12 March, 2024 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

'Women are 98% of the Early Years workforce and yet do not traditionally see themselves as leaders or managers' - Jacinta Murphy Inspiring Inclusion in Early Years

International Women's Day 2024 Jacinta Murphy

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is #InspireInclusion.

International Women's Day is a global movement which aims to create a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Portobello Institute was founded by Delia Lyons in 1981, and today, her daughter Rebekah Lyons continues to make education accessible.

As a female-led further and higher education provider, we are looking inward this International Women's Day to celebrate the women who make Portobello Institute the wonderful, supportive, nurturing and inclusive learning environment it is.

Q&A with Jacinta Murphy, Lecturer and Student Support for Early Years at Portobello Institute

What is your role at Portobello Institute?

I am a lecturer and provide student support for the early years department. 

My work on course development is interesting as it keeps me up to date as you must carry out research to create the content. Students need to have up-to-date content in their notes and also up-to-date and interesting sources to read. I favour content which is informative, applicable to practice and also easy to read.

Teaching in the blended learning degree programme allows me to get to know many students who work in various roles including practitioners, managers, setting owners, special needs assistants and those working in other areas of supporting children and families. It is a collaborative learning space where students come into the class with practical knowledge and many transferable skills.

Everyone wants to learn and enhance their practice, when you get the students to read various units/sources it allows for questions to be posed which leads to discussion and critical reflection which ultimately leads to change and improvements in the provision of quality practice which is beneficial to children, families, staff and the wider community.

I am privileged to teach the first module for students in higher education (HE) which is Becoming an Educator: Academic and Professional Skills, as this module prompts the students to reflect on themselves, their emotional intelligence, transferable skills, time management skills and more. This allows the students, women and men to set SMART goals which will aid their success in the programme.

Students have the opportunity to hone their academic and digital skills which is beneficial throughout the programme. Rather than being ‘dropped in it’, this module is a gentle introduction to HE. This works well with my student support role as it allows me to get to know the students and makes it easier for them to come to me for support if needed throughout the programme.

There is never a ‘right’ time to study particularly for students with full-time employment and family commitments making it difficult to achieve a life, study, and work balance. When life throws students a ‘curve ball’, it can throw them off their studies and the key is communication with their tutor or myself working in student support to make a plan to support the student to stay on the programme.

This is a role I particularly enjoy, not that I want to see anyone with life struggles but because I see it as a ‘pay forward’, as I was one of those students when studying myself and if it was not for the support of the tutor(s), I would have left the programme and been sorry for the rest of my life.  

Also, the last module I worked on developing content for, with the programme lead Iryna Fox, was Leading and Managing Services for Children which is poignant when thinking about International Women's Day as women who make up 98% of the workforce in early years education, and yet do not traditionally see themselves as a leaders or managers, yet they often use transformational leadership styles and have greater adaptability and interpersonal skills which is key to good team leadership which can lead to inclusive leadership.

How long have you worked at Portobello Institute and how would you describe your journey here?  

I have been working at Portobello for 20 years this year, first as a part-time tutor, then as programme manager, later managing the Montessori school adjacent to the college while still tutoring part-time and then as a full-time tutor for the past number of years. 

The journey has been nothing but positive, as I have been supported to build my confidence and self-belief, to study further, and to take on roles which my younger self would never have thought possible. The management and staff, in particular the colleagues on the early years team have supported me through difficult times in my life.

Some of this I attribute to the fact that the majority of the team is female and therefore very empathic and supportive, they also have the interpersonal skills to give you a push to improve and try new things.

I have often said ‘Why have I agreed to do that, or how will I ever do that’ but obviously they had a belief in me and could see clearly what I can do. For every push and prompt and being supported to study further and improve my knowledge and skills, I am eternally grateful. 

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is ‘Inspiring Inclusion’, can you share some thoughts on what this means to you as part of your role at Portobello? 

We are inclusive at Portobello with a core value of nurturing the one in everyone, which I love as it seeks to look at each student and their unique needs and challenges and to plan for and promote success regardless of gender, status, background, age, disability and/or special education needs, sexual orientation, race, religion, and membership of any specific communities such as the Roma or Traveller communities.

As student support I meet students who have disabilities and/or special educational needs, firstly students are invited to come forward about any additional needs they may have and then a one-to-one meeting can be arranged and we discuss student needs as they are living with their disability or SEN all of their lives and how learned how to live with it and so can discuss this and we can put a plan in place for success on the programme. This is all undertaken professionally and confidentially.  

We also have students with English as a second language and work to support them also, usually, these students do very well on the programme.  

Several students suffer from stress and anxiety and again we can support and put a plan in place.

As many of our students are mature and have full-time careers and family commitments alongside their studies, we understand that sometimes life can get in the way, therefore there are options for short and long-term extended deadlines depending on the circumstances.

The main thing is communication, especially for blended learning students, that they reach out and communicate when they find themselves in difficulty and then we can plan to move forward.

There is always an empathic listener at the end of the email and once initial contact is made then a call can be arranged at a mutually convenient time to discuss the situation further. We also understand that students do have lives and much of this type of support is offered outside of work hours.   

Through your work at Portobello Institute, how do you inspire inclusion for others? 

I think through my role in student support as I speak to many students and encourage and support them. 

I also hope that through teaching, we inspire students to critically reflect on inclusion in their settings and ensure that it is not only at a policy and/or tokenistic level.  

Why is inclusion important in education? 

Inclusion is key within education, as to feel included breeds a sense of involvement, well-being, identity and belonging which is paramount to personal, social, and emotional development and is a necessary skill set for life.  

However, we must be willing to explore, engage and reflect with deep consideration, individually and as part of a team, on our biases and values. For example, in relation to race, I often wonder, if I, as one of the majority, can truly understand what it is to be part of a minority group. This recent TikTok by Sara Keenan, a ladies footballer, about racism is saddening, but real and touched me deeply.

In your experience, how can education play a role in empowering women? 

I think education could be a powerful tool for empowering equality in all areas of inclusion including gender. It has the power to create discussion and nurture children, young people and adults who can think for themselves and challenge inequality to create a more socially just society.   

How can inclusion, flexibility, and accessibility to education support and empower women in their education journeys? 

In my view, blended learning is the most flexible and accessible mode of education for women as they can work which eases the financial pressure of returning to education.

The programmes offered at Portobello are inclusive and empowering for women, one of the first modules on the BA (Ord) Early Childhood Care & Education degree allows the student to undertake a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and learn about time management and study techniques which enables all learners including women to achieve a life study work balance.  

Embarking on a further or higher education course allow many of our students to be role models for their children.

Giving Back

At Portobello Institute we understand the importance of giving back by having a small in-house charity we set up called 'Dochas Leanai'. 

College director, Denise Flood, travels to India and Belarus twice a year with a team of about 15 individuals, across staff and students. Devoted work includes training Montessori teachers and setting up Montessori schools in slum areas in Pune India.

The charity is also heavily involved in supporting training in a girl's rescue centre and a small school for profoundly hearing-impaired children. This involves self-defence training in a community project and sports and arts and crafts camps in a slum school in Pune.

Read more inspiring International Women's Day interviews here. 

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