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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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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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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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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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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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Home So Soon!

Time has flown by as we only have two weeks left! The past month consisted of beach days, farmer’s markets, the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere, and a new primary school that had welcomed us into a year one/two classroom. This school is actually divided into two as one is a mainstream school and the other is a Language Development Centre. The first day was PD day as it was the first day back after a two week break. They had someone come in from the Language Development Centre addressing literacy and language strategies to support students in the classroom. There were multiple resources that were provided and it was a helpful seminar in teaching children how to read and write. It gave me some guidance on teaching the basics of reading and writing as I had been nervous with this topic.

It was interesting to see how much parental involvement there was at this school. Parents would drop off students right at the door, and most of them would stay behind to help the students with their spelling booklets before the bell. It was a great environment as the teacher and most parents all interacted and were involved in their children’s learning. However, there had been a few students who did not get the extra support from their parents but took initiative to complete their spelling booklets on their own. Throughout our observation, there had been a student teacher completing her practicum in the same classroom. With the extra support from us, we were able to provide attention to these few students who completed tasks on their own.

The teacher had implemented “Daily News” which is where the students are given two minutes to show and tell. The whole process is run by students as there is a timer, a student who lets them know which student is next, and the one who shares their “news”. This had been one of my favorite things to observe in this class as students became excited to share and listen to their peers. They would start each session with a short jingle and hand gestures,

“Good Afternoon _____,

Where have you been,

And what have you seen?

What’s news?” (clap, clap)

 This was a great way for students to practice their social skills and organization skills. They would also get “ticks” which meant good behaviour including sitting up straight with arms crossed and listening. I found that with the schools I had observed in Australia are much stricter than back home. The last two weeks in Australia, I will be placed in an all-inclusive school. I am excited to start at this school and it will be interesting to see the differences between this school and PaceKids back in Calgary. 

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Conversations and Politics, Australia 2016

After a month in Australia, and having been in 3 schools here, I feel I can say that like teachers in Canada, most of a teachers day is spent in the classroom, with never enough prep time during the week.  Like in Canada as well, the majority of teachers here are dedicated to their students, interested and engaged in their profession, and with many of the same stressors surrounding class size, access to supports for students, and dealing with different issues surrounding their students out of school lives.

However, schools here in Australia are more disparate in resources than what I have seen so far in Alberta. An important caveat to that, is the fact that I have not been in a First Nation school on a reserve.  Here, a large percentage of students attend high cost independent private schools, the Catholic education system as it exists here is also a private education system, not administered by the government, and there are also Baptist, and Anglican private school systems.  Of schools administered by the Western Australian government there are the public schools who administer the curriculum under the school boards, and then there are the Independent Public Schools, who are administered by the government, but like our Charter schools they are a semi separate entity from the regular public schools.

This mix of private and public schools has lead to problems with the funding formula in Australia as a whole.  Each of these separate educational entities is entitled to a base level per student, regardless of whether they are private, religious, public, or independent.  All of them independently negotiate with the federal government for their funding, and this has lead to an entrenching of disparity in the access to education according to the Gronski Committee.  Some of the most disadvantaged schools are still receiving less than a fair share of the funding, and there are some cases of high cost private schools receiving more than 100% of the amount of base funding they are strictly entitled to.  Much of this disparity appears to be due to two factors, the promise by the government of the time that no school would lose “so much as a dollar” of their funding under the old model, and a limit of 3% on budgetary increases to schools each year.

This funding issue is currently being played out in Australian media, and appears to be very politicized.  I have noticed in the Perth newspapers a number of articles dealing with educational funding issues, as well as concerns over the quality of education students are receiving.  From conversations I have had with teachers both in schools, my land lords (who are both teachers), and with teachers I have met on holiday, there is a great deal of shared concern over the direction education in Australia is taking.  

I find it interesting that so many of the same concerns we have in Alberta around resource allocation, staffing levels, the availability of supports such as EA's to teachers with high needs children in their class.  Like in Alberta, when teachers here talk about needing more investment in education, there seems to be an assumption that teachers have their hands out and are always demanding salary increases, when teachers in the classroom are talking about more EA's, smaller class sizes, and the need for better resources to support learning.

