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Final Reflection Part 1

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

Stradbroke Island

Australian Wallabies vs. New Zealand All Blacks

Exploring Brisbane City 

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Final Post: Home from Perth, Australia!

Hello Ning blog readers,

I am writing from Canada! It is crazy to think that only a few days ago I was across the world. The jet lag has been more intense than I was anticipating, but I am slowly adjusting. It is difficult to articulate exactly what this experience has meant for me, but I can say with confidence that I’m glad I decided to take this once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s amazing to think how much I did in the span of three months, both in regards to teaching and traveling.

My final two weeks in Australia were amazing. I traveled to a small town south of Perth to visit an exclusively Indigenous school, and it was an eye-opening experience. Most of the students do not live in the town, but get bussed in for days or weeks at a time. Many of them come from a difficult home life and enter the formal education system with little or no preparation. Though there were behavioural issues with some of the students, the majority of them were well-behaved and thrilled to have a visitor in the class. Many of them have physical delays so they start their morning with a half hour physical routine that includes stretching, balance, strength and meditation. The teacher said that the difference she’s seen over a couple of months from using that program have been phenomenal. I definitely intend to incorporate physical breaks into my classroom time, because that type of activity is just as important as traditional school work.

My final week in Australia was spent at a small independent school in a small surf town three hours south of Perth (Margaret River). They have classes for pre-school to grade 7, and there are less than 100 students attending. I found this school fascinating because of their focus on “virtues”- things like compassion, assertiveness, diligence, and truthfulness (there is a list of over 50 virtues; I will attach a picture). They focus on one of these per week. They also do not use a typical reward/punishment system, instead using a “natural consequences” system. E.g., if you draw on the wall, the natural consequence is that you have to clean it up. The school is also surrounded by nature, as it is ten minutes outside of the town. They have class-tended flowers and vegetables growing throughout the school grounds, and they have a designated nature trail where they do plant and insect studies. I can’t exaggerate how much I enjoyed my time at this school. I have filed away many of the practices I saw here for future use in my classroom.

Overall, my experience abroad in Perth was amazing. I got to observe and teach in many different schools, each with their own unique approach to education. I learned something at every stop I made, and have made sure to record every piece that I want to take forward with me in my career. Although I had an incredible experience, I am relieved to be back home with my family and friends. The time difference between Canada and Australia was large, so it feels good to be in the same place and time zone as everyone again (even though there’s approximately a 40 degree drop in temperature between Perth and Calgary). I am excited to start my practicum with grade 2, and am looking forward to the holidays as well.

I will miss Australia, and can’t wait to go back someday. The value of studying and teaching abroad cannot be overstated, and I encourage anyone considering it to go for it. It is an experience that you will remember forever, and you will learn so much about yourself and gain so much knowledge that will help you in your future career. For me, it is on to the next chapter, but I know this will not be my last teaching exchange. Now that I have the confidence to travel on my own and put myself in new situations, I can look forward to a future full of more opportunities like TAB.

That’s all for now. Thanks to anyone who has been keeping up with my blog! I look forward to reading everyone’s posts from this year and from future years! As promised, a few pictures from the small independent school in Margaret River: 

Class-tended gardens:

Nature trail: 

List of virtues: 

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Home time!

Hi everyone, this post is coming at you from 11887 m high! I am currently on hour 6 of my long journey home, not even halfway through and already bored…. Luckily for me, this 14 hour plane ride from Brisbane to Vancouver is very empty so I have a full row to myself! This experience has really been incredible and I don’t really know how to put my thoughts into words to be honest, but I will give it my best shot! Firstly, I think I will speak to my professional gain because that seems the most obvious. As I said many times before I began this program and continuously throughout, the professional gain was a huge influence as to why I chose to do TAB. Always having the intention of teaching overseas one day this program was very appealing to me from the get go. I now have the extra experience to not only put on my resume and into my portfolio, but also in life. Having that extra 120 hours (approximately) of experience really speaks for itself. I am now going back with confidence in the classroom ready to take on this practicum with everything I got!

Leading from this, I will now speak to my personal gain. On a personal level, I really can’t use enough adjectives to describe how my experience has been. I have grown into not only a much more confident teacher but also person. I moved away from home at 17 to live in Victoria to go to the University of Victoria, so I have always had that spark for adventure in me but it is now well and truly alight. Although I did move away, I have always been quite dependent. Not necessarily only my parents but more so on my friends as well when I got older. I never really enjoy being by myself or doing new challenges first. Yes, this is still somewhat true but I really feel like I have grown more into a truly independent person. I have very much always been a people pleaser. I have found that being so independent has allowed me to flourish into someone who has an opinion and who is not afraid to share that opinion. I think that being away from home for 3 months and doing lots of solo travelling really adds to someone’s character; and I think that it has only added positive attributes to mine.

Lastly, I speak to you future TAB student. If you are reading this, meaning that you are interested in this program, I have two words for you: DO IT. As I said before, it is really hard to put thoughts into words when thinking about my time over the past 3 months. I tried my best in this post, and it took me a while on my 14 hour flight home from down under. Irrespective of the professional and personal gain, it is truly a wonderful program to be a part of. I got the opportunity to do many things that I haven’t done before and see places I have never been before. Yes, teaching is primarily why someone is interested in this program but it is so much more than that. If you are given the opportunity to go, go and don’t hesitate; you will not be disappointed.

Well folks, the big finale. I have really enjoyed writing these posts and hope that someone has appreciated reading them! Thank you to my family and friends back home for being so supportive while I have been away. Thank you to Kelsey for being my own personal photographer and soul sister in Australia. To my fellow TAB 2017 students, thank you for being on this epic journey with me! I will leave you once and for all with some pictures of my adventures these past few weeks (I had the best day at the zoo and at the rugby game)! Over and out. 

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Two weeks left in Perth!

Hello everyone! These past few weeks have been incredible, but very busy! I travelled to Brisbane and Cairns for more adventures over the school break, and have been having even more adventures back in Perth. However, I continue to appreciate this experience for what it is offering me with regards to my future teaching career, and I have not been disappointed by my opportunity to visit a diverse array of schools in Perth. This past week I spent at an inclusive education school, which has some classrooms that are for students with special needs only, and some classrooms where special needs students are fully integrated into regular classrooms.

The whole of my first day was spent in a kindergarten special education classroom. One of the teaching assistants told me that she hoped I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the students, because some visitors do feel that way- but on the contrary, I fell in love with the class almost immediately. After just one day, I felt like I had formed positive relationships with the students as well as a deep respect for all of the special education teachers out there, and for all teachers who work hard every day to create inclusive classrooms and differentiate their teaching strategies to suit the needs of all students.

