Sean McMorrow, head at St Anthony’s Primary School, spent a week in Washington DC learning from US colleagues and peers and developing new insights, understanding and ideas.
Organised by the British Council Northern Ireland — an international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations — the visit, entitled Narrowing the Gap, aimed to help teachers find ways to engage parents and the community through after school programmes.
Sean, who has been a principal at the school since 2008, felt he got a lot out of his visit to the American capital.
He said: “It was fantastic to be able to visit other schools and see how they work – to experience their ethos and culture, and to see staff dealing with the same types of problems as we have here. The opportunity to visit Washington was amazing and I’ve definitely come back home enthused and keen to link with more schools in the future. Overall, the visit was extremely worthwhile and it was great to be able to mix with other professionals and share experiences.
“One difference between schools here and in the US is that they invest heavily in staff development. One school we visited, which has the same number of pupils as we have here, had twice as many staff — but obviously this is down to resources.
“However, what was surprising is how Northern Ireland schools seem to lead in terms of ICT. At St Anthony’s we are really into iPad education and are looking to prepare our children for the future — this was something that was lacking in Washington.”
For Mr McMorrow, the biggest thing he took from the trip was how US schools raise children’s aspirations.
He said: “In the US, schools challenge their children’s expectations far more than we do here, and instil a great ‘can do’ attitude. Right from the moment you walk into the school down to the songs they sing, they’re increasing children’s ambitions and aspirations. Since I’ve returned home we’ve tried to adopt this at St Anthony’s.”