Dr Leah O’Toole

Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education

Associate Professor

School of Education
(01) 474 7405

Biography

Dr Leah O’Toole is Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education in Maynooth University, Ireland. With an academic background in Psychology, her research interests include early childhood education, particularly accessing the voices of the youngest children from birth, relational pedagogy, bioecological theory and working with parents and communities. She is the co-author of books including Introducing Bronfenbrenner: A Guide for Practitioners and Students in Early Years Education, and Supporting positive behaviour in early childhood settings and primary schools: Relationships, reciprocity and reflection, as well as a range of book chapters and journal articles related to these research interests. Her work challenges neoliberal conceptualisations of early education and care (ECEC), and advocates for high quality ECEC based on relational, holistic and inclusive approaches, for example through the Erasmus+ funded projects THRIECE (Teaching for Holistic, Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education) and All Means All. She led the Consultation with babies, toddlers and young children to inform the updating of Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework (NCCA, 2009). Her doctoral study investigated transitions in early childhood and parental involvement in children’s education, and she subsequently led a team commissioned by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and National Parents’ Council (NPC) to investigate experiences and practices around parental involvement in Ireland. She is the Programme Coordinator of the flexible BA in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning in Maynooth University.

Research Interests

Leah's research interests include relational education, particularly in early childhood, the role of parents and communities in children's education, and the impact of neoliberalism on concepts of quality education. Much of her work draws on and further develops the bioecological theory of Urie Bronfenbrenner, and her co-authored book on bioecological theory is one of the most cited recent works on the topic. Her research investigates high quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) based on relational, holistic and inclusive approaches, for example through the Erasmus+ funded THRIECE (Teaching for Holistic, Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education) project. Her doctoral study investigated transitions in early childhood and parental involvement in children’s education, and she subsequently led a team commissioned by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and National Parents’ Council (NPC) to investigate experiences and practices around parental involvement in Ireland. This was followed by an NPC-funded evaluation of the Partnership Schools Ireland initiative based on the work of Joyce Epstein. She is the co-author of books including Supporting Positive Behaviour in Early Childhood Settings and Primary Schools: Relationships, Reciprocity and Reflection and Introducing Bronfenbrenner: A Guide for Practitioners and Students in Early Years Education as well as academic journal articles, book chapters and other publications.

Research Projects

Title Role Description Start date End date Amount
Evaluation of the Partnership Schools Ireland Initiative PI Following on from the successful research on Parental involvement, engagement and partnership in the children's education in the primary years funded by National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and National Parents Council (NPC), a team from Froebel Department and Marino Institution were awarded a tender to evaluate the Partnership Schools Ireland (PSI) initiative. This national initiative is based on the work of Joyce Epstein on best practice for parental involvement. 01/02/2021 01/10/2022 29969
Froebelian Principles in the 21st Century: Play environments and play opportunities for young children who experience stress Research team member This research, funded by the Froebel Trust, uses an innovative 'future workshops' methodology to envision ideal Frobelian inspired play spaces, through co-construction with early childhood educators, parents and children. It is intended to then work on planning for their realisation. The project is located in settings where children are experiencing significant poverty and are at risk for social exclusion. 01/01/2021 01/01/2024 37268
SCOTENS PI This project addresses a significant void in the literature on the under-researched topic of the history of early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Ireland. The research aims to map out and critically analyse potential variations in the developmental pathways taken by ECEC north and south of the border post-partition in Ireland. It will trace the journey from the 1908 Children’s Act and explore the Child-State relationship North and South to the present day. We are particularly interested in issues of children's voice and agency, and constructions of childhood. We wish to examine the shift in thinking from the very progressive ideals evident in the first democratic programme of the government in the Irish Free State towards the education system that subsequently emerged. It will also explore the parallel journey north of the border. Research questions are: - Did the ECEC sectors North and South follow divergent or similar paths post-partition? - What were the impacts of wider societal issues (political, social, religious, economic, gender, linguistic) on the development of ECEC systems North and South post-partition? - How did young children become the object of educational focus, and what educational (and other) discourses underpinned development of the sector North and South? - What part did the governance systems play in the development of the sector North and South pre- and post-partition? - What tensions existed within power-bases that have traditionally been viewed as monolithic? Who and where were the radical voices? While extensive histories of primary education in Ireland exist North (Farren, 1995) and South (O’Connor, 2010), we are not aware of any comprehensive work on the history of the ECEC sector. Therefore, this represents an important contribution to the field, since we are well served to identify where our practices fit within a historical perspective in order to deconstruct current discourses and policy-making for education (Ó Breacháin and O’Toole, 2013). Farren, S. (1995). The Politics of Irish Education 1920-1965. Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies. Ó Breacháin, A. and O'Toole, L., (2013). Pedagogy or politics?: cyclical trends in literacy and numeracy in Ireland and beyond. Irish Educational Studies, vol 32 issue 4, pp.401-419. O’Connor, M. (2010). The Development of Infant Education in Ireland, 1838-1948. Bern: Peter Lang. 02/09/2019 03/09/2020 4401
Teaching for Holistic Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education (THRIECE) Co-PI Dr Leah O’Toole was joint co-ordinator of the THRIECE (Teaching for Holistic Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education) which ran from December 2017 to May 2020. This Erasmus+ funded project involved collaboration between university academics, primary teachers and early childhood educators from Ireland, Poland and Portugal. In this engaged, participant action research, children and adults (academics and educators) co-constructed the elements of quality early childhood and primary education through creative methods including art-work, relational mapping, learning stories, photography, etc. Outcomes included the development of three online modules for primary teachers and early childhood educators, three very well attended international conferences (one in each country) and three peer-reviewed journal articles. The conference has had measurable impact at policy and practice level. 05/12/2017 31/05/2020 284704
Parental involvement, engagement and partnership in their children's education in the primary years Co-PI Parental involvement in their children's education is one of the most agreed upon educational interventions with positive outcomes identified academically, socially and psychologically (O'Toole et al., 2019). This research was funded by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the National Parents' Council to investigate experiences of parental involvement from the perspectives of parents, teachers, children and other stakeholders. In partnership with colleagues in Marino Institute of Education, Part 1 of the research involved a detailed literature review of national and international publications related to parental involvement. Part 2 consisted of detailed case studies of parental involvement in five schools in Ireland. Part 3 of the research involved the development of workshops for teachers and parents to work together on implementation of the Primary Language Curriculum. This research has fed into policy making by NCCA and NPC at national level. 01/11/2017 01/05/2019 26544