There was a strong focus on play in this school, and on positive teacher-student relationships. The atmosphere there was warm and fun, though the teachers still clearly knew when to “use their teacher voice,” and the students responded to it. Being in this school reminded me how much joy I get from working with kids, particular younger kids. As such, it has made me even more excited for my upcoming practicum in Calgary with grade 2 students.

It’s hard to believe that there are only two weeks left of TAB. I feel like I have grown so much personally and professionally, and have had so much fun, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Canada. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, but I am ready to start the next chapter of my life and career. This upcoming week will include a day trip to an Indigenous school outside of Perth. I anticipate that it will be a very valuable and unique experience.

Thanks for reading! Here are some highlights of my past few weeks:

 Great Barrier Reef round 2! Love these big guys:

Daintree Rainforest with my amazing boyfriend who came all the way from Canada to visit me!

Rottnest Island, Western Australia: home to the happy quokkas!

One of many ultra friendly quokkas interested in my ice cream!

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2 weeks to go!!!

Well, 2 weeks to go. Unbelievable. The past few weeks since my last post have been busy with our online classes as well as our placement here in Brisbane. It is so crazy that last time I wrote it was 4 weeks until I flew home, which seemed like quite a while. Now it seems like I’ve closed my eyes and I am flying home in 2 weeks. The weather here is getting very wet and although it is nice to get some relief from the constant (almost unbearable) heat, I need to work on my tan before I come home and rain is not going to help!! I am hoping for some last minute sunshine next week to help me.

Kelsey and I have been spending time at a school called St. Aidan’s Anglican Girls School. It is an all girls school, which I have never seen before, so it has been an interesting experience. Compared to our previous school, I find that we are more useful here. ALL classrooms have a back room that is used for small group work, which is where I have been spending most of my time, helping particular groups in their rotations. I have been helping with Grade 1 English and Grade 5 math to name a few. One day last week, I was lucky enough to be in a Grade 6 English classroom where the students (and me) got to watch Zootopia! It was awesome. During the movie, the teacher shared with me all the projects that she intends to do with this movie and it was great to see! They will be creating their own podcast in groups as the final project. I have also been spending a great amount of time in a Grade 5 classroom while they are learning about Bushfires. I have had to learn lots about Australian Bushfires to help these students as they are writing a narrative about it! I have had to be quick on my feet and infer information from the novel they are reading but it has been great! The students love working with me and think it is hilarious when I have to ask them what common words in their vocabulary mean, and are really dedicated and willing to ask me for help when they need it. It is toward the end of the school year for the students here in Australia so they all understand their expectations and are getting ready for the intensity of the following year, or Secondary school. The staff at this school has been so accommodating and are overjoyed to have an extra set of hands in the classroom. The school is smaller than our previous one so the staff room is more intimate and all teachers have made an effort to introduce themselves to us and ask what we are doing. One teacher is visiting Canada in December and has been picking our brains about her preparations for her trip (for example, what clothes to bring). It has been great! The girls who attend the school are lovely as well. It is not overly obvious that they are high SES girls. Yes, many of them sport Apple watches and a few talk about how they got ponies for their birthday or own a bakery, but overall they are lovely girls who are eager to learn. I really love being at this school and it is opening my eyes at the different types of schools. As someone who attended public school my whole school career (minus one year), I am a huge advocate for public school. However, seeing this private school is showing me that there is a difference. All of the classes at St. Aidan’s have 16-18 girls, whereas I grew up with 25+ students in my class. I have no complaints, as I had an excellent education at a public school, but I think that had a lot to do with my work ethic and dedication to succeed. I think that private schools have a lot going for them, and lots of times you get what you pay for and I think you do at St. Aidan’s.

As for our adventures for the past few weeks, Kelsey and I have been doing some local exploring around Brisbane. We have been to a few museums as well as visited Stradbroke Island with other international students at QUT! Stradbroke, or Straddie as the locals call it, was incredible. We were both quite disappointed as it literally rained ALL DAY. However, on our walk around Stradbroke Island, through the rain, we were looking out into the ocean appreciating the sights and we saw whales!! It was incredible. Kelsey and I were in awe and stood and watched the ocean for 15 minutes while getting soaked. When we finally moved on along our walk, we saw a family of wild kangaroos cross our path in front of us. Overall, this day was one that I will definitely remember as a highlight from the past 3 months. Tomorrow we are going to see a rugby game, New Zealand All Blacks vs. Australian Wallabies and I am SO excited. I purchased these tickets back in June when they went on sale and have been looking forward to it since then. I love watching sports and follow international Rugby from back home so to be able to experience this event will be a great life moment for me. As far as rugby goes, this event is pinnacle for any rugby fan. It is on my bucket list to see the All Blacks perform the Hakka in real life, and I will see that tomorrow!!

Well that’s it for now! In the next few weeks we have 4 more days at St. Aidan’s, a QUT conference, I am going to visit the Australia zoo and then we leave so it will be a busy time! I will leave you with some pictures of the past few weeks! The next time I write I will be on my way home or already home! Crazy how time flies. 

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End of September Update

Hello again!

I have less than four weeks left here in Australia, and I know I’ve said it before...but I really can’t believe how fast the time has gone by!

Since my last post, Lauren and I spent a few days of our Spring Holiday on the Whitsunday Coast, where we got to visit the infamous Whitehaven Beach – the top rated beach in Australia – as well as Hamilton Island. We also went on a sea kayaking & snorkeling tour, and I made my way to Conway National Park to go on my first hike here in Australia!

We spent the remainder of our holidays here in Brisbane, taking in the Riverfire Festival firework show, and exploring the Botanical Gardens.

The week following holidays was our final week at Saints Peter and Paul’s School before starting our placement at Saint Aidan’s Anglican Girls School on October 9th. The students and staff at Saints Peter and Paul’s exceeded any expectations that we had, and our time there was definitely a valuable learning experience. While neither Lauren nor I took on any direct teaching or lesson planning (with the exception of one lesson that I was asked to “lead”), we were able to spend our time working with smaller groups of children who needed additional support in the various classrooms that we were placed in. I found that each teacher I was with was more than willing to share their knowledge, and would often stop to explain something about the curriculum, their teaching strategy, or a specific aspect of a lesson with me. The Year 6 teacher was even so kind as to put together an entire folder of resources for both Lauren and me to take home as a parting gift. Overall, we really enjoyed our time at Saints Peter and Paul’s, and we are now looking forward to the next few weeks we get to spend at Saint Aidan’s!

