If you could change one thing about education today what would it be?
Sheehan: This is a difficult question. There are lots of things in education which change, they ebb and flow. There are also other things we need to reflect on and improve continually. For me the United Nationals global goals are important, especially the idea of a quality education for each child.
I feel very strongly that we should be including people and removing barriers to education. This isn't just about children who have learning difficulties or are facing other barriers to learning. It's about ensuring everybody has access to a quality education.
Regarding the work we do at NAIS Hong Kong, we approach this issue by looking at students who have any additional support needs (ASN). It could be anything; illness, mental health, it could be grief, it could be long-term sickness which led to them being removed from school. There are many things that can block access to a quality education.
Can you name three key skills teachers need to inspire students to develop in order to thrive outside of the classroom?
Sheehan: For me it's about teaching our students core values such as respect, integrity and patience. These are the values that underpin everything we do and if you put them into practice with any of the skills students acquire they will be successful.
One of the things we teach at NAIS Hong Kong is how to and the importance of learning to listen to people. As human beings we spend lots of time talking and lots of time communicating, but we don't spend a lot of time actively listening to people. It's not just about listening to what someone says, it's about showing them that you respect them, showing them that you value their opinion and that forges a social connection. It's about building those interpersonal skills that are important. I don't think children can be successful going out in the outside world unless they have those skills.
When it comes to demonstrating integrity, we do a lot of work around that because it's a difficult concept and so we try to make sure children know what to do and how to behave when nobody's watching them. It's about morals and values and teaching children to be good people.
What do you wish you knew before you became a teacher?
Sheehan: There are so many things about being a teacher that you only understand when you become a teacher. Most of what you pick up you learn from people around you when you're on the job. One thing they didn't teach or tell you when I was training is to be reflective; step back from your practice and look around at what's happening, how you work with the people around you to find solutions to make your practice better.
Teachers can be self-critical, we constantly analyse and critique our practice in a negative way, maybe we're not doing enough, we're not making enough of a difference. The ability to step aside and positively look at a situation cleverly and apply new thinking to a problem is what will allow our practice to grow.