The annual IPPN conference, the largest educational conference in Ireland, where over 1,200 principals gathered for two days of inspiring talks and networking, was another success. This was my 7th conference and it is a must for any principal. Every year, I review my two days in Citywest, and make comments on my experiences.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Daring to Lead,” and the focus was apparent: tackling principal well-being. During the opening speeches, based on research done by the IPPN, principals were told, in no uncertain terms, that due to the stresses of their positions, they are heading for early graves. It was a stark reminder of how the job of principal has changed in the last number of years. One recommendation to tackle this is a contract for principals. Not many people know that principals have no contract and can be called upon at any time by the their Boards of Management.
As well as well-being of principals, equality for our pupils was on the agenda. Brendan McCabe, the outgoing president of IPPN, spoke very well about inequality in society. He believes that a second year of free pre-school education would narrow this gap and help children to be treated equally in our schools. Paul Colton, Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, continued the theme by saying that the majority must be judged by how they treat the minority. This comment was in relation to access to schooling. With over 90% of schools run by one patron body and with reported cases of children not been given entry to these schools based on their religious-upbringing, this was as relevant to Church of Ireland families, who he represents, as well as people of other faiths and none.
The Expo had some interesting new additions this year including robots, green screens and a new type of maths measuring tool. For some reason, there were lots of different companies selling photocopiers this year – about 7 stands. For me, subscription based online programmes, were the most interesting thing of all. One highlight was Fit 4 Schools, which is aimed at tackling children’s health through a series of lessons and activities for which children receive points. Schools compete with each other in much the same way as Mathletics, MangaHigh or Mathletes do. It’s a really good programme and we’ll be signing up. I’ll review the Expo in more detail in a future post.
Saturday morning opened up with the new Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan. As always, the IPPN conference is a professional and polite place and she was warmly applauded and welcomed. However, it would be fair to say, that Jan O’Sullivan didn’t really say much in her speech. In fact, during the questions and answers, she didn’t really answer any of the questions, except to say that she would think about all suggestions. Seán Cottrell decided not to use his speech to criticise the cutbacks over the years – he is probably sick of the same speech for the last few! – and instead focused on leadership and well-being. The general atmosphere of the room was muted.
As the seminars went by with the usual mix of talks about principal issues, in a tiny room on the first floor of the convention centre at lunch time, the highlight of the conference was going on for the hundred or so principals who were lucky to experience the first ever national PrincipalMeet in Ireland. For just over an hour, principals were treated to the best CPD one can get. 9 principals (including yours truly) gave 5 minute talks on something that they were passionate about. I’m going to write a separate post about this event alone because it was so inspiring. The atmosphere in the room was amazing. All seats were filled so many principals sat on the floor or squeezed in at the back or crammed in the doorway. The talks were full of passion, humour and emotion. The audience was warm, friendly and supportive. I am not the only one who would strongly urge the IPPN executive to support Kathleen Byrne and Ciara Brennan in future years. There is more I could say about this but suffice to say, principals voted with their feet and it would be inexcusable for Principal Meet 2016 not to have a more mainstream billing at IPPN 2016.
This was the first year I didn’t get to the Gala Dinner as I wanted to get home to Emrys and Rozz. The previous night was my first away from them since Emrys was born so I was looking forward to getting back. However, from my principal friends on social media, it looked like the usual mix of food and frolics and a great way to end the two days.
Overall, IPPN 2015 left me with the message that well being needs to be the focus of this year. We need to remember that from the minute our pupils enter the school, some of them will have already had a difficult day. The same can be said for our staff. I picked up some wonderful tips at the PrincipalMeet and will be introducing them in my own school over the coming months. Another tip I picked up from a retired Educate Together principal. She used to go for a run everyday and children were able to join her if they wanted. Since Emrys was born, I’ve found it more difficult to go running and this idea will have the double whammy of looking after my own and their well being too! As usual, congratulations to IPPN for another great conference and I look forward to 2016 already.