Through the lens of an educator

"The encouragement of a teacher can be the inspiration for a student to persevere in the midst of harsh surroundings. It is a mission."

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Nena HoustonDuring the past few days, we have visited three schools and Stranmillis College. One purpose of our trip is to continue the relationships that were built during the last visit, as well as plan for next year’s summer trip. We will be working closely with Stranmillis College, as they support our visits within the local schools. There may even be opportunity for extended stays during the next few years. It is an exciting prospect that will be explored throughout this next school year!

Our first stop was Sullivan Upper School in the community of Holywood, a school that serves a selective, high-achieving student population. We were able to visit with the principal and tour the school grounds. This school provides academic, athletic, and artistic experiences to enhance the learning of students as individuals, enabling the students to develop their skills and talents. They had a wonderful art room, 3-D printer, a small machine shop, and whole floor dedicated to music development. Also, they were in the process of updating their athletic facilities. This school is the alma mater of Rory McIlroy, one of the top golfers in the PGA.

Our second school visit was Glenwood Primary School in Belfast. This school was in a different part of the city, serving students that come from underprivileged backgrounds. With that said, as we toured the school, we did not get that feeling. The school was clean, decorated with bright colors, and excellent student work lined the halls. Curtains made from murals that were created by parents and their children adorned the windows. We entered the classrooms, and the students were so polite and willing to explain what they were working on without hesitation. We even have the possibility of connecting with a third or fourth grade classroom throughout the next year, sharing experiences through blogging, Twitter, and Skype. How exciting!

The last school, Drumlins Integrated Primary School, was a school just opened within the past few years. An integrated school means just that – an intentional integration of different populations. In Northern Ireland, schools are divided by sectors:  Maintained Sector (Catholic), Controlled Sector (Protestant), and Integrated (any and all beliefs or backgrounds). This is the only integrated school in the town of Ballynahinch. We were able to visit with the principal and teachers and ask probing questions about the idea of integration and the effects on the community. This school is working with a very different mindset than the traditional schools, and it was so interesting to be able to talk openly about the strengths and frustrations facing them through this paradigm shift in thinking.

Although all of these schools served in different communities and different populations of students, there was one common thread that was very evident – the students were the most important consideration to all teachers and principals. We heard this repeated over and over at each school. Each principal told the story of how they attained their position, and each one was strongly convicted that they were supposed to be serving in that role.  To me, Mr. Leathem, principal of Glenwood Elementary captured the philosophy perfectly. He stated that he had been in his position for 21 years with opportunity to move on. He didn’t plan to be at Glenwood that long, but he chose to stay because it was his MISSION. His view of serving his students was summed up in the three C’s – computers, compassion, and communication. He didn’t talk about the first C – computers, but  I am assuming that he means allowing his students to have access to the latest technology for engagement and enhancement for learning. His focus was on compassion and communication.  He stated that if he and the staff at Glenwood truly care about each student and their family, communicate those values and provide an open door for communication within the community of Glenwood, that would make the most difference for his students – perhaps even more so that the 3 R’s.

In Christian Foundations, I am reading Kingdom Calling:  Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (Sherman, 2011). The main concept of this text is that we, as Christians, do everything for the glory of God and see our jobs as a way to serve others. We are blessed, so we should bless others. I was reminded of my reading as I was listening to Mr. Leathem and the other principals. They were all vocalizing the descriptions of what Kingdom Calling characterized as “righteous” work, or “right standing and consequent right behavior, within a community” (p. 46).  These include “grace-based relationships, generosity toward others, proactive of other’s needs, bettering conditions for their workers and students, being a good neighbor, encouraging transformation, encouraging social reform in one’s field” (p. 46).

My take away: Although we live in different countries and cultures, we are not so different. As educators, we want what is best for our students. We want to see them excel, succeed, achieve, and overcome.  Our work is more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. We serve students, families, and communities. Education has the power to provide a way for dreams to come true. The encouragement of a teacher can be the inspiration for a student to persevere in the midst of harsh surroundings. It is a mission. “We need to grasp the fact that in God’s economy our actions do have an eternal impact” (p. 86).

Enjoying the journey,

Blog HomePosted By: Nena Houston - 6/16/16 6:00 AM

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