Book

Year Publication
2022 Hayes, N., O'Toole, L. and Halpenny, A. M. (2022) Introducing Bronfenbrenner: A guide for practitioners and students in early years education (2nd edition). London: Routledge.
2019 O'Toole, L. and Hayes, N. (2019) Supporting Positive Behaviour in Early Years Settings and Primary Schools: Relationships, Reciprocity and Reflective Practice. London: Routledge.
2019 O’Toole, L., Kiely, J., McGillicuddy, D., O’Brien, E. and O’Keeffe, C. (2019) Parental involvement, engagement and partnership in their children's education during the primary school years. Dublin: National Council for Curriculum and Assessment / National Parents Council. [Link]
2017 Hayes, N., O'Toole, L. and Halpenny, A. (2017) Introducing Bronfenbrenner: A guide for practitioners and students in early years education. London: Routledge. [Link]

Book Chapter

Year Publication
2023 Lynch, H. and O’Toole, L. (2023) 'Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development' In: Theories, Models, and Concepts in Occupational Therapy: Foundations for Sustaining the Profession. New Jersey : Stack.
2023 O’Toole, L., Dowling, G. and McElheron, T. (2023) 'A New Publicness for Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland' In: The New Publicness of Education: Democratic Possibilities after the Critique of Neoliberalism. London : Routledge.
2019 O'Toole, L., Hayes, N. and Halpenny, A. (2019) 'Animating systems: The ecological value of considering Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model of development' In: Ecologies for Learning and Practice: Emerging Ideas, Sightings and Possibilities. London : Routledge.
2014 Ryan, A. and O'Toole, L. (2014) 'Toward Integrated Learning: Linking Psychology, Sociology and School Experience in Initial Teacher Education' In: The Teacher of the 21st Century: Quality Education for Quality Teaching. Newcastle : Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Peer Reviewed Journal