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Expectations at Large

Students are students. Regardless of the system they are subjected to, their core beings, their struggles, their smiles; they all have them and they all deserve respect and care. We can't let our judgements and biases of how they are educated to cloud how we treat or perceive the children to be. I struggled, I'll admit, with the last school that we were in as it was so standardized, proper, and trimmed that at first I had the impression of a place where enjoyment was not had or appreciated, much like the TLC school in Calgary where I was placed for first practicum. Over the week however, once I got a sense of the community, the student's social status, a better understanding of the expectations of teachers and students by parents, I began to appreciate the relationships between students and teachers and was able to notice positive interactions and aspects more frequently. Prior to this small transformation I had began to view the children themselves through these lenses rather than by their own personal characteristics. I wonder now if these expectations of parents and upper class community members was something that my teacher, or any teacher working in such a school, struggled with or find difficult to manage? What the best ways to strike a balance between helping students be successful and enjoy their schooling as well as pleasing the other pressures that surround them are?The positive relationship among peers as well as students and teachers was especially seen on our last day when the school held a celebratory games day, the Highland Games. It was an exiting and neat day to experience. The boys were split into their 'house' groups (which they are members of all year and are comprised of boys from all years ie. Gordon House, Bruce House, etc) and further divided into their year (grade) levels in which they traveled around the sports field competing against. The boys competed in on average three events through out the game in order to achieve points for their house. The events included games like: sack race, stone throw, willy toss, bale carry, skipping, kilt race, tug-of-war, dance stepping, and javelin throw. There was timely score updates, encouragement, and camaraderie all around. Taking a time hop back to my competitive track and field days I was welcomed to give a few demos on how to do the stone throw. At the end of the competitions one house was chosen to take on teachers and parents in a final tug-of-war. The boys won, of course, but their celebration was unlike any I've seen...approximately 250 young boys, high on adrenaline and superiority over their teachers, swarming the winning house and chanting in unison.Underneath collard shirts, stuffy sweaters, and knee high socks are childish grins, skinned shins, and hearts eager to experience joy. Students are still children.(Photograph taken during the opening ceremony of The Highland Games where boys in the 'Plaid Band' played the bag pipes to begin the celebration)

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Try Something New

A month has already passed and I am here wondering to myself where the time has gone. It feels like only yesterday when I arrived to Perth, let alone Australia. Although it was difficult at first to adjust to a new environment, becoming familiar with this city gave me the ability to become more comfortable with the setting. We were fortunate enough to have a break from the classroom in order to explore the country and participate in cultural experiences. This past week, we had drove up north to visit the white sand dunes where we enjoyed sand surfing and observed the limestone formations called “The Pinnacle”. The view had been surreal and it was amazing to experience something so different from the scenery in Canada.

 At one of the schools that we had attended, I was asked to teach the grade 3 class about Canada as I walked into the classroom. Caught off guard, I started to panic but aimed the questions back to the students. Rather than standing in front of the class babbling on about Canada, I asked the students what they wanted to know. They put forth a variety of questions which included topics such as food, sports, weather, animals, and currency. The students were very engaged with the discussion as they eagerly shook their hands in the air yearning to be called on to pose another question. To my surprise, I was able to answer most of the questions they had about Canada and I was enthused to answer them. Although I felt that with some time and planning, I could have improved the lesson, it seemed that the students learned about what they were genuinely interested in. It was a great learning experience for myself as I listened to what the students wanted rather than imposing facts that may have been irrelevant to them. I am excited to have more learning experiences with the next schools we will be attending. 

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Teaching is an Adventure!


You would think the life of a teacher in Australia is full of outdoor adventures including but not limited to surfing, kangaroo spotting, recreational use of boomerangs, and cuddling Koala bears while snacking on Vegemite… or at least that’s what I had imagined before I got here. Australia has a very laid-back culture and the same can be said for schools here. That’s not to say that teachers don’t work hard because they do, but there isn’t that same sense of strictness and formality you feel in schools in Canada. Student teacher bonds are STRONG, and I think this can be attributed to the relaxed nature of schools here.

 

During our time in Kalgoorlie, I noticed the strong connections between staff and students. Many students often greeted their teacher with morning hugs, and would not leave at the end of the day without an equally enthusiastic hug. This enthusiasm and love was also shown to teachers they had in previous years, and to administration. At one primary school, we went to students were often invited into the office when they did outstanding work, and were welcome to come in anytime to share work they are proud of. I was shocked at how many students names the principals, and vice principals knew just from this. At the second primary school, we visited there were handfuls of students who greeted the Principals with morning hugs. For some students, the school may be the only place where they have a positive relationship in their lives so it was heart warming to see teachers taking the time to build these relationships.  Moreover, it was inspiring to see that admin. was taking an active role in developing equally powerful relationships with students, something that seems rare in Canadian schools. Something that I am curious about is how teachers manage to find a happy medium between their school and personal lives especially at a school where students crave attention and love that they may not receive anywhere else. Do schools like that see high teacher turnover? How do teachers find balance? Do teachers build strong team bonds? I’ve learned so much during my time there but each day of reflection is full of questions and aspects of teaching that I haven’t explored yet.