Saints Peter and Paul's Catholic School

Last week, we returned to QUT after being asked to speak about the University of Calgary, Teaching Across Borders, and other general info about our city with Bachelor of Education students who are interested in applying to a program that would bring them to Canada for three weeks in January. The eight accepted participants will spend these weeks at UofC (taking a block week course with the rest of us), visiting Calgary schools, and taking part in a program out in Kananaskis.

Following our presentation, we then had the opportunity to sit in on a class and take part in the discussion surrounding ‘Indigenous Education in Australia’, which I found quite interesting, considering we are also currently taking an ‘Indigenous Education’ course as part of our online studies through UofC. I found many of the critical thinking strategies discussed (though talked about in Australian context) valuable and I know that I will be able to apply these skills to the Canadian context when it comes to sourcing out authentic and valuable materials to use within my future classrooms.  

Lauren and I have now only spent two days at our new placement, Saint Aidan’s Anglican Girls School, so my plan is to write an update on this in my next blog once I have a better idea of what the school is like and when I have more to share. So far, both the staff and students has been overly friendly and welcoming, and I've noticed that the girls are incredibly well-behaved and eager to learn. I look forward to spending more time there over the next few weeks.

So until my next update, here is a collection of photos from my latest adventures in this amazing part of the world!

Whitehaven Beach 

Exploring Hamilton Island

Mount Rooper in Conway National Park

Riverfire Festival

Brisbane Botanic Gardens

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Halfway through my time is Brisbane!

Well, we are officially half way through our time here in Australia! I can’t believe it! It has been an amazing adventure so far and I am so excited to see what the next few weeks have in store! It is basically 4 weeks until I fly home and I just know that is going to fly by faster than the past 4 weeks have! Since I last wrote, Kelsey and I got the opportunity to visit the Whitsundays, complete our last week at the school we have been at since we started here, and do a presentation at QUT as well as attend a lecture!

Firstly, the weather here is amazing. It is slowly getting hotter and I cannot even imagine what it is like here in the height of summer (December-March). It must be unbearable because even now, in October, I have a layer of sweat on my face as soon as I leave our apartment. When we visited North Queensland and went to the Whitsunday islands during the spring holidays, it was even hotter up there! The Whitsundays were amazing; the bluest waters, the whitest sandy beaches and the most luscious green trees. The colours there were incredible and it was definitely a place that I will never forget. Kelsey and I had the opportunity to visit the beaches, meet some locals, visit the famous Whitehaven beach and Hamilton Island, and go sea kayaking. Whitehaven beach’s sand is 98% silicon so no matter how long it is in the sun, it will never get too hot; it also squeaked a little when you walked on it and was the whitest sand I have ever seen. We also got to wear the very fashionable 'stinger suit'. These skin tight, iconic, basically wet suits, we were required to wear to protect us from the deadly jellyfish that inhabit the North Queensland oceans. It was definitely an experience to be in the water along with these (and who knows what else...!) creatures! It was a spectacular experience to visit this amazing part of the world and one that I will never forget. After our few days in the beautiful Whitsundays we returned back to Brisbane to catch up on schoolwork and do some local exploring. We also had the opportunity to meet up with Tracy as she was in town and we walked around the Botanical Gardens and got to hear all about her experiences! We are all having such a wonderful time away; it truly has been amazing so far. The end of September marked the end of the Brisbane festival, meaning there was a firework display. 20 minutes of fireworks accompanied by music and good times was an amazing way to end spring holidays. 

Before the students and teachers went on their spring holidays and for one week after, Kelsey and I were volunteering at St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Primary School. We completed 4 weeks of teaching there before starting at a new school next week. We had great experiences and got the opportunity to sit in and help on a number of classes ranging from Grade 6 religion to Grade 1 music to Grade 3 PE. One thing that has struck me as particularly surprising in the school system here is that the children have PE for 30 mins, once a week. This is very different than it is back home as the students are required to do PE if not every day but at least every other. It was a lovely school and the staff were so welcoming and accommodating. One teacher gave us both a booklet of literacy resources and it is going to be amazingly helpful in my future career! I have found that their typical school day is very similar to what it would look like at home. They arrive at 8:40am to start their day, at 10:40-11 they go for 'morning tea' (we would call it recess), at 1-1:50 they have lunch (allocating the first 10 minutes to only eating to ensure all students eat their lunch instead of just play!) and then they go home at 3pm. This sort of structure is one that is seen throughout most schools in Calgary. They have a 'no hat, no play' policy at all schools in Queensland as the sun is so hot and the lack of ozone layer makes in dangerous for everyone, especially young children. Even teachers are required to wear a hat while they are on supervision! The physical school structure itself though is very different. As opposed to having one big building where all classrooms and learning spaces are located like schools are in Calgary; this school, like many other schools in Australia, has different buildings. The climate here allows the students to have that separation between buildings as they can walk outside year round without freezing like we would at home! I am definitely sad to be finished at this school but had the most wonderful experience and I am looking forward to having new experiences in the coming weeks. Next week we will be helping at one of the most expensive schools to send children to in Queensland. Should be an interesting experience with lots of amazing resources available to the teachers! We are looking forward to it, so stay tuned! Below are some pictures of St. Peter and Paul's school! 

Lastly, since my previous post Kelsey and I were asked to do a presentation about the University of Calgary, Calgary, and the Education program for prospective students completing a similar Professional Experience placement in Calgary next January! It was not a great turn out, as lots of the interested students were out on practicum, but it was nice to get to share some information on our programs and schools. We left our emails along with the PowerPoint so hopefully we can stay in touch and meet up with the students when they arrive in Calgary next year! We also had the opportunity to attend an Indigenous Education tutorial, which was fascinating. They were just finishing up their unit but it was interesting to see the parallels between our online class that we are completing and their one. 

In the coming weeks we have lots of fun adventures planned! I am lucky enough to have gained not only an adventure buddy but also a new bestie in Kelsey and we have so many things left we want to do, time permitting! I will leave you on edge for my next post and leave it at that for now!

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Schools in Perth!

Hello Ning Blog readers!

I have been in Perth for nearly a month now! It is hard to believe - time has been flying. I spent these past two weeks at two different schools, an independent public primary school and a private boys' schools for both junior and secondary school (both have been open for 120 years!!). In Australia, this is the end of Term 3 out of 4 (the end of their winter term), so the students are now on a two week holiday. This meant that not only did I get to observe two awesome sporting events, but I also got to observe what student (and teacher) behaviour looks like at the end of what is arguably the most draining term (as one teacher put it- “Term 3 is like the Wednesday of your week - you can just barely see the light at the end”). Hint: as some year seven students frantically tried to wrap up their “water inquiry” project reports, others were quite literally bouncing off the walls.

