Fiona Kelleher, MA in Leadership and Advocacy in Early Years

Can you share your career path to date?

I began my career as an Early years worker in 1997. Over the following 20 years I had experience with all age groups from 6 months to School Aged Children.  During this time, I also continued my studies and graduated with a BA degree in ECCE.  I also worked as an Assistant Manager and took up a post as Manager in 2004.  In 2005 I began my career with NCNA and began work as a Regional support worker mentoring childcare staff and managers in the West of Ireland.  I also worked as a Siolta mentor.  In 2012 our organisation merged with IPPA and Early Childhood Ireland was formed.  I continued my role as an Early years Specialist.  I currently work as EU project Officer with Early Childhood Ireland.

What does your current role involve?

My current role involves managing European funded projects on behalf of ECI.  I coordinate projects while ensuring that we meet the intellectual outputs of each project. This role involves collaborating with partners from different parts of Europe and ensuring that the Irish context is represented in each project while fulfilling the aim of each project.

What motivated you to start studying? 

My main motivation for studying was continual professional development. I felt that I needed to upskill and attain new knowledge which could support me in my role as an early years specialist.

Why did you choose this course from ATU Sligo?

I chose this course as it focused on leadership and advocacy in the early years sector.  I view my role as a pedagogical leader and therefore felt that the course content of the MA would best suit my needs.  As a full time employee, I appreciated the blended learning approach.  Also, through my role with ECI I had some experience of working with ATU Sligo and I always found them to be professional, informative and student focused.  This made my decision easier.

How did you find the process of studying online? What elements did you find helpful? Were there elements you found challenging? 

I appreciated the online studying as it allowed me to continue in full time employment while also achieving my goal of attaining an MA.  The professional attitude and understanding from the tutors and course coordinators made this process achievable.  I found the interactive style of the online learning suited my learning style while also the opportunity for peer sharing and reflection.

In terms of your employer, were they supportive of your decision to study? Were there elements of the course that were particularly relevant to your current employer? 

My employer was exceptionally supportive and encouraged me to participate in this course.  They supported me academically and financially which I am extremely grateful for.  ECI promote a community of learner’s philosophy and management was always available to discuss subjects, assignments and offer support wherever possible.  I was encouraged to share my learning with my colleagues, and we would incorporate this into our team meetings.

What advice would you have for anyone considering studying online?

The only advice I would give to someone studying online is to ensure that you give yourself the time to engage properly in the online sessions and to ask questions if needed as the tutors are extremely helpful and informative.  Personal time might also be needed at the end of the session to gather your notes and thoughts and to reflect on what has been discussed.  This will help you to prepare for the next session.

In what way has studying online with ATU Sligo benefitted your career?

I believe that my new role as EU Project Officer was a direct result of my MA achievement with ATU Sligo.  This role involves a lot of research and academic writing and I feel that this course further developed those skills while also broadening my knowledge and enhancing my confidence.

Did this course provide any unexpected benefits to your career?

An unexpected benefit would have to be the contacts and professional relationships that I built during this course with both tutors and fellow students.

Did you find that the elements you were studying had practical relevance in your day-to-day role? 

In my role within Early Childhood Ireland and as our organisation is an advocate for children and Early years professionals, this course dealt with several elements directly relating to my work and the work of the organisation.  This allowed me to apply the theory to the practical implementations of our work which in turn helped me to understand our role as an advocate and leader in the sector.

What were the key skills you took away from your time studying at ATU Sligo?

The ability to choose a topic and research it thoroughly while gathering both field and desk research and then to present that data in a comprehensive manner.  This skill can be applied to any research question no matter how big or small.  I feel that again I grew in confidence within my role and further developed my communication skills which helps in my current role of collaborating with my counterparts in different EU countries.