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Leaders Need Encouragement, Experience & Effective Education

So, it was just after finishing my Leaving Certificate [way back in 1999!] when I became ecstatic to learn that I was accepted into college to study electronic engineering. I was so eager to get started but unfortunately this feeling was short-lived as I had taken very ill and had been hospitalised for a length of time. It was then, after much reflection and debate, I decided, along with my parents, that it would be probably be best for me to take a year out to heal before I put myself through studying again.

It’s funny though how life has its own path laid out for us because it was not long after this, that I met the love of my life – and our little family started very soon after. College was the last thing on my mind as I cared for and minded my children.

I grew up as a mom, and as woman.

During this time, though, I was always determined to be involved in my community also. I became a Leader with our local Scouts; I led out as chairperson on a massive youth project along with our young people, and local community; I became a member of our school’s parent’s committee and I worked with an amazing team who developed an online platform, with over 10,000 members, for those who were feeling depressed and/or suicidal [EasySpeak]. I regularly fundraised for charities of which had added personal value to our lives; as all three of our children have chronic conditions. Additionally, I made it my mission to continue my education when I could, through the many courses available in my community.

I have always had a passion to learn, and to share, knowledge.

Then one evening, a conversation came up with my husband – we discussed the dreams we wanted to fulfill in our lives. It was funny how the first thing that tripped my tongue was that I had always wanted to get my degree. He simply looked at me – and told me to “just go for it!” Excited and eager again, yet this time apprehensive, as I work full time as a social entrepreneur, I went about looking for areas in which I was interested in. I knew my “engineering” brain was still intact but I also knew my passion had changed with regards to how this skillset could be applied.

I reflected on my past experiences as a volunteer, and as a leader. I remembered as a young person I would often “look up” to adult leaders, and I would absorb everything they said, and did.  Throughout these experiences, and from very early on, I also recognised that I could identify the differences between good, bad and mediocre “leaders” and often witnessed good leaders be overshadowed by individuals or groups who were afraid to breach the status quo; even if the outcomes would be in the best interests of the community.

And so, after this soul-searching exercise, I knew then that I wanted to learn more about the practicalities and theories of leadership; and specifically, for me, with regards to healthcare. I also knew I would need something that I could work into my hectic schedule – and something that I could apply to my daily activities. And most importantly, that it would apply to my vision to change our health service.

I do believe in serendipity because it was strange what happened in the next few days. Out of the blue, a previous leader of our youth committee contacted me and told me about a new online programme that was starting out that she thought would be good for me to do.

Immediately interested, I went online and applied to meet the coordinator – and from there on in I was bought in. I learned that this programme, ran by an amazing team from An Cosán Virtual Community College, was a set of Special Purpose Level 7 Awards that would lead me to getting the proposed Degree in Community Education and Development.  This course, over three years, would all be achieved through online classrooms, and most importantly for me, the modules were exactly what I cared about – ranging from modules in “Community Leadership” to “Citizenship & Social Action” and “Technology Enhanced Learning” to “Transformative Community Education”.

I felt that being part of this programme, I would be able to meet with like-minded people, and through getting to know them, together we could make a difference in our communities.

On my first day of induction, I was admittedly nervous; unsure of the technology platform; unsure if I would be “good enough”; unsure of the people who I would meet along the way. However this was all put to rest when the team on the day rang me to help me with set-up, and then proceeded to reassure me when my microphone wouldn’t work. Even with the barrier of not being able to speak, the learners and tutors introduced each other and we all conversed naturally – using the power of positivity; the power of technology (and the power of online emoji’s!) The lightbulb moment which showed me that this course was for me, was when the opening of the course began with a beautiful poem called “I Look at the World” (Hughes, 2009)

From this, I identified that there were no boundaries other than in our own minds, and if we worked together, as leaders in our own right, anything could be achieved.

Our first task was to personally reflect on our first session. This “reflection piece” stirred up in me the importance of implementing this practice in “real-life” scenarios. If we didn’t reflect on our work, how would we know what needs appreciation, changing or improving upon. We were also asked to explore three inspirational videos which shared various people’s thoughts on leadership. Each speaker shared a different perspective of leadership. One discussed the power of the “follower” following the leader, and role reversal of same); another described the importance of emotional closeness and its impact on obedience to authorities; and one other discussed the impact one person can have on one other person – that leadership it is not about the quantity of people’s lives we change, but the quality of changing just one person’s life.

This last video caused me to personally reflect and it brought me back to a time when I felt I had impacted on a person’s life. 

“I was an administrator of an online forum for people who were suicidal. A young boy messaged me, telling me he was gay and didn’t know what to do. Told me how he was so scared of what people thought of him. I listened. I empathised. I told him I cared. I directed him to services who could help him, and every week he would tell me how it went.

Eventually, the messages went quieter, his posts became more positive, and I knew he was getting stronger.

Then, a few years later, out of the blue, he contacted me.

He was super excited; telling me that because of me he was going to do social studies in college – he wanted to change loads of people’s lives, like he felt I had done. I was so very happy for him and proceeded to give him some advice I had learned in life.

Told him to imagine a person in a bad mood. And if that person stayed in that bad mood they could go home to their family and upset everyone else also. But, if someone interacted with them during that day, to turn that mood around, then that person would more than likely go home in good form; therefore, impacting positively, not negatively, on the whole house.

I told him that if we just changed one person’s life, we could change so many more people’s lives. I told him to aim to

“Change the World, One Smile at a Time”.

I believe leaders should reflect often. I also feel people shouldn’t feel they are not leaders just because they are not changing the “masses”. Leaders should look at their personal achievements and not be afraid to admit that they did good – if we can tell others they can achieve anything, then why can’t we admit to ourselves, we can too! It is also so important that other leaders support one another too. Upon reflection of my leadership skills, I believe my honesty; my ability to communicate and empathise; my commitment to him and my passion to help and protect him so he wouldn’t set himself up to fail, but to lead, helped him believe in himself again. I really do believe in changing one person at a time. And we, as leaders, have to believe we can do that.

I always say, we all here to not just help each other, but to help ourselves grow too. And the only way to do that, is to be open, honest and kind.

About An Cosán

To learn more or contact An Cosán see: 

You’ll also find their team and their social community via the following links or by using the hashtag #LoveLearningVCC

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An Cosán VCC Current Academic Year: Semester 1 – 2016

A full list of programmes which will be available in the coming months is available here with deadlines in the next week for next two programmes. Details of the upcoming courses starting in November are outlined below.

  • Transformative Community Education (QQI Level 7) – commences Saturday 12th November – Application deadline: Wednesday 02/11/2016
  • Learning to Learn at Third Level (QQI 6) – commences Wednesday 16th November – Application Deadline: Wednesday 02/11/206
  • Introduction to Community Drugs work (non-accredited) –  Launching soon

How to Register?

Follow this link which will bring you to our registration page: