A teacher who had been teaching in the school for quite a long time came to me after there was a tragedy that had recently happened somewhere in the world. The teacher went in that morning asking the children to pray and three of them went over to the corner and knelt down at the window. Nobody said anything or even batted an eyelid. The teacher came to me and said, “Are we not a Catholic school? Is this allowed?” I said not only is this allowed, this is exactly what I want to see happen. Children’s faith and ethnicity are there to be celebrated, not as a mark of difference. The children really don’t see it.
Can you explain your practice of “educational bartering?”
Our school is open 7 days a week; [the buildings and rooms are occupied even when school isn’t in session.] I use a bartering system because I’m more interested in people’s services than their money. Everything from gymnastic coaches, CoderDojo, occupational therapists—no one gives me money for the use of the school. They give their services. The whole idea of educational barter is a very interesting one because you can get a lot more.
I feel that schools should not just be professionally based, with just children and teachers. We should think of the school as a campus, geographically based. I would like to see occupational therapists and speech therapists on site, community welfare officers, school completion programmes, all based around the school community. In developing such a campus, people get to know each other. A lot of problems can be solved by making connections with people.
Can you tell us about some of the other inclusive practices that you promote within your school?
In relation to people seeking asylum, the Direct Provision model where we have people waiting for their applications to be processed for a length of time is always something I felt very strongly about. We’ve had people in the system there for up to 10 years waiting for their application to be processed. We’ve always tried to find ways we could support people in that provision as a school community.
Recently I was struck by the power of food. One of our intercultural days some years ago, people prepared food and I watched the way people interacted around food. They were more relaxed, happy, easy. I’m working with KASI, the Kerry Asylum Seekers Initiative, and we opened a restaurant staffed by volunteers and members of the community who are seeking asylum. The restaurant feeds 75 people a day, at 4 Euro for a meal. The menus are fantastic and it gives people an opportunity to meet the children, to be part of the school community.
At the summit, there will be lots of space for sharing ideas with other Changemaker Principals. This fits into a larger European conversation about how to integrate asylum seekers and refugees. That often comes up in conversations with Changemaker Schools Principals. They are dynamic thinkers who are never just satisfied with an innovative curriculum. They think beyond that to what the school could become.
Exactly. At the moment, in this country we are fascinated by business models being applied to schools, but the truth is that businesses could learn a lot from schools. It should be a symbiotic relationship where we learn from one another. It’s important to see the big picture and not be pigeonholed. I shouldn’t see myself as the principal of a school and just that.
I am also very conscious of the wonderful work of our teachers in welcoming children and helping each child celebrate their unique talents, heritage and potential. I do believe there is a need for more Renaissance thinking among educators. I come from a generation where everybody is a something: “If you’re a teacher you teach, if you’re an artist, you’re an artist - but don’t confuse the two.” People are put in a box. By contrast, people like Ashoka Fellows are really Renaissance thinkers. They look at applying their skills to whatever area has a need.
Find out more about St. Oliver's on their website: www.stoliversns.ie
The Changemaker Schools network now includes over 250 schools in 32 countries! Meet the schools on the website: www.changemakerschools.org