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Tuesday 17 September 2019

“Decisions made about staff are decisions made about quality”- Síolta Standard 11, Professional Practice.

I have so many fond memories from my years in Tir na nÓg. I have to say, one of the best feelings is sitting around with my family and team after a big event such as graduation or the Christmas show day. We would chat and laugh and recall stories about how we made this occasion happen for the children and their families. We talk about how proud we were of the child saying their lines, or singing their songs. How honoured we felt when a parent complimented our hard work. We shared a sense of accomplishment that we had achieved something great, together.

As the years went on, I really understood the true meaning of having a good team around me. I have a vision for Tir na nÓg that every child that enters the doors will meet their full potential, will be happy, feel loved, have opportunities to explore, communicate and be free to grow at their own pace. But this is something I cannot do alone. As my service grew, I realised that it was my turn as the leader, to grow leaders. Leaders that can help these children be safe, happy and grow while they are here with us every day. Leaders that can make a difference in the life of a child.

About two years ago, with the support of our Early Childhood Ireland mentor, Debbie, we decided to undertake an in-house research project. We wanted to find out what our team looked for in their role as an educator, factors that influenced their work, their decision to stay in our service or move elsewhere and their satisfaction levels. This movement, through reflection and collaborative action, was aimed at creating a higher standard of quality for the children and families in our service. The findings of the study concluded that the team found training opportunities and support most important to fulfill their role. Wages and financial incentives of course came up, with the sector we are in. The study aimed to voice the existing employee’s feelings and opinions, help them achieve their goals and lead to a greater retention of staff in the future.

With these findings established, we decided to make change to create a more supportive working environment; where each educator can flourish. We introduced new in-house training opportunities where we tailor training to the needs of our team. A new mentoring programme was established for formal and informal mentoring opportunities. A new employee package was developed, Better Together, that offered simple, yet meaningful financial incentives to our team to show them they are valued and appreciated. We have found that these changes in our centre have developed a culture of engagement and participation from employees; there is collaboration, support, constant communication and brain storming, an openness and eagerness to learn and pass along learning. There is a real sense of team.

Creating a confident and passionate team of educators is very important to me. I truly believe that quality stems from the team. If they feel happy, assured and supported in their role, they will be able to facilitate the best experiences for the children and nurture their development. I feel this can be done through continuous team meetings, CPD, support and supervision, mutual respect and collaboration, informal and formal check-ins and for myself to be open-minded and approachable and recognise that this group of professionals bring their own strengths, knowledge and experience with them. They carry their own invisible backpack with their own capabilities.

Tir na nÓg is a community that we have built and continue to keep building. After 23 years, I still learn something new every day and I want to continue my journey of growing and learning as a leader, educator and mother. The end goal is to create somewhere that is meaningful and fulfilling for young children. Once the child is satisfied, this has a positive effect on their families and the team. I think there are no truer words than the old African proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.”


Kathleen Cash, a Kilkenny woman but living in Athy, Co. Kildare is mother to Lorraine (28) and James (27) and married to Jim for the last 31 years. Upon wanting to return to work after having her two small babies, Kathleen could not find suitable care for her children. So, in 1996, Kathleen opened up Tir na nÓg Early Years Centre. When it first opened, Kathleen had one member of staff and eight children. Tir na nÓg has grown over the years, continually striving to ensure the best care and education for the families here. Tir na nÓg's ethos is to create a home from home setting where each child feels loved, happy and can reach their full potential. Kathleen’s family have a huge role to play with the running of our centre. Jim commits every evening and weekend to fixing, painting, building and maintaining. Lorraine works alongside Kathleen every day, having recently completed her Master of Arts in Leadership in Early Childhood Education & Care. James is currently a software designer for a big tech company in Dublin, but he helps out where-ever and whenever needed- usually on the IT side of things!

Kathleen was the winner of the Early Childhood Ireland Educator of the Year award this April.

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