Year Publication
2019 O'Toole L.; Hayes N.; Halpenny A.M. (2019) 'Animating systems: The ecological value of Bronfenbrenner's bioecological model of development'. Ecologies For Learning And Practice: Emerging Ideas, Sightings, And Possibilities, :19-31.
2021 Biesta G.; Heugh K.; Cervinkova H.; Rasiński L.; Osborne S.; Forde D.; Wrench A.; Carter J.; Säfström C.A.; Soong H.; O’Keeffe S.; Paige K.; Rigney L.I.; O’Toole L.; Hattam R.; Peters M.A.; Tesar M. (2021) 'Philosophy of education in a new key: publicness, social justice, and education; a South-North conversation'. Educational Philosophy and Theory, . [DOI] [Full-Text]
2021 O’Toole L.; McClelland D.; Forde D.; O'Keeffe S.; Purdy N.; Säfström C.A.; Walsh T. (2021) 'Contested childhoods across borders and boundaries: Insights from curriculum provisions in Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State in the 1920s'. British Educational Research Journal, 47 (4):1021-1038. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3708 [Full-Text]
2020 O'Toole, L. (2020) 'Participant Action Research (PAR) for Early Childhood and Primary Education: The example of the THRIECE project'. Problemy Wczesnej Edukacji / Issues in Early Education, 49 (2):31-44. [Link] https://czasopisma.bg.ug.edu.pl/index.php/pwe/article/view/4872 [Full-Text]
2019 O’Toole, L., Regan, C. and Nowak-Lojewska, A. (2019) '‘To learn with’ as an alternative voice for children's education. Introduction to a European Project: Teaching for Holistic, Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education (THRIECE)'. KWARTALNIK PEDAGOGICZNY / PEDAGOGICAL QUARTERLY, 251 (1):175-182. [Link] [Full-Text]
2015 O'Toole, L. (2015) 'Student-centred teaching in Initial Teacher Education'. International Journal for Cross-Disciplinary Subjects in Education, 6 (1):2111-2119.
2014 O'Toole, L. (2014) 'Cooperative learning in Initial Teacher Education: Student experiences'. Problemy Wczesnej Edukacji / Issues in Early Education, 25 (2):7-20. [Link]
2019 Nowak-Lojewska, A., O’Toole, L., Regan, C. and Fereira, M. (2019) '‘To learn with’ in the view of holistic, relational and inclusive education'. KWARTALNIK PEDAGOGICZNY / PEDAGOGICAL QUARTERLY, 251 (1):151-162. [Link] [Full-Text]
2014 O'Toole, L. (2014) 'A bioecological perspective on educational transition'. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 140 :121-127. [Full-Text]
2013 O Breachain, A. and O'Toole, L. (2013) 'Pedagogy or Politics: Cyclical Trends in Literacy and Numeracy in Ireland and Beyond'. Irish Educational Studies, 32 (4):401-419. [Full-Text]

Published Report

Year Publication
2023 O’Toole, L., Kerrins, L., Walsh, G., Doherty, A., Forde, D., Kelleher, F., Matson, S., McCartney, S., Stafford, P. and Stokes, T. (2023) A consultation with babies, toddlers and young children to inform the updating of Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework (NCCA, 2009). NCCA, .
2021 Kiely, J. O’Toole, L. Haals-Brosnan, M., O’Brien, E. Z., O’Keeffe, C. and Dunne, C. (2021) Parental Involvement, Engagement and Partnership in Children’s Education during the Primary School Years: Final Report. Marino Institute of Education, . [Link]

Other Journal

Year Publication
2020 Leah O'Toole (2020) 'Relationships, reciprocity and reflective practice in challenging times' Early Pedagogy, Summer 2020 . [Full-Text]
2014 O Breachain A. and O'Toole, L. (2014) 'Literacy and numeracy: Are we on the right track?' In Touch, 141 :54-55.

Conference Publication

Year Publication
2020 Maja Haals-Brosnan, Emma O'Brien and Leah O'Toole (2020) National Early Years Research Day Proceedings, 63 . In: Early Childhood Ireland eds. Supporting children’s home learning environment through partnerships with parents–findings from a national study Dublin, [Link]
2017 O'Toole, L. (2017) The Future of Education Conference A bioecological perspective on parental involvement in their children’s education [Full-Text]
2016 O'Toole, L and Hayes, N. (2016) The Future of Education Conference A bioecological perspective on educational transition: Experiences of Children, Parents and Teachers [Full-Text]