The first school I attended was Cottesloe primary school, an independent public school. It was an absolute pleasure to interact with the staff and students at this school. In addition to observing and assisting in classrooms, I had the privilege of accompanying the year 3-5 students to their annual sports carnival, where various schools gather to compete in sporting events. Spoiler alert: Cottesloe won by a (moderate) landslide!

The second school I attended was Scotch College. If that sounds prestigious to you, I dare say you are correct, but “Scotch” is the farthest thing from pretentious. The staff and students are all genuinely kind and passionate about learning. I will admit I was more than a little curious to find out what a boys only school would look like, and I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly and respectful atmosphere. I spent the majority of my time with year 7 students. The boys were nothing but courteous to me and had many questions to ask about Canada, including: “Are there heaps of bears?” “Do you ski lots?” And, my favourite (but also maybe least favourite), “Is Trump your president?”

Scotch College wrapped up Term 3 with a “Highland Games” event, which included bagpipes, traditional games, and a lot of fun. Despite the temperamental wind and rain, the school persisted in their active endeavors. For the teachers, the day ended with a drink and an optional serving of haggis in the staff room (I chickened out, much to the dismay of my distant Scottish ancestors).

I feel like I have seen some of the best of Perth’s education system these past two weeks, and I am more grateful than ever to be here. Since the students have a two week break now, so thus do I, so I am venturing to Brisbane to visit one of my best friends. She is completing her master’s degree in speech pathology, so we will undoubtedly swap amusing stories about the youth we interact with. I will also get to meet up with my two fellow Australia TABers Lauren and Kelsey!

I love teaching. Til next time,

Tracy

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First Weeks in Brisbane

Hello again from beautiful Brisbane!

I was just about to say that I can’t believe how fast time is going by, and then I looked at a calendar and realized that TODAY is the halfway point of my journey! It’s insane to think that 45 days has come and gone, and the next 45 will probably only go by just as fast, if not faster!

Since my last post, Lauren and I have become even more settled in our lovely little apartment. We’ve located the nearest grocery store, coffee shop, bus station, and there’s even a Target across the street…so we’re pretty much set!

The Sunday after we arrived, we looked online and realized that there was a weekend market going on at South Bank – which we’ve learned to be the cultural “hub” of Brisbane. You can find art galleries, markets, lush green spaces, various forms of entertainment, cafes, shops, bars, and there’s even a man-made lagoon to cool off on those warm days (but that seems to be everyday here)! Lucky for us, South Bank is only about 10 minutes from our apartment, which we didn’t realize beforehand, but we’re definitely glad it worked out that way. We ended up spending that whole first day browsing the markets and exploring all that South Bank has to offer.

We began our first week on Monday September 4th, and as I mentioned in my last post, started off with school tours and orientation. It went far better than expected! The QUT staff, as well as the teaching staff and students at both schools were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and they seemed excited to have us – which was a good sign!

Queensland University of Technology Kelvin Grove Campus

The first school where we have begun our volunteer teaching is at Saints Peter and Paul’s Catholic. I’ve spent the most amount of time in Year 1 and Year 6, but they have also given us the opportunity to see a range of other classes and subjects. We even got to go on a field trip with Kindergarten (or “Prep” as they call it here)! 

My first impressions of Saints Peter and Paul’s is that the classrooms are incredibly similar to classrooms I’ve seen back home in Canada, in terms of the layout, resources, and learning materials, etc., and the teaching styles are also quite similar. Even though Australia and Canada are so alike in many aspects, I don’t think I anticipated there to be so much commonality in the schools. Of course there are some differences, like the fact that all students wear uniform, which is not as common back home, and the general layout of the school is not something that we would see in Canada either. Instead of there being one large building, the school is made up of many smaller buildings that can be accessed through outdoor corridors – which just wouldn’t be logical in a place where temperatures can drop to -30C! The school is located in a lovely suburb, and we've been told that it has a very high SES rating. I've noticed a significant amount of classroom support, educational resources, and extra-curricular opportunity. 

In terms of curriculum, there are some differences, but the overall learning outcomes that are set in place closely align with the educational goals that are set forth for students back home, and as I mentioned, the methods of teaching, as well as the behavioural management strategies are comparable. 

Though we may not be experiencing the same kind of culture shock or language barrier that some of our peers may be adjusting to, this experience has still been valuable to me in that it’s given me added opportunity to work with students, to observe different educators in their teaching environments, and to develop a clearer sense of who I am in the classroom and as a future teacher. I’ve had to think on my feet – more specifically when I was asked to lead a lesson with 10 minutes preparation (on a topic that I am totally unfamiliar with) and with a class whose names I only knew half of, and the overall experience has helped to raise my confidence in the classroom - though I still have a LOT to learn!

Last week we also had the opportunity to return to the QUT campus and meet with the Dean of Education, Assistant Dean of International Engagement, and the International Engagement Coordinator, who we had been in touch with prior to arriving. Our contacts at QUT have been so wonderfully accommodating and they always want to hear about how we are doing. During our meeting we basically spoke about the Teaching Across Borders program, our BEd program, what we hope to get out of this experience, suggestions for their own program that they are trying to start that will be similar to TAB, and our travel plans while in Australia. We have also agreed to return next month to speak to the students who are interested in coming to Calgary through QUT, to tell them more about what we are doing here, and what they can expect in our city. In addition, we’ve discussed the possibility of sitting in on some Education courses at QUT, which would be very interesting. 

We were only at Saints Peter and Paul’s for two weeks before Spring Holidays began, so this past week we have been able to enjoy some free time while also working on our online studies. Lauren and I have been able to spend a weekend on the Gold Coast, Melbourne, and just yesterday we made arrangements to visit the Whitsunday Islands next week – which we are very excited about! 

I think that's all of the updates I have to share at this point...so until next time, I'll leave you with some photos from my last few weeks here in "The Land Down Under"!

Exploring The South Melbourne Market

Downtown Melbourne

Brighton Beach Huts


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Brisbane Update!

Lauren here checking in from Brisbane, Australia! Well, for starters the weather here is absolutely beautiful. An average of about 26 degrees Celsius everyday accompanied with sunshine and gradually increasing the longer we stay. After completing two weeks of volunteering in the schools I am finally starting to feel comfortable in our new temporary home and in the schools. Our apartment is so beautiful and in such a great location.

