- by Carolyn Webster-Stratton
I normally write blogs about my travels and not my work engagements. However, this time I want to share my recent experience in Ireland. I feel that I went to heaven for a few days.
As developer of the Incredible Years (IY) Programs in the 80’s, I began with a dream that intervention programs designed to promote young children’s social, emotional and language development should be offered to parents and teachers in day care centers, preschools and primary grades. I believed that providing children as young as possible with a solid social and emotional foundation would lead to better academic learning as well as reduced violence and depression later in life. When I was invited by the Genesis Program in Ireland for the launching of their Linking the Learning document I had no notion that I would experience that this dream had largely come true for this amazing community.
The Genesis Programme is a consortium of Partner Organizations delivering the IY suite of parent, teacher and child programs to communities, early years services and schools in Dundalk and Drogheda in County Louth as part of the Area Based Childhood (ABC) Program, funded by The Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
10 Year Birthday Celebration
Arriving in Drogheda at my hotel I was surprised by an invitation to the 10 year birthday dinner celebration of the beginning of The Genesis Program’s delivery of Incredible Years Programs.
At this event were parents, teachers, principals, group leaders and community leaders who were present at the birth of this program. Not only was the food great but there was Irish music and dancing followed by the best cake I have ever tasted. (I took a piece back to my room for breakfast.)
There were even cupcakes with marzipan faces of Wally, Molly and Dina dinosaur on them. Surely I was having a delightful dream!
Since its struggling first efforts in 2008 funded largely by foundations, the eventual formal establishment of The Genesis Program was in 2014 with the financial support (ABC) of the Irish government. To date the Genesis Program has trained 71 IY group leaders in one of the IY baby, preschool, school age parent, or teacher, or child programs; 19 public health nurses; 50 early years practitioners (preschool teachers of children 3-5 years); and 664 parents. Additionally, 531 teachers and early years practitioners have been trained in either the IY Teacher Classroom Management Program, Classroom Dina Programme or Small Group Dina Program. The programs are embedded in 12 schools and 15 early years (aka preschool centers). The Genesis Program is the first organization world wide to roll out the newest program called Incredible Beginnings designed for teachers and day care providers of children aged 1-5 years. They have delivered 5 Incredible Beginnings training groups and already have 2 accredited group leaders. They have also begun delivery of the new parent program for children on the Autism Spectrum. Approximately 7,903 children have been reached with these IY programs. Their current plans are to deliver 81 IY programs in 2018!
In September 2017, The Changing Lives Initiative came into being. This initiative delivers the 20-week parent program to parents whose children display signs and symptoms of ADHD, but who are not yet diagnosed with ADHD. The program is funded through Interreg funding provided by the EU.
Incredible Schools and Children
At this 3-day event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the birth of Incredible Years in Louth County, I visited 10 schools (with Wally and Dina dinosaur) to see child dinosaur groups being delivered by incredible teachers to children in preschools and primary grade classrooms. Several schools also had pull out dinosaur small group programs for children with more severe behavior problems. These schools included the following:
St. Joseph’s NS
Lios na nÓg
Gaelscoil Dun Dealgan
Scoil Eoin Baiste
St. Patrick’s NS/St. Brigid’s NS/Clever Cloggs
Moneymore Childcare Centre
St. John’s JNS
I was welcomed in these classrooms with joyful glee, gifts, cards and dinosaur songs from children as well as role play demonstrations by children of how they have learned to come up with solutions to problem situations.
One classroom even welcomed me with pictures of the American flags they had colored!
The feeling of joy was pervasive the moment I entered these schools with pictures of Wally, Molly, Dina Dinosaur and Tiny Turtle painted on the hallway walls, posters everywhere of IY solutions, school rules, and Wally feeling pictures as well as school entrance ways showing framed photos of parent graduates from IY parent programs.
Incredible Principals and Teachers
I was met by energetic and welcoming principals from each of the primary schools and early years services who glowed as they described the successes of their teachers using the IY programs with their students.
One principal told me, “if we weren’t offering this program I think I would have quit.” Another principal said, “ 10 years ago I was yelling at children who misbehaved and they were sent to me for discipline, now I go to them to reward them and help them problem solve. This program has transformed out school.”
In one school I was fortunate to watch the children’s dinosaur school graduation where a classroom sang Dina’s compliment and show me five rules song.
I also met with parents at each of these schools who talked of their partnerships with teachers and principals and how their children loved school.
In both Dundalk and Drogheda there were graduation ceremonies and celebration lunches for 74 parents who had completed one of the IY parent programs. Parents received framed certificates of their graduation and gave speeches reflecting on their experiences participating in these IY baby, preschool and school age program groups bringing tears of joy to those in the room as well as an overwhelming feeling of community support and caring for each other.
Incredible Group Leaders
Finally on the last day there was a celebration lunch of all the IY group leaders who had completed accreditation in one of the IY programs. 25 Group Leaders were recognized on this day and received a glass memento to mark their accreditation.
The Genesis Program place a high value on coaching, fidelity and accreditation and provide support to Group Leaders in all aspects of delivery. They have developed a set of Best Practice Guidelines for each Group Leader delivering the program and encourage them to deliver with fidelity to ensure they get the best outcomes for children and families in their respective communities. Alice Malone plays an invaluable role as the quality assurance coordinator as well as being an accredited group leader and peer coach who supports group leaders with her warmth and humor.
Genesis Incredible Team
It was a truly incredible and magical experience to see parents, teachers and principals, early years managers and community leaders joined together in a partnership to support children’s optimal development. The Genesis Program Project team made up of 12 committed people have developed a supportive infrastructure and network not only by training teachers and parents but by continuing to support and coach them after training so that they can be become accredited in the programs.
The Louth county is a community that is an incredible model for other communities. They are led by Hugh Doogan the Genesis Program manager whose collaborative, nurturing, and supportive leadership approach inspires magic in his Genesis staff who in turn inspire teachers and parents who in turn inspire children to enjoy the magic of learning with the help of some life size puppets.
Launching the Linking the Learning Document
Genesis invited me to celebrate and help launch a document called Linking the Learning. This document has two parts one for Early Years Practitioners (preschool teachers) and one for Primary Grade Teachers. The idea behind the document was to illustrate how the suite of Incredible Years programs (Dina Dinosaur and Teacher Classroom Management Curriculum) link with the Irish Early Years National Quality Curriculum Framework (Siolta) and the Aistear/Siolta Practice and Principles of Learning and Development. Additionally the document illustrates how the IY programs are linked to the Irish Primary School Curriculum Framework (SPHE) and support oral language instruction, the Health Promotion Framework and academic achievement. They have developed Best Practices guidelines for each of the IY programs.
As the developer of IY programs, I feel I have had the easy job of doing the research and developing the training protocol plan. Just as for the architect of a building plan, for the construction to be successful it takes the competent leadership of the on-site construction manager (Hugh Doogan) to select the best subcontractors (group leaders, coaches) and builders (teachers, parents) to make sure they are building the house with a strong foundation. It has been my dream come true to see this collaborative effort with continuing efforts to promote accreditation of the subcontractors and to develop peer coaches so there is quality control going forward. I wish there was someway to bottle the Genesis and Louth community magic and send it forth to other communities.