Dr Orlagh Farmer: Combining PE Teaching, Sports Research and Early Years Education
Dr Orlagh Farmer's inspiring career spans her passions for PE Teaching, sports research and early childhood education.
She is a former Cork Senior Ladies Football player and the holder of 6 All Ireland Senior medals and completed her PhD research in the Department of Sports Studies and Physical Education at University College Cork.
Her research entitled ‘Gaelic4Girls’ - a multi-component community, sports-based intervention, focused on increasing girls’ (8-12 years) physical activity levels, movement skill competencies and psychosocial well-being.
She is a qualified PE teacher and a lecturer in sport education and research modules in Applied Early Childhood Studies at Dundalk IT.
She is also an ‘Athlete Mentor’ for the #SeriousSupport Lidl Programme empowering young girls to participate in sport.
Her research and teaching areas include early childhood, youth and adolescent physical activity (main focus on girls), fundamental movement skill competency, psychosocial wellbeing, coach education and teenage lifestyle planning.
She has presented at local, regional, national and international conferences, including the GAA Games Development Conference in Croke Park and International Physical Literacy Conferences in Canada, London and Cape Town South Africa.
Orlagh is also an Ambassador for the LGFA ‘Gaelic4Teens’ initiative (running since 2017), which involves the planning and delivery of numerous upskilling coach education workshops for coaches and teenage girls from all over Ireland.
In 2020, Orlagh won The Irish Times ‘Sportswoman of the Month Award’ (May) and was recognised and awarded for the innovative creation of research-informed videos on social media platforms targeting young girls (March - May during Covid19 lockdown).
The online #DrilloftheDay videos, as part of her ‘5-Day Ladies Gaelic Football Challenge’, garnered attention nationally and internationally.
Recently, she has set up her own service-based business EmpowerEd Coaching – empowering players, teachers and coaches in sport, education and wellbeing.
She is an inspiration to existing and aspiring PE teachers blending the role of teaching with innovation, research and representation.
Speaking at a Portobello Institute webinar on PE, she explained her passion and her pathway to PE teaching.
“I always had that passion for sport and physical activity.
"It was my fifth-class primary school teacher who encouraged me to join my local club. I used to do athletics as well before I started playing football in school and with the club. My love for sport and physical activity started in primary school," she said.
Physical Education was introduced as a Leaving Cert subject in Irish schools in 2018, but previously the structure wasn’t there for Dr Farmer or others interested in this career to envision a pathway into a career in PE teaching.
Her primary school teacher encouraged her but it was sport and her initiative that carried her through secondary school and provided a gateway onto the path that she’s enjoying now.
Dr Farmer was fortunate to play for Cork all through secondary school.
“I had that experience of starting first year playing under 14 and finishing sixth year with the senior team," she said.
Maybe fittingly, it was the least academic year of secondary school that pushed her into physical education.
“Fourth Year was really where I had that ‘aha!’ moment that I wanted to be a PE teacher.
"Having that experience of going out to placement in Transition Year (TY) showed me that this is what I was meant to be doing, this was the path I was meant to take," she said.
Despite not getting her first choice course in Limerick, Dr Farmer thrived on her PE and Irish course at UCC in Cork. In her own words, she realised her passion for empowering others through the medium of sport while there. Her course showed her that she could combine her passion for sport with her passion for inspiring the next generation.
A Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) Sports Studies & Physical Education and Irish, Secondary Education and Teaching degree put her on the track to fulfilling her potential.
And she still remembers what it felt like as a trainee PE teacher.
“The one regret I had when I was going out on placement was the confidence.
"Just to have that confidence in yourself. At that stage, you want to be a PE teacher and when you get that opportunity to go out on placement and be in that school or environment I think it’s important to have the confidence to make mistakes.
"Just have the confidence to throw yourself into the deep end. Ask questions and learn from the more experienced teachers that are in the school. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, that’s how you learn.
"You can get so uptight with the lesson plans. I’ll never forget that I used to come home from a day of school and I’d be worrying about the lesson plan. I worried a bit too much about that side of it and then when it came to delivering the class I think one of the mistakes I made was I felt like I had to cover everything on the lesson plan. And that’s not the reality.
"Nine times out of 10 a lesson plan might not go accordingly. And it’s realising that from a younger age. You have to be adaptive. Even if you get two out of five things done – Brilliant. You don’t have to just tick the box. You have to meet the students’ needs," she said.
Having worked through her own confidence challenges and figured out how to balance the box-ticking with what mattered to the students, Dr Farmer was not only able to be an effective teacher but she was also able to feel the impact of her work.
“The biggest reward for me is that satisfaction of knowing those kids are getting the most out of that 60 minutes. Because it could be the only 60 minutes or double period in the school that they’re getting physical activity or that education.
"To me, that’s probably the most important thing. It’s the benefits of physical activity and physical education.
"Knowing as a teacher, as a coach, as an educator that you’re inspiring the youth but also from the coach perspective you’re instilling that positive momentum in them that hopefully will inspire them to develop an attitude.
"At the end of the day, it’s about the environment that you create.
"As a PE teacher, you need to be enthused and you need to be passionate going into that class. Because it’s contagious and even if they’re not the sporty kids in the class or the most competent or confident in the session, if you can make them feel good and create that kind of ethos in the environment that to me is more important as a PE teacher and as an educator.
"It’s all about the feel-good factor in the environment that you create," she said.
Dr Farmer applied herself through each stage of her education, which opened the opportunity to carry out PhD research in conjunction with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association in 2015. For five years, she researched female youth participation, looking at the setup for girls, the barriers, the challenges, the motivators and the areas that could be improved to retain girls in sports.
The PhD opened Dr Farmer’s eyes to the lack of research and lack of education amongst not only the young girls but also the teachers and parents in terms of promoting physical activity and education.
Having successfully defended her PhD, Dr Farmer is now lecturing at Dundalk IT in the Applied Childhood Studies course and the Leadership and Management course in the Early Years sector.
“It’s nice to get that contrast too, my own research focused on 8-12-year-old girls but then lecturing in Early Years is almost taking a step back and looking at the first seven years of a child's life and how important that is in terms of developing skills and good habits for physical activity and physical education as well.
"Obviously I’m passionate about it and it’s what I’m about, but it’s nice to be able to merge my playing experience with the research and practice as well, so it’s not just all research, research, research. I get to put it into practice.
"That’s the beauty, I live it first hand myself too and hopefully then inspire the younger generation and teachers and coaches and parents to come on board to make it a better place for physical activity and sport as well," she said.
Portobello Institute’s Early Years department has qualifications ranging from level 5 to level 9. We offer: