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Dr Johanna Fitzgerald

Dr Johanna Fitzgerald

BA; HDE (UCC); MA Inclusion & Disability Studies (IOE, London) & Ed D (IOE UCL)
Head of Department & Lecturer

Research interests

Johanna's current research focuses on enhancing teaching and learning for all students, particularly those with additional and special educational needs, across three main domains- educational leadership, pedagogy, and teacher professional learning- all of which interact to influence student learning and the quality of outcomes for diverse learners. Her research is concerned with the development of an integrated systematic approach to inclusive and special education provision and an understanding of how special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs) and school leaders can improve their practice. Underpinning her research is recognition of the importance of collaborative and situated approaches to professional learning, processes of individual reflective practice and school self-evaluation, all of which coalesce to identify the need for reform in the first instance, but more importantly, promote evidence-informed strategic direction for whole school improvement.

Current Research Projects

  • Strategic School-wide Responses to Inclusive Special Education: Johanna is interested in the development of school-wide capacity to promote universal approaches to inclusive and special education, with a particular emphasis on integrated systematic approaches. She is currently leading the implementation of a collaborative project across Limerick and Clare ETB which looks at provision mapping as a strategic school-wide response to inclusive provision and involves integration of the Continuum of Support (NEPS 2010) with the Looking at Our Schools Quality Framework (DES Inspectorate 2016). A pilot phase in currently underway, and following review and evaluation, planning for further implementation across LCETB schools will commence.
  • Inter-Professional Education: Inter-professional collaboration for children with speech and language difficulties: speech and language therapists and teachers in primary and post-primary schools; collaborative research and practice project with Department of Allied Health, University of Limerick.  


Commissioned Research Reports

Book Chapter

  • Fitzgerald, J. (2018) ‘Leading Learning for Children with Autism Spectrum Difference’, in E. Ring, P. Daly, and E. Wall (eds.), Autism from the Inside Out: A Handbook for Parents, Early Childhood, Primary, Post-primary and Special School Settings. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Peer Reviewed Articles

  • Fitzgerald, J. and Radford, J. (2017) ‘The SENCO Role in Post-primary Schools in Ireland; Victims or agents of change?’ European Journal of Special Needs Education, 32(3), 452-466.
  • Higgins, E., Fitzgerald, J. and Howard, S. (2015). ‘Literacy Lift-Off: an experimental evaluation of a reading recovery programme on literacy skills and reading self- concept’. Educational Psychology in Practice: theory, research and practice in educational psychology, 31(3), 247-264.

Other Articles

  • Mannion, N. and Fitzgerald, J. (September 2018) ‘Addressing the Wellbeing of Learners with Complex Special Educational Needs: Using Junior Cycle Level Two Learning Programmes for explicit teaching of wellbeing for wellbeing.’ LEARN- Journal of the Irish Learning Support Association, 27-41.

Recent National and International Conference Papers

  • Fitzgerald, J. (January 2019). ‘Leading Inclusive Special Education in Mainstream Post-Primary Schools in Ireland: En Exploration of the SENCO Role’. Paper Presented at International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement, Stavanger, Norway.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (January 2019). ‘Leading Learning for All, Some, and Few: Provision Mapping as Process and Product.’ Invited speaker Education and Training Board Ireland (ETBI) Annual Conference for Principals and Deputy Principals, Carlow.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (April 2018) ‘Looking at Our SENCOs: Leading Learning for Students with Special Educational Needs in Post-Primary Schools’. Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI) Annual Conference, UCD, Dublin.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (September 2018). ‘Leading a Whole-School Response to Inclusive and Special Education in Post-Primary Schools. Invited speaker Education and Training Board Ireland (ETBI) Induction Conference for newly appointed Principals and Deputy Principals, Mullingar.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (September 2018). ‘A job that doesn’t exist’: Isn’t it time to conceptualise the SENCO role in post-primary schools?’. Irish Learning Support Association (ILSA) Annual Conference, Carlow.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2017) ‘Leadership in Inclusive Special Education: A Qualitative Exploration of the SENCO Role in Post-Primary Schools in Ireland’. Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Annual Conference and Expo, Boston, USA.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2015) ‘Special Educational Needs Coordinators in Post-Primary Schools in Ireland: An Exploration of the Role’.  British Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference, Belfast.
  • Fitzgerald, J., O’Sullivan, S. (presenting authors), Daly, P., Ring, E., Egan, M., Griffin, C., Long, S., McCarthy, E., Moloney, M., O’Brien, T., O’Byrne, A., Ryan, M. and Wall, E. with Madden, R.  Research Associate (2015) ‘Teaching and Learning for High School Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Ireland: A National Evaluation of Provision’. American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting, Chicago.

