As I write this, I have already finished the Teaching Across Borders program in Brisbane, and have arrived home. I fell behind with my blog, due to the busyness of finding a balance between work at St. Aidan’s, finishing final assignments, and trying to fit in as much sightseeing around Brisbane and then Sydney, before having to head back to Canada. Now that I am settled back in Calgary, I am going reflect back on my time at St. Aidan’s School and everything that Lauren and I got up to in Brisbane since I wrote last, and my next post will be a final reflection of the whole experience.
When I last wrote, we had just begun working at St. Aidan’s Anglican Girl’s School, and after spending a few more weeks at the school, I really can’t say enough good things about it. The staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and genuinely wanted to know about Lauren and I, where we came from, and about our teaching program at the University of Calgary. We were each given a timetable and spent Mondays, Tuesdays, and a few Wednesdays between a few different classrooms. I found that in all classes I worked in, the teachers were happy to have me there, and made an effort discuss their teaching strategies, or to discuss aspects of the Australian curriculum with me that I wouldn’t have been familiar with. The girls were so lovely, and I loved to see how eager they were to be there and to learn. Similar to the staff, the girls were very curious about Canada and what our lives were like back home, and on a few occasions, I would be asked to say certain words which often resulted in a number of giggles because of my funny “accent”. I spent some afternoons in a Year 3 class while they did Geography, and had a lot of fun talking about Canada in comparison to Australia and answering their many creative questions. In the Year 2 class I was in, they were learning about stereotypes, so I was able to briefly talk about some of the misconceptions that people have about Canada and Canadians.
Often times I was amazed by the type of work I saw the students doing, particularly in the younger grades, as it was very academically focused and what I would consider to be a lot of high quality work given their age. Not to say that this isn’t also the case in schools back home, but what was different, was that I didn’t really observe any play-based learning, inquiry, or constructivism, which are really being pushed in the Canadian system. I realize that I’ve only been to two Australian schools, so I can’t say that this is the case across the nation, and maybe this was just the case at this point of the school year, but I definitely found that while I was there, for the most part, the pedagogical strategy was comparable to traditional styles of teaching.
The main differences that I noticed about the system in Australia compared to that in Canada had to do with curriculum, testing, and assessment. In Canada, the curriculum is provincially developed, whereas in Australia, they have a national curriculum that each school in the country teaches to. Each year in Australia, students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9 write the NAPLAN (National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy) test, which is like the PAT here. What is different though, is that the results of these tests are published and then compared against similar schools all across the country, for educators and parents to look at on a site called “My School”. I’ve learned, that this can mean schools become competitive with each other, and the focus can sometimes gear towards achieving certain results in the data, and therefore “teaching to the test”, instead of focusing on the individual learners within each classroom and their specific learning needs. This would especially be the case in independent schools, like St. Aidan’s, where tuition isn’t cheap, and parents push to see the results that they want, given that they are paying so much money. The “My School” website says itself, that its aim “is to provide information that will support and drive improvement across the nation”, and “provide parents with information to make informed decisions about their child’s education”, and while these may be good intentions, I can see how this may become counterproductive.
In relation to this, because there is a focus on results, there is also a real focus on assessment, and on what is expected of the students. In each class, I noticed that students would be given an assessment breakdown of what was expected, as well as a checklist of what would need to be completed within the task, and what the teachers were looking for when grading. Back home in Canada, while assessment is definitely a key part of teaching, I’ve found that it isn’t as explicit, and it isn’t always the main focus of all tasks. One teacher at St. Aidan’s explained to me that because of this, she finds that some students become really anxious about their schoolwork, and stress about doing well and achieving the desired results. Not to say that student’s shouldn’t want to do well, but at this age especially, it saddens me to think of the pressure that some must be putting on themselves, when school shouldn’t always be focused on the academic content, but on the learning process itself and the development of skills beyond the academic realm, or sometimes, it’s all about just having some fun!
With all of this said, the teachers at St. Aidan’s were fantastic, and I saw a lot of great work within the wonderfully resourced classrooms. The girls were hard workers, seemed to get along well, and appeared to love being at school. It was definitely interesting though to make these observations and compare what I was seeing to what I know about school in Canada, or more specifically, in Alberta. Below are some photos from the beautiful St. Aidan's!
In between our days at St. Aidan's and working on our own coursework, Lauren and I had many opportunities to explore Brisbane and play tourist. We spent an afternoon at both the Queensland Science Museum and the Queensland Art Gallery, which was fantastic! I could have spent hours wandering the exhibits and checking out the unique artwork. We also had the opportunity to visit Stradbroke Island for the day with the International Students Association from QUT. It was a little bit disappointing at first because it did not stop raining, but it ended up being a lot of fun and the whale and kangaroo sightings were an absolute the highlight. We also got to experience an Australian Wallabies vs. New Zealand All Blacks rugby game, which was an experience to say the least - especially for me who had never seen a rugby game! The atmosphere was super fun and top it off, it was apparently a great game to see, because the Wallabies won against the All Blacks for the first time in years!
I have really enjoyed my experience in Brisbane between working at the two schools and sightseeing, and I can't believe that 10 weeks has already come and gone!
Here are some photos from my final days around Brisbane (otherwise known as Brissie or BrisVegas as I've come to learn)!
The Old Brisbane Treasury Building
King George Square
The Queensland Art Gallery
Australian Wallabies vs. New Zealand All Blacks
Exploring Brisbane City