Conference Contribution

Year Publication
2022 Lynch, Á. and O'Toole, L. (2022) Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) Annual Conference Back to the Future- Reconnecting partnerships with your parents is the “lightening rod” to better futures for the children in your school! Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland, .
2022 Säfström, C. A. and O'Toole, L. (2022) Contested Childhoods in Education Sligo School Project Symposium Sligo, 21/05/2022-.
2022 O'Toole, L. (2022) The Ethics of Research with Babies, Toddlers and Young Children National Council for Curriculum and Assessment Annual Research Day Portlaois, 25/05/2022-.
2021 O'Toole, L. and Regan, C. (2021) Australian Association for Research in Education Conference Contesting constructions of children and childhood through Relational Reflective Practice Virtual / Australia, .
2021 Leah O'Toole, Claire Regan and Nóirín Hayes (2021) Relation Centered Education Network Annual Conference Conference presentation Virtual, .
2020 Leah O'Toole (2020) Early Childhood Ireland Research Symposium Early Childhood Ireland Research Symposium Virtual, 19/10/2020-21/10/2020.
2019 O'Toole, L. (2019) European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA) Conference Teaching for Holistic, Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education (THRIECE) Thessaloniki, Greece, .
2019 O'Toole, L. (2019) Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI) Conference Parental involvement, partnership and engagement in their children’s education during the primary school years Sligo, Ireland, .
2019 O'Toole, L. (2019) Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI) Conference Teaching for Holistic, Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education (THRIECE) Sligo, Ireland, .
2019 O'Toole, L. (2019) Desafiar prática Profissionais na Infância: Educação holística, relacional e inclusiva Participant action research in the THRIECE project Porto. Portugal, . [Full-Text]
2019 O'Toole, L. (2019) OMEP Ireland Annual Conference: Relationship Matters and What Matters in Early Years Relationships The importance of home-school relationships in the early years of children’s education Cork Institute of Education, .
2019 O'Toole, L. (2019) A bioecological perspective on outdoor play Outdoor play provides opportunities for development not available by any other means. Therefore inequitable access to outdoor play can be perceived as a social justice issue, and this is theorised in this paper through the lens of bioecological theory Maynooth University, .
2019 Kiely, J. and O'Toole, L. (2019) National Parents Council Primary Education Conference 2019, Tomorrow’s World: Parents supporting children’s futures Parents’ involvement in their children’s education in primary school Dublin, Ireland, .
2019 O'Toole, L. (2019) THRIECE (Teaching for Holistic, Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education) THRIECE (Teaching for Holistic, Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education) Gdansk, Poland, .
2017 O'Toole, L. and Mhic Mhathuna, M. (2017) Multilingualism in the Early Years International Conference, 18th-19th May, 2017. Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin, Ireland The implications of multi-lingualism for parental involvement in children’s educational transitions Dublin Ireland, .
2016 O'Toole, L. (2016) ECER (European Conference on Educational Research), 22nd – 26th August 2016. University College Dublin, Ireland Invited discussant for the “Compensatory Pathways for Early School Leavers: Findings from the RESL.eu Project” Symposium Dublin Ireland, .
2016 O'Toole, L., McDaid, R. and Ryan, A. (2016) Dialogue across education and humanities conference, 22nd-24th June 2016. St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin, Ireland Assessment of combined foundation discipline content on an initial teacher education programme: Student-lecturer interdisciplinary dialoguing of theories to practices Dublin Ireland, .
2016 O'Toole, L. (2016) 26th EECERA (European Early Childhood Education Research Association) Annual Conference ‘Happiness, Relationships, Emotion and Deep Level Learning’ 31st August – 3rd September 2016. Dublin, Ireland The power of 'process': The role of relationships in supporting positive educational transitions Dublin, .
2015 O'Toole, L and Hayes, N. (2015) Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI) Annual National Conference, ‘Educational Research and Practice in Times of Transition: Looking to the Future’, 9th – 11th April 2015. Carton House and Educational transition in bio-ecological perspective: The key role of relationships Carton House, Kildare, Ireland, .
2015 Ryan, A., O'Toole, L. and Purdy, N, (2015) SCoTENS, 21-22 October, 2014. Enniskillen, Ireland “Welcome to this one hour lecture on . . . Constructivism . . . (!)”: Rhetoric Or Reality? A Consideration of the Theory/Practice Nexus and its Implications for Approaches to Teacher Education Enniskillen, .
2015 O'Toole, L and Hayes, N. (2015) RECE International Conference, ‘Narratives of Difference: Translations, Transgressions and Transformations’, 27th-31st October, 2015. Blanchardstown Institute of Technology, Dublin, Ireland The baby and the bathwater: Integrating theoretical stances to enhance children’s experiences of educational transitions Dublin Ireland, .
2014 O'Toole, L. (2014) London International Conference on Education (LICE), 10th-12th November 2014. London, England ‘Freedom to learn’ in Initial Teacher Education. (Awarded best poster) London, .
2013 O'Toole, L. (2013) World Conference on Psychology and Sociology, 27th-29th November 2013. Brussels, Belgium A Bioecological Perspective on Educational Transition Brussels, .
2013 O'Toole, L. and O Breachain, A. (2013) Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI) Annual National Conference, 21st-23rd March, 2013. Limerick, Ireland Going round and round with the 3 R’s: International experiences of standardised testing and league tables: Implications for educational policy in Ireland Limerick, .
2013 Ryan, A. and O'Toole, L. (2013) Association for Teacher Education in Europe Spring Conference: Teacher of the 21st Century, Quality Education for Quality Teaching, 10th-12th May 2013 Riga, Latvia Towards Integrated Learning: Linking Psychology, Sociology and School Experience in Initial Teacher Education Riga, .

Invited Seminars

Year Publication
2021 O'Toole, L. (2021) A bioecological perspective on education. [Invited Seminars]
2021 O'Toole, L. and Regan, C. (2021) Teaching for Holistic Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education (THRIECE). [Invited Seminars]
Certain data included herein are derived from the © Web of Science (2023) of Clarivate. All rights reserved.

Teaching Interests

Leah is the Programme Coordinator of the BA in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning. She lectures on the degree in Reflective Practice, Learning and Development Practices, Transitions and Research & Dissertation. She also teaches on the Masters in Education in Contemporary Issues in Working with Families and Communities.