We started our volunteering our first week in Brisbane and have continued since. We are lucky enough to be on ‘spring holidays’ at the moment as the school term ended but we are currently looking at attending some classes at the Queensland University of Technology to see what sort of things they are learning about at the moment to fill the next few weeks as well as maybe doing some local exploring. We met with our liaison and the Dean of Education of QUT a few days ago for tea to discuss opportunities for us to build relationships in Australia. They were both so lovely and it was nice to start to discuss building those connections.

The school we are placed in at the moment is a great school located in a very high SES area so there are no serious behavioural needs within the classrooms. The children have just finished their 3rd term so this past week they were wrapping up what they had been learning before they have their holidays! In two weeks they start their final term of the school year before going on summer holidays in November. The only really noticeable difference in the school system I have found is obviously the flipped school year. The kids cannot seem to wrap their head around the fact that at home the school year starts in September, not February. Kelsey and I were lucky enough to be able to go to Sea World on an excursion with the prep (kindergarten) students last week. It was certainly a great experience! We arrived in the morning to find that two of the parent volunteers had backed out earlier that morning so they were so thankful to have us there to help. The teachers/parent volunteers were responsible for carrying the student’s lunch and waters etc. as well as obviously supervising the children and ensuring they did not go off wandering!

Overall I have spent the majority of my time in a Grade 1 class and have loved it. The teacher is more than willing to share her resources and answer all my questions as well as let me do some small group work with some students that require extra help. I am finding that the Grade 1 class is very heavily focused on academics other than play. I have seen next to no play-based learning and I am not sure if it is just because it was the end of term or whether it just is not present in the classrooms. Will keep you updated when we start back up again in a few weeks! I think it is important to track these sort of patterns as these ideas of inquiry and play based learning are very much drilled into us pre-service teachers in Canada and I am not sure if it is instilled in teachers in Australia. We will have to see in a few weeks!

I think that compared to other TABers our experience down under is comparably different. With English not being the main avenue for teaching, it has allowed us to open up to more subjects than just English as a second language. For example: I was able to sit in on a religion class in grade 1 and having not attending Catholic or a religious school at all throughout my education, it was so interesting. The teacher was very persistent on telling the students that these stories are not necessarily true, but the general idea is what they should focus on. The students were learning about Noah and his story and some of the ideas about creation they were saying were, I felt, truly insightful for their age. It has been, and will continue to be, an amazing experience and I am so excited about what the next weeks have in store.  I will leave you with some pictures of my adventures from the past couple of weeks! 

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Introduction to beautiful Perth!

Hello again, Ning blog readers!

I am coming up on two weeks here in Perth, Australia! These weeks I’ve spent meeting my liaison and other faculty members at Murdoch University as well as sitting in on Master of Teaching courses (the equivalent teaching program to our after-degree program), an Education faculty meeting, and a PD session titled Future Steps: Future Classrooms. I was also lucky enough to attend an event at a school in the city where a group of students from two different rural Indigenous schools were visiting. This group of students were part of a larger group that had written, illustrated, and published a book as part of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation’s Community Literacy Project. (More info here: https://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/community-literacy-programs). We had the pleasure of reading their book and others published by Indigenous students, watch some music videos the students made, and visit the school’s excellent STEM center (complete with laser cutters and a 3D printer).

I could talk for a very long time about these first two weeks, as they have made me think very hard about what I’m looking forward to these next two months, but I will try to summarize some main thoughts I’ve had. Early on in my visit, I made a point to visit the Education building at Murdoch University. I was intrigued to find this set of values displayed along the walkway. Many of these values will be familiar to us from Canada, but I found this list to be quite an eloquent summary. They are:

-        Leading the curriculum - motivating and engaging learners creatively

-        Linking cultures, learning together

-        Innovating with new teaching technologies

-        Diversified teaching experiences: local and international

-        Elite athlete program for health and physical education

-        Growing minds, changing lives

-        Education, the foundation of wellbeing

Stay tuned for how these values might play out in schools here!

Switching gears a bit, my liaison gave me a copy of an article titled 3rd Culture Schools: International Schools as Creative Catalysts for a New Global Education System (Hallgarten, Tabberer, & McCarthy, 2015). This piece explores how international schools have changed over the past century, and what this means for the future of the Education system. They suggest that in a world that is increasingly globalized and technological, international schools may be the key to bridging the gaps in our current global Education system in order to improve learning outcomes for everyone. They say international schools “have the potential to become a powerful creative community with a cause; a cause that goes beyond any individual institution, but supports system-wide educational transformation” (Hallgarten, Tabberer, & McCarthy, 2015, p. 13). They have some excellent suggestions as to how this may be done, but I will leave it to yourselves to read if you are interested via the following link: https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/third-culture-schools-international-schools-as-creative-catalysts-for-a-new-global-education-system

How does this relate to TAB? I think in this day and age, having an experience with education on an international level, whether as a student or a teacher (or, in our lucky cases, both) opens your eyes to just how interconnected a world we have become, and may help prepare you for it. A globalized world presents us with unlimited potential, but it also brings us a myriad of challenges. Never before have we experienced so much change so quickly, and it is up to us as educators to prepare our students for the complex world they will be thrown into. The values of resilience, adaptability, creativity, lifelong learning and citizenship have always been important, but even more so now in an international context. Education today is less about teaching things, and more about teaching students the values, skills and competencies they will need to be socially and environmentally conscious, successful citizens of the world. As we know, the students of today will create the future of tomorrow, so a big part of our job is to challenge them to consider what kind of a world they’d like to live in, and how they can make it happen.

If you’d like, let me know what you think in the comments! That’s all for now. This week, I will enter into my first public primary school classroom in Perth. The week after that will be spent at a private school for boys, where they are finishing up their term with their annual Highland Games event.

I will conclude this post with a few photos from Perth, just for fun! This city is beautiful, diverse, and rich in art and culture. 

 

- Perth Cultural Centre, complete with Western Australia's State Library, two art museums, a performing arts theater, and a developing museum, among many other things. (Government of Western Australia, 2017)

- Garden within Perth Cultural Centre

- Fremantle's cappuccino street- a place for history, chocolate, and- you guessed it- cappuccinos. 

