“Only by trying (and sometimes failing) to be innovative in our practice, do we provide students with the learning experiences and opportunities that we may not have had ourselves. Surely this is what we should be striving for as educators?” – David Walsh, Ireland
As a business student determined to work in the finance sector, teaching wasn’t high on the list of potential professions for David Walsh. “Never in a million years had I believed that I would become an educator,” Walsh tells us. Yet, after securing his coveted first job in Dublin’s Financial Services Centre, Walsh was unsatisfied – and, admittedly, bored.
“No sooner had I begun this career than I realized that it wasn’t for me,” says Walsh. “I had often toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher and of being able to inspire young people to succeed in their lives, but never really pursued it as I felt I had missed the boat on that career having put all my energies into the study of business management and administration.”
When a friend recommended Walsh to her school for a temporary teaching post as maternity cover, he jumped at the opportunity. “Within a week, I had begun my educator journey,” Walsh says. “That temporary maternity cover was 13 years ago and I haven’t looked back since. [It was] the greatest single moment in my life. They say you only regret the things you don’t do, and I know that I am certainly thankful every day to that friend and thankful that I had the courage to take that leap. I have never regretted it and always find myself both inspired and motivated in equal measure.”
As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert who shares his work openly on his blog and through many teaching and learning videos, Walsh is passionate about using technology to help students become self-directed learners. His project at this year’s Global Forum, All You Need to Know about Marketing, is a great example of that work:
Here’s today’s Daily Edventure with David Walsh.
What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?
For me, my defining moment in my career has to be the huge success I had as a School Completion Coordinator. This role involved me working closely with a group of students who are deemed to be at high risk of leaving school early. My role was to be a mentor and advocate for these students. I thoroughly enjoyed this role and was surprised to discover that these students probably taught me more about school and life than I could have ever hoped to have taught them. They were absolutely fantastic young people to work with and among my proudest moments in teaching was witnessing each and every one of them successfully completing their school curriculum and each achieving their potential in their final leaving certificate exams.
That group of students inspired me more than they could ever know and more than I could ever have expected. I still bump into some of them from time to time, and it’s always life-affirming to know that perhaps I played some small part in their success story. For me that is what educators should do first and foremost.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
I am hugely passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom. I firmly believe that as educators, we need to innovate in order to improve our practice and profession. We are custodians of young minds and we have a responsibility to those young minds to do everything we can to be innovative in the way we communicate and share resources with our students. Only by trying (and sometimes failing) to be innovative in our practice, do we provide students with the learning experiences and opportunities that we may not have had ourselves. Surely this is what we should be striving for as educators?
Technology has transformed exponentially over the past 10 or so years, and it has certainly transformed the way I as an educator do my work. When I first began teaching, I used an overhead projector (that was cutting edge back then). Looking back at that time, it seems like the world has changed entirely and of course it has. Nowadays I use a multitude of apps, videos (including those made by my students and me), podcasts, shared documents, shared folders, and mobile and social media to engage and empower students and to provide them with the opportunities to become self-directed learners.
I studied for my Masters in Education Management a few years back and as part of that, had to prepare a teaching and learning project. Despite not having any experience or expertise in the area, I chose to do a project based on student-produced video for teaching and learning. I had an interest in this area and was convinced that it could be a viable way to engage students. I worked with a small group of great students to help them to produce a teaching and learning resource and I was amazed by how successful the medium of video production turned out to be as a teaching resource for me — and a learning resource for the students and their peers.
The video was a simple consumer-based business studies video and it spawned an entirely new project which was a complete website made up of student-produced videos, supplemented with a few of my own teaching and learning videos, too. This project was a great learning curve for me and has been visited by over 250,000 students from all over Ireland and beyond since its inception. This still remains one of my favorite uses of technology.
More recently, I discovered OneNote and have found that, without a doubt, it is Microsoft’s best piece of software. It is easy to use, easy to share and has a huge number of ways in which it can be used for teaching and learning. Currently I use it to deliver a custom-made ebook to my students as well as a shared subject plan with my colleagues. The best compliment I can give it is that it works. When we find things that work, we need to use them.
What’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
Change is always the biggest obstacle for educators to comprehend and to deal with. Currently Irish education is in a period of intense and exciting change. This includes the proliferation of devices and social media, as well as a sea change of attitudes about our shared values of, and vision for, education.
Foremost in my mind with regard to this are the massive curriculum changes taking place in Irish education. The advent of the new Junior Cycle Student Achievement Award firmly sets the principle goal of education as being about providing a positive learning experience for our students. This is a move away from fact-based, rote teaching and learning of the last century and will hopefully ensure that today’s students will have opportunities to build on the 21st century skills (embedded in the course) that they will need in an ever-changing world.
Continuous assessment — assessment for learning and indeed assessment in learning — will be front and center and will mark a hugely positive change in direction for education in Ireland, and for all our students. The biggest obstacle here is that this change coincides with a hugely damaging and demoralizing period of national austerity, where educators’ wages have been cut, work demands are ever increasing and teachers as a body of professionals have at times been derided in the media.
As my nation strives to save money and squeeze efficiencies from public servants, we are slowly but surely beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But morale in teaching needs a boost and perhaps this boost in the national psyche will enable us as educators to be more open to the change required of educators in the coming years. Irish teachers are renowned the world over as being excellent practitioners of teaching and learning and I am sure that we will continue to deliver the highest of teaching and learning standards as we lead the next generation to a stronger future.
What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
Without a shadow of doubt, the most exciting thing for me in education is the new and ever-increasing opportunities for students to use technology to live and learn beyond the confines of the classroom walls. This is the single most important benefit of the technological revolution.
The way in which technology enables and empowers students to independently create their own knowledge is a real game changer, and one which should be fully embraced. Educators are no longer the custodians of information and are no longer the fountain of all knowledge. We are now the facilitators and the conduits through which programs of learning can be channeled. Of course, our role has changed and will continue to change, but the importance of the educator at the center of teaching and learning can never be outsourced to technology.
A constructivist approach to learning which encapsulates technology to empower students is the real exciting, innovating thing in teaching and learning. I would, however, offer a note of caution for educators not to become technology-led. It’s not what technology you use that’s important; it’s what you use it for that counts.
About David Walsh, Teacher and ICT Coordinator
Ratoath College, Ireland
- Birthplace: Drogheda, Co. Louth, Ireland
- Educational background: St. Josephs Christian Brothers School (Leaving Certificate), Dundalk Institute of Technology (Bachelor of Business Studies), National University of Maynooth (Higher Diploma in Education), Dublin City University (Masters in Ed. Management)
- Website I check every day: www.rangwalsh.com
- Favorite childhood memory: Going camping with the Scouts.
- Favorite book: The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Microsoft OneNote (it’s amazing!)
- What is the best advice you have ever received? “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”