Cookstown Principal on learning trip to Washington

Stuart Carrick, Fiona Smith, Keith Wright, Gillian Hay and Sean Mc Morrow met at the British Council offices in Belfast prior to their departure to the United States. Here they were briefed on what to expect on the week-long study visit - which was entitled, Narrowing the Gap.

Stuart Carrick, Fiona Smith, Keith Wright, Gillian Hay and Sean Mc Morrow met at the British Council offices in Belfast prior to their departure to the United States. Here they were briefed on what to expect on the week-long study visit - which was entitled, Narrowing the Gap.

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ONE Cookstown teacher has returned home from the United States after taking part in an international study visit.

Kenneth Wright, Principal at Orritor Primary School in Cookstown, spent a week in Washington DC, learning from US colleagues and peers and developing new insights, understanding and ideas.

Organised by British Council Northern Ireland — UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations — the visit, entitled Narrowing the Gap, aimed to help teachers find ways to engage parents and the community through after school programmes.

Kenneth, who has been a principal for 24 years, felt he got a lot out of his visit to the American capital.

He said: “it was fantastic to be able to visit other schools and see how they work – to experience their ethos and culture, and to see staff dealing with the same types of problems as we have. The opportunity to visit Washington was amazing and I definitely now feel more rejuvenated in the classroom.

“On a cultural note, it was great to be able to visit Washington and take in the scenery and the American culture during our time there. We managed to visit most of the monuments and buildings that Washington had to offer – albeit a whistle-stop tour of some of these.”

For Mr Wright, the biggest difference between American schools and those in Northern Ireland is resources.

He said: “In the US they seem to have a lot more staff, money and access to technology, but this is something we can do little about. Each class had two qualified teachers, and in some cases a classroom assistant also!

“I however enjoyed our visits to see the children working and the opportunities to chat and discuss various things with staff there. I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the teachers, all who seemed so young in the schools we visited, with very few teachers over about 45. It’s given me a lot of ideas for the future, perhaps just a little bit of creative thinking is needed!

Mr Wright and Orritor Primary School are not new to internationalising their curriculum, having previously been involved in a number of British Council projects.

He said: “My school has been involved in the Comenius projects for four years and I value the benefits of these visits – both for myself and other staff. I find that after a visit the staff returned refreshed and enthused about what they have seen. It has given them food for thought or affirmed their own practices. It has broadened their outlook on education as a whole and not confined their thinking to their local provincial context or the next inspection. I undertook a job shadowing programme with another principal to Portugal last year, which I found very enlightening, and I would encourage any teacher to do likewise.”

Past study visits that teachers have taken part in through the British Council include learning about leadership in Zhejiang, China; numeracy skills in Kolkata, India and the theme of Leadership in New Orleans, in the US.

Speaking about the importance of International Study Visits, Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director at British Council Northern Ireland said: “International Study Visits aim to inspire new approaches to teaching across the curriculum. It’s great for teachers from Northern Ireland to learn from colleagues and peers in another country and to develop new insights and understandings.

“Visits like this are extremely important for actively raising the awareness among teachers about the importance of sharing ideas and information on a global scale.”