students.
Finished the day with a student support team meeting involving the school nurse, the head of boarding, the head of learning resources, the international coordinator and the careers guidance counsellor.
Naturally, in a school full of teenage girls, there are always plenty of social issues to address. We keep an eye out for things like excessive weight loss, poor sleeping patterns, low moods, signs of bullying and so on. I find these weekly meeting very useful as they keep me informed of students who I know are not reaching their potential.
The new junior cycle is taking up plenty of time this week and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I welcome the move away from high-stakes exams because there are definitely students who do not perform at their best. Assessment will no longer be something that is “done” to the pupils but will be an integral part of the teaching and learning. However, working out how to make time for teacher-led assessments in an already overcrowded teaching schedule is going to be challenging.
Today we were discussing options for short courses. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has announced that under the new scheme, schools will conduct formal assessments on only a limited amount of subjects – for example maths, English, Irish, a modern language, a science and one or two others – and will offer short courses in other subjects.
Every school is currently weighing up which subjects to examine. It will create competition between schools – if a student wants to study a subject to Leaving Cert, but a school offers it only as a short course in the junior cycle, that may influence her decision to enrol. We are going to have to collaborate with other schools on this one.
We will certainly emphasise ICT in the short courses. All departments are using iPads in their teaching to promote self-directed learning.
I dropped my dog off at the groomers this morning and forgot all about him. My job doesn’t leave much room for extracurricular activities – even four-legged ones. I do make a point of staying off-campus one day a week, so that I can have dinner with my family, walk the dog and catch up with what’s going on at home. My daughter is studying to be a teacher and my son is at college in the Sorbonne. I’ll talk to him on Skype tonight.
I met the student council. The girls are busy coming up with a new motto for the 40th anniversary of the school. We’ve asked our Twitter generation to come up with something appropriate in 10 words or less. “OMG, Rthdwn is gr8!”. Well, perhaps not. They are also working on activities for Friendship Week.
The overall purpose of the week is to get them all working together on various enjoyable activities, and all the while we are reinforcing education around issues such as peer support and bullying.
There’s a limited amount we can do now that so much bullying has moved online. Some of the girls who are not boarders spend enormous amounts of time at home on Facebook and other social networking sites. We encourage parental supervision around online activities.
I don’t get much time for television but I try to catch the European news channels (especially French and German) and the Irish news. The discussion around State funding for private schools rages on but I don’t hear much about what will happen if the subsidies are taken away. If the students have to move to State schools, how will that alleviate the Government’s financial problems?
I don’t think this argument has been emphasised strongly enough. It’s not true that all private-school students come from very wealthy backgrounds. Research has shown that 33 per cent of students attending private Church of Ireland schools such as ours are struggling financially.
Spent some time watching the students rehearse for their upcoming show, Ali Baba and the 40 Bankers. To date the girls have raised over €140,000 for a number of charities. This year the girls’ chosen charity is the Christina Noble Foundation. They’ll be hard at work all weekend so I will probably spend a lot of my time here too. There’ll also be hockey and basketball matches, a meeting of Model United Nations on Saturday, supervised study and a cinema trip.
We have over 25 extra-curricular activities including Lego Club, language debates, yachting, horse-riding, opera and dance. About one-third of our students are boarders and about a third of those are here seven days a week so the school never sleeps.
Except at lights out.
This week I was . . .
Reading: The Girl from the Chartreuse by Pierre Péjus and Flourishing by Maureen Gaffney
Watching: Downton Abbey (with Maggie Smith)
Listening to:Lyric FM, Newstalk, Oceanic by Vangelis
Visiting: The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to examine templates on short courses for the new Junior Cycle Framework