Hi everyone!  My name is Ciara (@ciarasclassroom on Instagram) and I am a primary school teacher who is passionate about multi-denominational, inclusive education in Ireland. In this guest blog post, I am going to be telling you a bit about my experience of working as a teacher in Educate Together schools and will be answering some of the most common questions I get asked.

“What actually is an Educate Together School and how are they different?”

Educate Together (ETNS) schools are multi-denominational, coeducational schools.  They are the fastest growing sector within the Irish education system at the moment.  Educate Together schools celebrate diversity and place huge importance on equality and inclusion.  In ETNS, we do everything we can to make sure that every child and family feels included, represented, heard and valued equally.  The students do not wear uniforms and all staff members are called by their first names.  Educate Togethers are child-centred, democratically-run schools and ‘student voice’ is really important.  There are often many committees and teams for the children to join or to be elected to by their peers, so that the views and thoughts of the students can be kept at the heart of decision-making within the school. Educate Together schools have a great community atmosphere, where staff, students and parents alike are encouraged to explore ideas, share opinions/views and are valued for their unique contribution to the school community.

“What do you teach instead of religion?  What does it include?”

Instead of teaching a religious programme/curriculum, we teach Learn Together.  Learn Together is an ethical education curriculum split into four strands; ‘Equality and Justice’, ‘Morals and Spirituality’, ‘Belief Systems’ and ‘Ethics and the Environment’.  We teach about human rights, religions, environmental care, empathy, cooperation, religious festivals/celebrations, discrimination, values, multiculturalism, ethics, mindfulness and much more, as part of Learn Together.  It is taught for 30 minutes each day.  Learn Together is my favourite subject to teach!

“What made you so interested in working in Educate Together?”

Funnily enough, I actually stumbled into multi-denominational teaching by fluke!  I had attended Catholic schools myself, did all of my college placements in Catholic schools and had worked for two years in Catholic schools, so that was all I ever really knew.  Then, in the hopes of getting my ‘dip’ done, I decided to apply to a school in Dublin and ended up spending two years in a CNS school (another type of multi-denominational school).  I had been a bit apprehensive about it as I worried that it would be completely different but, in reality, it was very similar to everything I was used to, just with much more emphasis on things like community, parental involvement, relationships, empathy and celebrating diversity.  I really liked the multi-denominational and multicultural aspect of teaching in CNS so decided that I’d like to try ETNS too.  I can honestly say that I fell head over heels for the ethos and everything that the CNS and ETNS schools stood for.  Inclusion took on a whole new and more in depth meaning for me.  I discovered my passion for ethical, inclusive and multicultural education and am so grateful for that initial fluke!

“What is a typical school day like in an Educate Together School?

My general day teaching in an Educate Together school is pretty similar to any other teacher’s job in any other kind of primary school; meaning each day brings something new!  We teach all of the same subjects and curricula as other primary schools (except for teaching Learn Together instead of Religion).  From my experience in Educate Together schools, there tends to be a lot of parental involvement, so some days could include having parents in for activities such as Aistear, class talks, workshops, performances or possibly involved in initiatives like ‘Maths for Fun’ or guest reading sessions.  In terms of classroom/behaviour management, we take a very positive approach, with plenty of positive reinforcement, and rely on elements of our ethos in supporting this further.  If/when problems do arise, we spend time listening and talking together about it so we can figure out why it happened and how we can resolve it.  This helps the children to have their voice heard, their feelings respected and then a fair resolution can be decided upon together.  Assembly is quite a big deal in ETNS schools and they usually take place either on a weekly or fortnightly basis.  Classes take turns hosting assembly and performing about a certain topic.  These topics or themes are often related to aspects of the Learn Together curriculum e.g. peace, equality, feelings, human rights, the environment etc.  The kids love assembly days as assembly always has a very positive and celebratory feeling about it.

“Do you celebrate Christmas in Educate Together schools?”

Yes and no.  Just like with other religious and cultural celebrations, we teach about Christmas.  However, unlike Catholic schools, we do not have a nativity, Christmas concert or other faith-based celebrations.  Instead, we would talk about Christmas, what it means for Christians and how people might celebrate it.  The children are welcome to share their religious or non-religious plans for Christmas and/or the school holiday.  Some ETNS schools have a Winter Celebration in December instead of the religious celebrations other schools might have during this time.  For example, last year we held class concerts and each class put on a show for the parents based on a celebration which happens during Winter.  My class did our show all about Hanukkah, while other classes did Kwanzaa, Christmas, the Winter Solstice etc.  Classes also still sing non-religious songs associated with Christmas, eg ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Frosty the Snowman’.

“What kinds of festivals and occasions are usually celebrated in Educate Together schools?”

This varies from school to school and class to class, as ETNS schools often adapt to their own community and the cultures, religions and backgrounds of their students.  As the schools are multi-denominational and multicultural schools there are many events and festivals from all over the world that are marked or celebrated in some way.  Due to the ethos, many days relating to equality, environmental matters and human rights would also be marked or celebrated.  Each year, Educate Together publishes an ethical calendar including key holidays, festivals and celebrations which the schools can use to help with planning for the year ahead.  I’ve included a link below to the 2019/2020 calendar to give you an idea of some of the things we might celebrate and learn about.

Thanks so much for reading my guest blog post all about my experience of teaching in Educate Together schools! For more insights into teaching in Educate Together or to ask any questions you may still have, you can contact me through my Instagram page @ciarasclassroom .  Thanks again for reading!