This COVID-19 world has really challenged us, has taken many normal things we took for granted away from us and equally has made us see possibilities and take opportunities that 2 years ago we would never have thought possible!
The Early Childhood Ireland National Annual Awards is a perfect example. Imagine, in April 2019, as we gathered at the Alex Hotel in Dublin, that someone produced a crystal ball. They gaze into that ball and pronounce: the 2020 Awards will entail Jenny Buckley being Master of Ceremonies, recording the Shortlist and Winner announcements and these being released online over the course of a week. How we would have laughed. And then, the crystal ball gazer goes on to say, ‘The 2021 Awards will take place in Croke Park and all over the country as over 300 people watch on various devices as the winners are announced.’ The laughter would reach hysterical proportions at that stage, I think!
But that is exactly what happened. Over a few busy months earlier this year, inviting applications, doing internal shortlisting, appointing judges, culminating with visits to shortlisted settings. In late summer 2021 the Awards team at Early Childhood Ireland and Avcom (the production company that enabled us to organise a hybrid event) visited 26 settings all over Ireland, to video the members and educators who had been shortlisted in the various award categories. For me, it was a delight to be in settings, to hear children playing and to observe the gorgeous interactions of children and their educators. Seeing the lovely videos on the dedicated Awards site was beautiful. To see the passion, commitment and dedication of these people to ensure that the children and families with whom they work continued to be as normal and supported as possible was truly lovely. I recorded some podcasts with Sponsors of the event, and it was great to see how these companies and organisations, like Arachas, Allianz, Wesco, Child Paths and the LINC Programme recognised Early Childhood Ireland’s commitment to recognise, value and celebrate these achievements.
The culmination of the judging process and the videos of shortlisted settings and educators came last Friday night week October 8 as the winners were revealed. Master of Ceremonies, Jenny Buckley, a small team from Early Childhood Ireland, some of the award sponsors and the AVCOM team, all gathered at the virtual studio at Croke Park. It was a bit like a small Masked Ball with everyone attending wearing their masks and keeping their distance, busily preparing for the Early Childhood Ireland National Annual Awards hybrid style! The studio area was brightly lit, with glittering, ice-cool backdrops and clear podiums from which the all-important announcements were made. Beyond that were two control areas, with screens, control panels, autocues, knobs and buttons to ensure all went to plan in the studio. The real hive of activity was the area where there were 8 pods (to use another now familiar term!) This was the hub where the Zoom meeting, which connected the 26 settings to the Studio, was operated from. Each pod had three or four screens and another bank of control panels. As each winner was announced the people operating in this room zoomed in on the winner, to see their joyous reaction, hear the shouts of delight, see the banners waving and ask the winner how they felt.
Clearly, the preferred option is all being together to celebrate the brilliant achievements of our sector. However, as one person said to me, the beauty of the hybrid event was that all staff could be there, to mark the success of being shortlisted and/ or winning together, with no problems of arranging cover to get to Dublin.
Despite a few broadband connection issues (apologies to anyone impacted by that) which were outside our control, the event went well and the nominees and winners were celebrated across the country. We hope that you all enjoyed the evening. And another advantage of the hybrid format is that you can watch it back. Take the time when you are to look at the lovely videos where the shortlisted settings describe the various stories and actions they took to be shortlisted, see our Judges profiles and also check out our award sponsors area.
And the winners are:
Learning Story of the Year Award: Maynooth Day Nursery, Mairead Ahern
Emergent Curriculum in Action Learning Story of the Year Award: Cheeky Cherubs Early Years Schools, Ballincollig Suellen Gentine
Learning Story of the Year from a Newcomer: Ashvale Crèche, Tetiana Leshchenko
Inspired Practice Award: Happy Days, Ratoath, Eilish Balfe
Partnership with Families Innovation Award: Roots and Wings, Leanne Byrne accepting on Nickola’s behalf.
Leadership for Inclusion Award: Nickola Cullen Beverton Preschool being accepted by Rachael McAllister
Transitions for Children Award: Buttercup Childcare Georgina O’Brien
Pedagogical Leader Award: Lisa Nash, Naíonra Montessori Lusca