- Fremantle ocean views

References: 

Government of Western Australia. (2017). Perth Cultural Centre. Retrieved from https://www.mra.wa.gov.au/projects-and-places/perth-cultural-centre

Hallgarten, J., Tabberer, R., & McCarthy, K. (2015). 3rd Culture Schools: International Schools as Creative Catalysts for a New Global Education System. Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Retrieved from https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/third-culture-schools-international-schools-as-creative-catalysts-for-a-new-global-education-system

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I’ve been away from home for about three weeks now (travelling around Bali and then visiting family in Sydney), but just yesterday Lauren and I arrived in Brisbane and have been settling into our apartment! In the morning, we will begin our TAB journey with an orientation at our partner institution, Queensland University of Technology. Our liaisons have been wonderfully accommodating and have planned for two days of activities before we actually begin our work in the schools. Tomorrow we will tour the QUT campus, pick up our transit passes, meet with some of the Bachelor of Education staff and have the opportunity to observe a few classes, and go over some of our work experience responsibilities and expectations. On Tuesday, a QUT staff member will pick Lauren and I up from our place, and then take us to the two schools that we have been placed in, which are Saints Peter and Paul’s Catholic School & St. Aiden’s Anglican Girl’s School. This will give us the opportunity to meet the teaching staff and administration, tour the schools, and once again go over the expectations and finalize our schedules.

This experience has been in the works for quite some time! From the early stages of attending the University of Calgary’s annual Teaching Across Borders Showcase last November, giving us the chance to hear about the experiences of past participants, to the application workshops, actual application process, group interviews, waiting period for acceptance/placement emails, pre-departure & safety workshops, and then having to get in contact with our liaisons abroad, and make transportation/living arrangements, etc., there has been no shortage of opportunity to reflect on what my goals and aspirations will be as I embark on my adventure with the TAB program.

On a personal note, I am simply looking forward to bringing myself outside of my comfort zone. I am a firm believer that the greatest area for personal growth is away from what an individual is familiar and comfortable with, and though this can be daunting, it is also exciting! By moving to Australia, not only will I be living in an unfamiliar city and leaving behind my family, friends, and usual daily routine, but this will also be the first time that I have ever lived away from home, possibly making the experience a little more challenging for me. With this said, I look forward to being more independent and learning more about myself in the process. I plan on entering TAB with an open-mind and very few expectations, so that I can make the most of the experience and take in each day as it comes.

Though Australia may be similar to Canada in multiple ways, it is also very different, and it is a culture that I am interested to learn more about. I have made my way "Down Under" to visit once before, and though I have not yet been to Brisbane, it is a place that I can see myself enjoying very much. Given that I love to travel, I am keen to explore Brisbane and other areas of Australia, while also having the opportunity to add additional educational experience to my professional portfolio at the same time.

With that said, on a professional note, I know that any time spent in a school or classroom as a pre-service teacher is experience gained, and that this time has the capacity to be a great opportunity for learning. Over the next few months, I hope to develop a greater understanding of the various teaching styles and classroom management strategies through observation, first hand experience, and conversations with my partner teachers. I am also interested to see how the education system in Australia compares or contrasts with what I know about the Canadian system and what I am familiar with from previous practicums. Lastly, I hope to also develop a firmer sense of who I want to be as a future educator, and the kind of learning environment that I hope to one day establish. 

All in all, I hope to be a valuable member to the school communities that I will become a part of, and that my time in Australia will benefit the partner teachers, the students, and myself all the same. I am entering the program with an open mind and a willingness to do whatever I can to make this a well-rounded experience for all those who are involved, and I am open to trying new things, sharing my existing knowledge in certain subjects or of Canada and Canadian schools, and I am eager to learn as much as I can in order to make this a positive experience. I hope to make a lasting impression on the people I will come to meet and work with here in Brisbane, and that I will be an exceptional representative of Canada and the University of Calgary.

Overall, I am most excited to challenge myself, explore new surroundings, and learn new things about who I am as an individual and as a future teacher. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I couldn't be more thrilled to be on this adventure!

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Brisbane, here I come!

As I sit here in Sydney getting ready to leave for Brisbane and start my TAB adventure I am so excited. Kelsey and I just booked our flights to Brisbane for Saturday and we are so excited to get started with this amazing opportunity. Australia is so beautiful and I love Sydney so much. The "winter" here consists of 20 degree weather and sunshine, what more could you ask for! I just spent the last 2 weeks travelling around Fiji and it was spectacular but I am looking forward to settling into Brisbane and starting in the schools. I am both excited and nervous as I start this adventure as I want to get the most out of this experience as possible. The first few days in the school I think will be both full of introduction and intimidating but this is what makes it exciting. Starting something new in a new place is always nerve-wracking but I am excited to feel uncomfortable and be put out of my comfort zone as this will make me a more confident person and teacher. 

One of the most important aspects that I value out of this opportunity is getting the international experience. Having travelled and moved around extensively in my childhood and adolescence I have always wanted to teach internationally and participating in TAB will assist me in completing this goal in the future. I one day hope to teach in the UK as that is where I spent the majority of my childhood and I believe that having international experience in my education will help me astronomically.  

Having the opportunity to have 10 weeks to explore this country is making me SO excited. The main reason we are here is to teach and learn but the explorer and adventurer in me is so excited to explore a new place and be able to have new unique experiences. I aspire to take full advantage of this experience I have been granted and learn new methods in the classrooms and also learn new Australian ways and have Australian adventures. 

To conclude I have attached some pictures of Sydney as well as my travels in Fiji!! 

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Introduction to Amazing Australia!

Greetings, Ning blog readers!

My name is Tracy and I will be participating in the Teaching Across Borders 2017 program in Perth, Australia! I am beginning this very special first blog post as I fly to Perth from Cairns, the tropical Northern tip of Queensland, Australia. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent the past five weeks touring around New Zealand and up the East Coast of Australia with my best friend, a fellow Elementary school teacher. As she reluctantly boards her flight back to the Great White North, I continue my adventure to Murdoch University, where I will be staying for the duration of the program. The pilot has informed us that the temperature in Perth is a cool 22 degrees. Not bad for the end of Australia’s winter season, if you ask me.

I could not be more excited to begin the Teaching Across Borders program. I have met so many amazing people and seen so many amazing things on this trip already, and I know Perth will bring so much more. Though I’ve had a blast these past few weeks, the TAB program is the whole reason I’m “Downunder”, and I am very grateful for this opportunity. I applied for the TAB program because I believe in the value of international experiences for every career path, and for education in particular. I believe nothing influences a society more than education, and thus as teachers we have the power to shape the future as well as the responsibility to ensure we do so from an open and informed perspective. The importance of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and being exposed to other countries, cultures and education systems is crucial to mastering the art of diversified and inclusive education.

In Perth, I may not be exposed to culture shock or a language barrier as some others in the TAB program will be, but there will be no shortage of diverse experiences for me. Included in my placements in Western Australia are Indigenous schools (with the option of travelling quite far from Perth - details to come), a private school with a Highland Games experience, an inclusive education school, and a school with an intensive language centre that prepares students in exceptional circumstances (e.g., refugees) for integration into the school system. I will also have the privilege of sitting in on Murdoch University Education courses and professional development sessions. I look forward to sharing as much as I possibly can about my experiences on this blog, and to reading about everyone else’s experiences!

