Creating leaders of the future, both on and off the pitch
A new GAA programme for TY students is gaining rapid popularity - even in New York, writes Katherine Donnelly
When the country's national sporting organisation and the Department of Education's largest professional development service for teachers comes together on a Transition Year programme, you would expect a good result.
And so it is with the GAA/PDST Future Leaders, which, in a few short years, has captured the imagination of schools nationwide. From its beginnings in one school in 2015, more than 260 schools and 15,000 students are now participating, and more than 1,000 teachers trained to deliver it. Another 100 schools have already signed up for next year. It is even reaching beyond national borders, with six schools in Northern Ireland and two high schools in New York State also running it.
PDST director Ciara O'Donnell describes it as "probably one of the best examples of how an assortment of professional learning types have been applied meaningfully to one initiative".
It all started when Eoghan Hanley, then TY co-ordinator at Gort Community School, Co Galway, got a call asking if he would run a GAA Super Games Centre for first and second years. The suggestion was to run it as a project with his TY students.
Super Games is an initiative to encourage 12 to 17-year-olds to participate in sport in a fun way, driven by an OECD report highlighting how competition and elitism are turning many 12 to 21-year-olds off sport.
Not all Hanley's 56 TY students were interested in the GAA, or even sport, but he saw the opportunity to engage them all. Hanley developed an idea for a mini-organisation to create an All-Ireland Final match day experience: "You need people like coaches, referees, administrators, journalists and a PRO. I said we were going to recreate that and we would need students with various skill-sets to do it properly."
The students self-selected for the various roles and all 56 got involved. "I took a step back and let them run it," says Hanley (below).
Word reached GAA headquarters. "They asked to come down and see it in action. The students explained it to them and I thought that was the end of it."
In January 2016, Hanley responded to a call to make a presentation to a GAA conference and he and his students impressed their audience. A few months later, Jimmy Darcy of the GAA Games Development Committee was in touch saying they wanted to the use it as the basis for a national programme and asked Hanley to work with them. He is now on secondment to the GAA as national co-ordinator.
A GAA Future Leaders strategy group was founded, headed by Seamus Woods, a retired teacher and current chairperson of the GAA Post Primary Schools Council, with teachers appointed as co-ordinators in each province.
It moved up a gear in January 2017 when PDST National Director Ciara O'Donnell was invited to a meeting in Croke Park.
The conversation began around the PDST providing advice on a modular resource ensuring curriculum alignment with the TY programme, "but as the dialogue unfolded, the potential and possibilities for so much more became immediately apparent", she says.
It addressed a number of priorities for the PDST: the promotion of physical literacy as well as education priorities such as STEM, literacy, wellness, business and the use of formative assessment through eportfolio, helping to embed digital technologies into teaching, learning and assessment.
Schools can pick and mix from eight modules - coaching, refereeing, administration, sports journalism, performance analysis, event management, well-being and nutrition. All modules are stand-alone and individually certifiable. Delivering five modules plus the organisation of a Super Games Centre, through the pupils, leads to a GAA/PDST Future Leaders Award.
When registered, each pupil gets an eportfolio to share records and reflections on their learning experience and to submit tasks.
What O'Donnell saw as particularly crucial was the inclusion of a formative assessment mechanism through the use of eportfolio. "It was so timely in view of our extensive work with post-primary schools in the use of efolio as a formative assessment tool." The PDST has upskilled 55 part-time associates to train teachers and work with schools alongside its full-time team.
As an added bonus, students can use their involvement in GAA Future Leaders towards a Gaisce Award.
The potential of the programme has also been recognised by the UCD School of Education, and is offered as an elective on its Professional Masters of Education (PME). The idea was introduced there by Rachel Farrell, former PDST deputy director and now Professional Placement Coordinator on the UCD PME.
'It is one of the best Transition Year programmes for inclusion and motivation'
Principal Brian Crossan is very clear about what GAA Future Leaders offers his school: "It means that I have a TY programme that actively engages students and covers a huge spectrum of interests."
Gort Community School has a strong tradition in hurling and camogie, but Crossan says "we have a percentage of students who might never want to pick up a hurley" and the array of modules offered through GAA Future Leaders means there is something for those students as well.
"It covers everybody - some might want to be match statistician, or a coach, a nutritionist, or a journalist. Everyone gets involved, that is the beauty of it. It is definitely one of the best TY programmes I have seen for inclusion and motivation," says the principal.
Crossan is particularly proud that the programme started in Gort. It is now well embedded in the school.
This year, all 96 TY students are involved and two teachers have been trained to replace its creator, Eoghan Hanley, who is on secondment with the GAA as national co-ordinator.
GAA Future Leaders was put to good effect recently when the TY students ran a games blitz for 20 local primary schools, bringing 450 fifth and sixth class pupils on to its four pitches for a day.
"The TY students ran it, they did everything. If you say to the teachers, 'well done on that', they would say 'the TYs ran it, we just helped'," says Crossan.
He describes it as a really "positive day for the school". Apart from the active learning for his own TY students, he believes the event was important in introducing local primary pupils to post-primary schools, and would help their transition in the next year or two.