Criona Blackburne

Early Years & Montessori

Before moving into the early years sector, Críona Blackburne worked for a number of years as a secondary school teacher. Despite the age gap between the learners she was educating, she noticed there were some similarities as well as differences.

“I see a lot of parallels, a lot of the same things. It’s different but they’re both very people-based services. You’re interacting with the teenagers; you’re interacting with the children. I learned a lot from working with teenagers in terms of how I manage people.

“You’re very curriculum-based when you’re teaching at secondary level because you have Leaving Cert and Junior Cert students with a lot of course material to get through, whereas it’s a more easy-going approach to learning in EY.

“In EY, you’re also looking at the holistic development of children. You’re still providing pastoral care at secondary level, but you’re more subject-oriented as opposed to looking at all areas of development like you would in the EY sector,” she said.

Críona has been working in the EY sector since 2006 when she left her work as a secondary school teacher to open her own EY service. She holds an MA in Early Childhood Education and an EdD in Education with a special interest in Early Childhood Education.

While in education for years before that, Críona says the interest in EY education came when she had her own children.

“It was just before I had my own children that I got the interest for early childhood.

“I did a diploma in Montessori. I had my own family then, and it was conducive to family life.

“Then I set up the service when my own children were starting to go to school,” she said.

After running her own EY service and upon receiving her MA in Early Childhood Education, Críona joined the Portobello Institute where she was and continues to be a central figure in the development of the Institute’s degree programme in EY.

It was a move that she says she could have seen coming.

“I’m just naturally drawn to education, to work in that profession. So, it was natural that I would step back into a teaching role.

“I still miss secondary school teaching, but I obviously love teaching at third level.

“Again, it’s extending people’s knowledge. It’s being engaged, co-constructing, and learning together. Learning from students as well as teaching them. It’s the whole participatory engagement and learning, going on a journey with students is what appeals to me about third level,” she said.

Críona had already gotten some experience in adult ed as she taught in night schools during her time in secondary education.

“I had already taught adults when I was teaching at secondary level. I would have taught in night schools as well as day schools.

“It’s very enjoyable teaching adults because there are no disciplinary issues, they’re not challenging you, they’re not there for the craic. They want to learn.

“I really enjoy teaching adults because they are so enthusiastic. It’s lovely to see adults who found education difficult and then they come to third level because they’re so motivated, they actually do really well. That’s been really rewarding to see people progress and develop their own love of learning and seeing themselves as capable and competent learners, that’s really exciting when you’re teaching at third level,” she said.

One thing that is a massive part of Críona’s teaching philosophy, she says, is the concept of co-construction, something that benefits her as well as the students.

“The concept of co-construction and working with students to support them in developing an academic style of writing and also the ability to transfer theory to practice and make meaning from their college learning in the realities of their interactions with children and parents in the EY sector is really important to me.

“I also have a strong interest in policy development in the EY sector, so I like to teach about that too.

“You’re interacting, you’re extending ideas, you’re getting involved in new thoughts, you’re seeing other people’s practices and you can transfer a lot of that back to your own practice as well.

“The whole time, you’re learning, it just doesn’t end. You have to keep up to date with policies and changes. It benefits my services as well as the students, hopefully,” she said.

Críona received both of her postgraduate qualifications in the UK. She says that studying EY in a different country, with people from different backgrounds, really benefitted her professionally.

“It was great. I was meeting people from all around the world. I got to see how people do things in different parts of the world.

“Also, because it was a doctorate in education, there were people from different levels of the education system as well. You had people focusing on early education, like me, but you also had people on higher education, primary education, and psychology. So, there were various different strands all studying together. We had medical doctors, people of all backgrounds, studying for the same fundamental qualification,” she said.

After getting that varied perspective on EY, Críona believes that while Ireland has come a long way in the industry, there is still room for improvement.

“We’re evolving very rapidly. We’re behind in some areas.

“I would be focusing a lot on educator wellbeing and the rights of educators and maybe more advocacy and agency available to educators in the sector.”

Criona Blackburne Criona Blackburne