To conclude this post, I would like to share some highlights of my trip thus far (classroom-friendly fun facts included). I hope you enjoy them, and get a chance to experience them yourselves one day!

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Sydney, Australia! Did you know the Sydney Opera House exceeded their original 7 million dollar estimate by 95 million dollars!? 

Whale watching at Gold Coast, Australia! These humpback whales travel all the way from the Arctic Ocean to mate and have their babies in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean on Australia’s Eastern coast.

Fraser Island: the world’s largest island made entirely of sand! The SS Maheno shipwreck has been there since 1935 when it was hit by a cyclone. 

Magnetic Island: the perfect place to spot koalas and echidnas in the wild. Echidnas make up 4/5 species of mammals that lay eggs! (Can you guess the other?) 

Hiking in the Taranaki region of New Zealand, where the mountains are active volcanoes!! Also the perfect place for Lord of the Rings fans to get a view of Mount Doom. 

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That's all, folks! Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more from Perth.

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Till next time Australia!

2 months. I’m still so often in disbelief that I had the wonderful opportunity to call this place home for 2 months. Moreover, it astonishes me how quickly this place felt like home. During my time here I’ve learned an enormous amount of what it means to be a teacher and a life-long learner. Coming here and taking a leap of faith was a big step for me and I can confidently say it’s ignited a fire for teaching abroad. I’ve appreciated the challenge for my professional life as a teacher but also the challenge to my personal life. Moving in with people you barely know is a daunting task but I am so thankful my roommates made my time here full of adventure and laughter (to the point where we would be gasping for breath).

Our coordinator worked very hard to give us a taste of the wide variety of schools that Perth has to offer. I’m thankful that she took the time to make us feel so welcome! This truly is a wonderful and life-changing program. I would encourage any student to seriously consider taking part!

Looking back I remember how full of anxiety I was to leave home, but now I’m full of the same anxiety to leave my new home. There are hundreds of things I will miss about this place, from the trendy Fremantle Markets to the stylish Perth CBD, and everything authentically Australian in between. I know I’ve only just scratched the surface on what this beautiful place has to offer and I look forward to the day I can return and share this place with loved ones. I’ve made a lifetime of memories here and am looking forward to sharing all the funny, embarrassing and down-right cringe-worthy stories from our travels. 

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Farewell Australia

It seems surreal that not so long ago I was frightened, full of anxiety, yet trembling with excitement to leave the familiarity of home to embark on my first solo traveling adventure that would eventually see me in Perth. We've finished our last day in classrooms today and in only four days I'll be stepping back onto a plane. While overjoyed to be back in Canada the emotions I experience when I think about leaving Australia are far too familiar. Another place my heart will call home.My time here has seen many ups and downs yet out of every down I come out more flexible, confident, and capable of facing adversity. As with any traveling experience, participating in TAB has truly shown me that as much as you plan and have a way set in mind for how something should develop or turn out, you can only control so much and there will always be uncertainty that you don't anticipate. This notion has previously only had figurative meaning to me but now I see it for real, it's a frame of mind that I now carry embedded in my being. Similar to how we are constantly told the 'good' qualities of a teacher are to be flexible, adaptable, accommodating, etc. understanding what they mean doesn't authentically happen until you've experienced something that challenges your previous perception of them.My experiences in the five diverse schools that that we have visited did not see me teach but I am evermore grateful for having learned about what I have just shared, realizing the types of learning environments that I do and do not want to teach in, and for all of the students who have left a footprint on my teacher heart. I may have not taught as was expected and therefore sometimes feel that I am not walking away with more tangible knowledge, I know that my understanding of education and teaching has been enriched. I know this because of the depth and understanding that I notice within my conversations with other teachers, peers, and group members where three months ago I wouldn't have been able to carry out the same dialogue. I look forward to days where I will reflect on my time here in Australia, when something I observed here becomes applicable to that moment in time. I believe that education is universal, in the sense that despite all of the differences in education systems across the world there are going to be parts from one that impact and influence parts of another. Something negative that happened here for example may influence how I approach a similar situation in my future teaching.In every experience there are uncertainties, struggles, and the unexpected. I am thankful for every part of my experience that has be this way for they shine light on all the wonderful, thrilling, and satisfying moments. An experience that will live within me for a lifetime!
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Oh, All The Places You'll Go!

It’s hard to believe our Australian adventure is beginning to wind down when it feels like we only just began. For our final placement, we are going to a local community primary school that has a high indigenous population. This school compared to the others we’ve seen during our time here seems more ordinary in that it was strikingly similar to schools we visited in our first practicum in Canada. Keeping that in mind it's always amazing to see kids interacting with each other and with their teachers in schools. 

Something that really resonates with me is how for a lack of a better word de-sensitized you get when you’re in an environment for long enough. My first time in a primary class almost a year ago I was nervous and full of jitters but now I feel calm and excited to interact with students and helping them learn. Even in my last placement in the education support classroom, my first week was full of surprises and new experiences, but by the second week everything seemed routine and I was surprised how comfortable I felt working with the kids so quickly. My time here if anything speaks to the importance of flexibility and being able to adapt to new environments quickly. As a teacher, you have 20-30 kids depending on you to be ready and supportive from the first day of school to the last, so it’s your responsibility to be prepared to do so straight away. I think that will be my biggest take away from this adventure, and it is a skill I will continue to develop during my time as a teacher.

Reflecting on the past two months here it still astounds me that right now I’m across the world in Australia participating in this program as opposed to sitting in a lecture theater. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am to have been given this opportunity. I know from being here there are skills and experiences that I would never be able to get from home. My time here and my growing love for traveling and exploring are making me eagerly anticipate my next adventure! 

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Kids are Still Kids

This week we’ve been busy working on our online courses and observing the classroom. I have been placed in a kindy (preschool) and pre-primary (kindergarten) inclusive classroom this week. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between this class and a kindergarten class I had previously volunteered at PaceKids in Calgary. Although PaceKids does have more resources as it is strictly for special needs, there had been many similarities in regards to communication and sensory needs. A lot of their time is spent playing outdoors enjoying the weather, and the school even has its own swimming pool for hydrotherapy sessions for the students.

 Most of the time, the students are catered to in regards to their needs and interests. There is a lot of trial and error that goes on with an class as one form of communication may not work for another student. One autistic student loves to mold things. He creates dinosaurs which are his favorite to make, and so he is given sticky tac to have in his hands as they do activities in order for him to sit quietly and pay attention.