More information

Brief Biography

Johanna  taught in various educational settings both in the UK and Ireland and in a variety of teaching roles for eleven years before being seconded to the SESS as an Assistant National Coordinator with responsibility for the post-primary sector. Since her secondment to the SESS in 2006, and her subsequent appointment to Mary Immaculate College in 2011, she has been involved in the design and delivery of initial teacher education and continuing professional development relevant to inclusive and special educational needs.


  • Bachelor of Education
  • Professional Master of Education
  • Master of Education in Special Educational Needs
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Special Educational Needs
  • Professional Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology

Advisory/ Reference/ Expert Groups

  • Joint Managerial Body (JMB),  Chairperson of the SEN Advisory Group.
  • Limerick and Clare ETB Steering Committee on Inclusive Education.
  • Kerry ETB Developing Schools Enriching Learning (DSEL) Steering Committee.

Community Engagement

  • MIC SENCO Forum: In 2015 Johanna established the Forum with support from the Limerick Principals and Deputy Principals Association. Underpinned by evidenced-based frameworks supporting sustainable professional learning for teachers (Communities of Practice and Professional Learning Networks), the Forum provides networking and professional learning opportunities for SENCOs in the mid-west region.
  • Collaborative JMB/ AsIAM initiative to develop school resources to promote inclusion of learners with ASD in mainstream schools. 

Recent Educational In-Services and Workshops

  • Fitzgerald, J. (January 2019) ‘Support for All, Some and Few: Models of Inclusive Provision in Colaiste Na Riochta’. Whole staff in-service, Colaiste Na Riochta, Listowel, Kerry.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (December 2018) ‘Leadership for Learning: Provision Mapping as a Strategic Whole School Response to Inclusive and Special Education in Mainstream Schools’. Invited speaker, National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) Region 6, Adare, Co. Limerick.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (August 2018) ‘Inclusive Education in Ard Scoil Mhuire: Exploring Co-teaching as an Additional Model of Provision’. Staff in-service Ard Scoil Mhuire, Limerick.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (August 2018) ‘Inclusive Education in Causeway Comprehensive: Exploring alternative approaches to inclusive and special education’. Staff in-service Causeway Comprehensive School, Kerry.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (August 2018) Consultative workshop with the Senior Leadership Team, John the Baptist Secondary School, Co. Limerick ‘Leading a Whole School Strategic Response to Inclusive and Special Education. Castletroy Park Hotel, Limerick.
  • Daly, P. and Fitzgerald, J. (June 2018)The Role of the SNA in Post-primary Schools: Facilitating independence and promoting resilience in students with ASD’. Full day seminar with Kerry ETB SNAs. Castleisland, Kerry.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (January 2018) ‘Looking at Our SENCOs: Developing a Whole School Strategic Response to Special Education Provision in Post-Primary School. Invited presentation to Limerick and Clare ETB Principals and Deputy Principals Seminar, Mary Immaculate College.

Postgraduate Supervision

Current Students

  • O’Keeffe,A. (Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology) 'An examination of the effect of green exercise and nature connectedness on the psychological well-being and attentional capacity of primary school-aged children.'
  • Sweeney, Emma (M Ed in SEN) 'An exploration of ASD special class teacher perspectives of their role in Irish primary school contexts.'

Completed supervisions

  • Mannion, N. (M Ed in SEN 2017) What is the impact of explicit teaching of wellbeing on students’ behaviour in a special school setting?
  • Delahunty, T. (M Ed in SEN 2016) How have the Quality and Qualifications of Ireland (QQI) Programmes Impacted on the Educational Experiences of Senior Students with Mild General Learning Disabilities in Irish Special Schools?
  • Daly, L. (MA in Educational Psychology 2016) Teachers’ Perspectives of Their Role and the Role of Educational Psychology in Supporting Student Mental and Emotional Well-Being: An Exploratory Study.
  • Higgins, E. (MA in Educational Psychology 2014) An Examination of the Impact of a Whole Class Literacy Intervention Programme ‘Literacy Lift-Off’ in an Irish Primary Classroom.
  • Sheehy, M. (M Ed in SEN 2015) Learning Pals: A study of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) to support the development of mathematical skills in a multi-class rural Irish school.
  • McNamara, S. (M Ed in SEN 2014) What impact does an inclusive mathematics comprehension intervention have upon the levels of attainment in problem-solving with children of all abilities in second and third class in a rural mainstream primary school?
  • O’Connor, M. (M Ed in SEN 2012) An Investigation into how a positive Approach to Mathematics will Change the Attitudes of Children with Special Educational Needs and Their Parents Towards Maths in a Typical Rural Irish Primary School.