'If their well-being isn't good, it is going to be really difficult for them to learn'
From a dedicated, quiet-time Zen room to industrious student-led workshops, Dublin's Coláiste Bríde is constantly coming up with new ways to support pupils' emotional needs and their academic success, recognising strong links between the two.
The Learning Hub was introduced this year. It takes place at lunchtime, every Monday and Wednesday, with student 'learning leaders' hosting workshops on study skills, well-being and exam preparation for their peers.
"This is student-led learning at its best," says deputy principal Louise Ronan.
Kellieann Gallagher is one of 24 learning leaders, appointed after a selection process. "We applied if we thought we were able to do it. I am in fifth year now, and I have done the third year 'mocks' so I know where I am coming from if I am giving advice to other students."
Another learning leader, second-year student Liepa Andrultye, speaks about how the Learning Hub uses a peer-to-peer, speed dating-style approach to help exam candidates prepare for the orals, by practising questions and answers with them
English and religion teacher Catherine Kelly also has responsibility for awards, rewards and motivation. In that role, her job is to encourage student learning across the school, "but I would find if their well-being isn't good, it is going to be really difficult for them to learn".
She introduced monthly pop-up stations, around the school. Ahead of Valentine's Day, students, or teachers, passing the well-being station were handed messages from the 'jar of love'. The learning stations seek to arouse students' curiosity by, for instance, handing out mind maps, which, in turn, may prompt attendance at the Learning Hub.
On the day schools closed for the midterm break, there was a huge turnout from third years for workshops to help them reflect on the 'mocks' and to think about their subject and Leaving Certificate programme choices for senior cycle.
This year, schools are getting the benefit of a lifting of a moratorium on filling middle-management posts, imposed at the height of the financial crisis.
Louise Ronan says the appointment in Coláiste Bríde of two new deputy principals "has created space to enable our school to embed these new initiatives. A focus on improving teaching and learning, reflecting on where we are at, and identifying gaps which we can improve on, is part of our everyday school practice".
She says that leading teaching and learning to support the implementation of the new junior cycle is vital to the success of that programme, as is prioritising professional development of staff to ensure they are confident with the changes.