 A lot of the time spent for the EA’s and the teacher is getting these students to do everyday tasks that a mainstream teacher would not have to worry about. Feeding, changing, and cleaning are only some of the things they do for these students. It was interesting for me to see that the EA’s would switch tables and work with different children throughout the day. It goes to show that it is okay to ask for help and the importance of working as a team. Being in an all-inclusive classroom always opens my eyes to what we take for granted and gives me more respect for these teachers and EA’s. I could not say in confidence that I would have the ability to be an all-inclusive teacher, but I do know that whether or not a child has a disability, they are all still children.

 

 

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Inclusive Ed. Down Under

I spent the last two weeks at a state of the art inclusive ed school, its inclusive design the first ever in Perth primary schools. The school is all accessible by wheelchair, and also includes a therapy pool, gymnasium, sensory room, nurse's quarters, therapy rooms, and early childhood facility. What is very unique are the three inclusive learning communities (LC) in the school. LC 6 is comprised of all year level students (kindy to year 6) with severe disabilities both mental and physical. The other two inclusive LC's are referred to as ed support classes and are situated within mainstream LC's.  For example, my class was special needs kindy, pre-primary, and year 1 (equivalent to Alberta pre-school, kindergarten, and grade 1, respectively). This classroom was in a classroom block shared with mainstream kindy to year 1, where all students interacted in outside play areas and in the LC's corridors. 
This experience was unlike any other learning environment that I've been in. In the past I've worked with special needs children one on one as EA relief staff and as a classroom volunteer but never in a full on inclusive setting. The classroom that I spent the two weeks in had 10 students covered by one teacher and six EA's. While no one student had 1:1 EA support the constant cooperation, communication, and collaboration between the staff ensured students' needs were always met; this was incredible to witness.  
A day in a full on special needs class is run quite differently than a mainstream class. While each student's work is differentiated and run off an IPP the focus is not on learning, but rather progress in social skills, improvement in the individual's communication skills, and daily life skills such as unpacking their own bags, brushing their teeth and using the washroom, being able to sit next to someone politely, and even helping to bake. Repetition is a major theme in the classroom. Repetition of; schedules, behavioural rewards and punishment schemes (ie. one students had a star chart. If she received five stars for good behaviour, hers was being able to sit quietly as she was very vocal, she would then get a two minute break for an activity/reward, which she always chose the trampoline), fine motor skill practise, and the use of visual cues. A great deal of time is also spent on sensory activities, these range from using the active sensory room to my favorite which was playing with shaving cream and playdough, or painting with different colors. 
An eye opening and heart string tugging experience which makes me believe that all students in our ed program should be educated to some degree in special needs and inclusive education. One never knows what the student make-up of their class will be. As our time quickly winds down in TAB I'm excited to get back to Canada and begin to revisit my experiences here and see how they shape my future teaching practices!
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Success is also a Suburb

One of the biggest draws for me to take part in TAB was that I would be able to take part in experiences different to those I would have at home. My specialization is in secondary social so in Australia, I’ve asked to explore anything but what I am already familiar with. And we have been lucky that we have been able to explore a wide variety of schools during our time here.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been in an education support classroom.  I can safely say that my first day here was as different as I could have imagined. This was my first time in an ed. support classroom so I’m not sure what I was expecting but by then end of the day I was emotionally and mentally exhausted.

My first day was the students' first day back from a two-week break, so I was expecting a little chaos, but there was a lot more than I had anticipated.  Our class was made up of 8 students, 1 teacher, 5 education assistants and me! Needless to say, it was quite a full room, with larger than life personalities. We have five students on the autism spectrum, one globally delayed student, one student with dyslexia, and one with Williams syndrome. It was on the first day that I learned about “the domino effect”. Many of the students in the class had hearing sensory overload issues, meaning if one student started screaming there was a domino effect whereby about five students in the classroom would end up screaming. I had seen this ample time during my two weeks, and the EA’s were quick to stop the train in its tracks. It was amazing to see how quick the EA’s responses were, they knew the student's behaviors that they would jump into action on even the smallest sign of distress. By the end of the day, I had seen about 5-6 outbursts ranging from screaming and running out of the classroom to throwing things. Over the next two weeks, there was a similar pattern of events, there were no ‘boring days’ as the students always kept you on your toes and the days began with a bang almost always straight away. Everything that the EA’s and teacher did in terms of discipline was clearly laid out by the school. One of the most assertive discipline strategies was what the EA’s referred to as “the chairs”. When a student would have an outburst especially in a manner that put others in danger because they were either hitting or throwing things, two EA’s would hold either arm of the students and prevent them from further hurting themselves or others and guide them to three chairs outside. The student would remain in these chairs for ten minutes once they had calmed down, and the EA’s would sit on either side of the student.  The EA’s emphasized the importance of independence, sometimes their tactics seemed harsh but it was always in the best interest of the students. They applied the “tough-love approach” trying to get students to act as independently as possible, keeping their hands to themselves and overall their goal was to get the students to behave as a calm as possible in public. One of the most interesting things the school applied here was the “community access program” where the teacher and EA’s would take students around the community to build skills as basic as taking the bus or train.  It was clear to see the aim of the class was to build life skills above all else! Ed support students had access to a swimming pool that was used for hydrotherapy, a time all the students loved as it provided them exercise, relaxation while building social skills.

 

During my time here I was able to explore lesson planning with the teachers, who put emphasize above all else on life skills. This includes things like teeth brushing, filling out forms, legible writing, creating signatures, spelling address and names, hygiene strategies and improving interactions through games. Academic lessons were built on small steps, repetition, and building on previous knowledge.  I’ve come to appreciate the amount of patience required in working with special need students. There were some days where students would come in a good mood ready to learn but that could change at the drop of a hat. I had also become very aware of myself, as some students would have sensory issues even if you accidently brushed up against them. 

 

Seating plans were an issue of their own, the teachers and EA’s would have to carefully consider each student's needs and their relationship with other students prior to seating them. This room was full of strong personalities and there was some student who simply could not sit next to another student for safety concerns.

 

My two weeks here were full of many eye-opening moments for me as an educator. At home as we are moving toward more inclusive classrooms I’ve come to gain a working appreciation for the importance of differentiation. Ensuring students with learning difficulties have access to tasks that match their level of abilities to prevent them from feeling left out or bored by the activities the rest of the class are doing.  I’m sure I could write much more about the things I’ve experienced over the past two weeks, but it would make for a very long blog post. 

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