MIC Thurles students were in Boston College recently taking part in a two week field trip - the first of its kind for MIC post primary student teachers.
Accompanied by Dr Aimie Brennan, third year students Catherine Barrett, Rebecca Fisher, Bryan Hallissey and Maria O’Connell embarked on the two week, fully funded trip, which according to MIC’s Dr Finn Ó Murchú, Head of School of Education (Post-Primary), marks “a significant time in MIC Thurles’ history and post-primary teacher preparation programmes.”
Designed in conjunction with the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, the focus of the trip was on inclusive learning. According to Dr Brennan, “the two-week programme was specifically designed to complement our third-year education module, ‘Diversity in Education’. The visit aimed to broaden students understanding of inclusion by clearly linking theory and practice; by giving students an opportunity to experience teaching and learning in a variety of different contexts; and by encouraging them to reflect on what it means to be an inclusive teacher.”
Week 1 focused on practice with MIC students visiting four schools in the state of Massachusetts to engage in observation and shadowing. Amongst these was a trip to the ‘Campus School’ located on the grounds of Boston College and which caters for children aged between 3 and 21 with multiple special educational needs. During the visit MIC students were given the opportunity to observe the use of cutting-edge technology; camera mouse and eagle eye, which allows non-verbal students to communicate and participate in learning activities. You can read about week 1 in more detail below.
Week 2 of the trip saw the focus change to theory, with MIC students attending a series of bespoke seminars with professors at the Lynch School of Education. Professors Richard Jackson, Susan Bruce, David Scanlon and Bottema-Buetel met with the MIC group to discuss ‘effective inclusive classroom instruction for learners with dyslexia’; ‘assistive technology and universal design for learning’ and ‘students with autism spectrum disorder’. See below for more detail about week 2 of the trip.
While staying in Brighton, the college district in Boston, MIC students were able to explore the city. During their stay, they visited the site of Boston’s first public school, the Freedom Trail, the Prudential Skywalk, the USS Constitution, the Boston Tea Party Museum and Harvard University. Students were also invited to attend a BC Eagles Ice Hockey game in the Boston College Alumni Stadium, they got a tour of the Boston College Campus and attended a student social where they linked with other student teachers.
Building partnerships with international institutions is a priority for MIC Thurles and this first visit marked an important milestone in that journey. It is hoped that the new links between Boston College and MIC Thurles will provide opportunities for students from the US to visit Ireland, and for staff to engage in professional exchanges. Dr Brennan said, “our visit to Boston College certainly strengthened the partnership between MIC and the Lynch School of Education. I had the opportunity to get to know international colleagues who I look forward to working with and welcoming to Ireland in the future.”
Students in MIC Thurles are excited about the prospect of travelling as part of their initial teacher education programme. Providing opportunities to study abroad can enhance students learning and development. “Over the course of two weeks, our students have learned the importance of context in education. They identified differences and similarities between the US and Irish education systems which raised questions and sparked interests. It has been a pleasure to have conversations with them about teaching, and to see their thinking evolve. They were wonderful ambassadors for MIC”, said Dr Brennan. One participating student highlighted the benefit of the trip for the whole campus, “It is great that MIC Thurles provides so many opportunities for students to learn and engage in inclusive and diverse classrooms. The methodologies and ideas that we have learned about over the past two weeks will be shared throughout the whole campus, so that everyone benefits from the experience we gained,” Marie O’Connell.
Dr Ó Murchú envisages that this will be the beginning of a range of exchange programmes between both colleges, saying, “our students are encouraged to see themselves as global citizens and already we have additional plans to offer ongoing opportunities to travel and learn about themselves and others, in the context of our post-primary teacher education programmes across Business, Gaeilge, Mathematics, Religion and Accounting. We would like to thank our colleagues in the MIC International Office and in the Lynch School of Education, Boston College, for helping to facilitate this wonderful learning opportunity.”
Week one in detail: Practice
The first week of the visit was dedicated to practice. Christine Power, the Director of Practicum and Partnership in Boston College arranged for MIC students to visit four schools in the state of Massachusetts to engage in observation and shadowing.
The first school visited by the group was the ‘Campus School’ located on the grounds of Boston College. The Campus School caters for children aged between 3 and 21 with multiple special educational needs. MIC students met with Barbara Cataldo, new Director of the Campus School, and observed the use of cutting-edge technology; Camera Mouse and Eagle Eye, which allows non-verbal students to communicate and participate in learning activities.
Students spent a full day shadowing postgraduate student-teachers from the Urban Catholic Teaching Corp (UCTC) in Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree. An independent Catholic School, Archbishop Williams caters for children from 7th to 12th grade. MIC students had the opportunity to assist with station teaching for children with English as an Additional Language. The student teachers in the UCTC welcomed students to stay with them in Brockton for three nights during their stay where they learned what it’s like to be a student-teacher in Massachusetts.
The third school visited was Blake Middle School in Medfield. School Principal, Nat Vaughan was very generous with him time, as he brought students to observe team teaching at grade levels 6 to 8 and explained the ethos and innovative approach of the school. With an Elementary, Middle and High School on one campus, Blake has an interdisciplinary team approach to education. Students were given the opportunity to talk with teachers and inclusion specialists about their practice.
The final school visited by the group was St Columbkille Partnership School in the Allston – Brighton area. A Catholic school for children from Pre-K to 8th grade, St. Columbkille recently received ‘laboratory school designation’ linking it with Boston College. MIC students were greeted by Principal Bill Gartside who introduced them to the whole child mission of the school and the concept of a laboratory school. Students then spent the day visiting classrooms, meeting teachers and learning about new resources – including virtual reality goggles.
Spending time in schools in Boston was a hugely formative experience for MIC students. Participating student, Bryan Hallissey said “going to Boston was an eye opening and insightful experience that taught us so much about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the classroom and school. The trip has inspired me to try and ensure that everyone in my future classrooms feel welcomed and included at all times.”
Week Two in detail: Theory
During the second week of their visit, MIC students attended a series of bespoke seminars with professors at the Lynch School of Education which focused specifically on the theory and practice of inclusion. Professors Richard Jackson, Susan Bruce, David Scanlon and Bottema-Buetel met with the MIC group to discuss ‘effective inclusive classroom instruction for learners with dyslexia’; ‘assistive technology and universal design for learning’ and ‘students with autism spectrum disorder’. In these private seminars, MIC students had the opportunity to share their learning from Ireland and ask questions about Federal and State legislation at the heart of MA inclusive education. Participating student, Catherine Barrett said “Studying at Boston College has given us the opportunity to compare and contrast the Irish Education system with the American Education System through the lens of Special Education and Inclusion. The experience and insights gained will forever shape the way we teach and how much we value an equal and equitable education system for all.”
During their time on campus in Boston College, students also had the opportunity to join undergraduate and postgraduate students in whole class lectures. MIC students attended lectures by numerous Professors in the Dept. of Teacher Education, Special Education and Curriculum Instruction (TESpECI) in the Lynch School of Education. Classes included ‘Teacher and Education Reform’, ‘Teaching and Learning in Inclusive Secondary Education’ and ‘Religion in American Public Schools’. Professors went out of their way to include MIC students by providing readings, lecture notes, course materials and inviting them to participate in whole class activities. Participating student Rebecca Fisher said “From the moment we set foot in Boston College all the staff went above and beyond to welcome us into the college community. They made it their personal mission to ensure we had all we needed during the two-week period. Whether it was a Luna bar or directions, they were willing to give a helping hand or just simply a hello.”
Find out more about the School of Education (Post-Primary) at MIC, St Patrick's Campus, Thurles here.