 

In the Uber, posh private school life seemed different, easier in some respects but harder in others. Teachers at this school had certain unthinkable luxuries that Kalgoorlie did not, like free lunches and an extravagant coffee machine which got an extra workout while we were there (the mochas were particularly delicious). Teachers had all the resources you could want in your class, there was dedicated tech. support so tech problems were not an issue, students and teachers all had their own laptops, and the library had its own Art Gallery. Again it was Uber posh. But the students and teachers were all held to a higher standard. This is something you see at home as well, as though if you pay an exorbitant amount of school fees your child without exception should doing increasingly well and if they are not it is somehow the teacher's fault. Kids are kids, and not everyone is great at everything, this is a fact universally known… so you would think. The teachers at elite schools have the difficulty of dealing with unhappy parents come report card time and they see their child is not excelling at every subject. The stresses of dealing with this I would imagine would be much higher in secondary schools. How do teachers cater to the needs of struggling students while meeting the demands of parents?

 

I am looking forward to experiencing more about what the life of a teacher is like here in Perth. And while teachers may not have daily adventures, we’ve been having some pretty great ones and I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience them! 

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A Week in the Life of an Aussie... Almost

Hello! So I’ve just finished my second official week of exploring schools and the education system here in Western Australia (WA). And I can’t begin to describe the vastly different experiences we’ve been fortunate enough to experience. Our first week we went out to the largest city in the outback named Kalgoorlie. Here we visited two primary schools. The focus of this week was to explore high population indigenous schools. While many of the struggles that these students went through were heartbreaking the school's role in their lives was simply inspirational.Our second week we visited the ultra posh Scotch college an all boy K-12 school. Where in Kalgoorlie the school focused on the student’s well-being in this school most of the students in this school came from privileged backgrounds or from a long line of Scotch collegiates. So it was interesting to see the priorities of each of the schools while following the same WA curriculum.

That’s a quick look at the past two weeks but I’m sure you’re wondering what our day-to-day lives here look like…

So when we were all packing and excitedly looking forward to our upcoming stay in Australia a country famed for its warm weather we packed accordingly. However, to our dismay, we came to this beautiful country in the year of their longest winter in several decades. So after lots of tea and dressing as warm as possible while still looking professional for our schools we head out to catch a bus to our designated school for that week. Now coming from Calgary this city is incredibly similar from the river running through it, terrible transit systems, unpredictable weather patterns, a wide layout of the city and the generally western atmosphere where living in I assumed that I would be able to live with the notion of taking transit whereever I go. But I can tell you I have never missed having a car more. Getting from place to place takes planning and long transit wait times. But on a more positive note, many of the people that we have run into during our many disorientating adventures have been nothing short of kind. 

We haven’t yet made it to any beaches as the weather hasn’t been so kind but we’ve explored many of the beautiful things that Perth has to offer such as the Swan River, trendy Fremantle, and lush Perth CBD (Central Business district = Downtown). I’m looking forward to seeing much more as the weather continues to warm up!

Cheers for now!

Poonam Raeewal

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Similarities with Canada and Australia

Australia feels like home as it is not much different from Canada geographically or socially. Australians are hospitable as they will offer a quick smile and are always willing to help travellers find their way throughout the country. It is very spread out just like Calgary, taking us a good amount of time to travel anywhere around the city through their transportation system. Everything, including food, is very costly which encourages us to join the residential activities and social gatherings where meals are provided.

 

A difference that I do find between Calgary and Perth is the weather. Although the temperature hasn’t reached below 10 degrees celsius, it is more of a wet cold rather than the dry cold we are used to. Due to it also being so close to the ocean, windy days seem to be a norm. I had definitely not packed the right clothes for this environment, as we have been told multiple times, “this is the coldest winter we have had in a long time”.

 

For the past week we had observed a private all-boys school. Due to having no involvement in a private school, let alone an all-boy’s school, I didn’t have anything to compare the experience to. Prior to this, I had the conception that students who attended these schools would have a lack of socialization skills with the opposite sex. However, this particular school creates opportunities for the boys to socialize with the girls at the all-girls sister school. This private school also receives funding from the government on top of the tuition that the students pay which I had been unaware of. It was a great experience to observe this school as I was exposed to an environment that I had been unfamiliar with. I am excited to start at the other schools in order to learn more about Australia’s education system. 

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Home Away From Home

Having not lived the full university life back in Canada, that is typical residential (village) living conditions and lack of personal transportation, I feel like I am adapting well...as in I can still count on my fingers the number of bus and train times misread, have had to run for, or missed all together. Patients is key here, as we've learned that the Aussie way of life is severely relaxed. The nice thing though is that many people are overtly kind; help you read your maps, direct you to the right train platform, or just offer up a nice "how ya going?".Perth, like Calgary is very spread out so a great deal of time each day is spent on public transport and wearing down the souls of your shoes. It is a great way to slow down and enjoy what is around you.Days are spent venturing off Murdoch Campus into Fremantle with fellow villagers where you can enjoy a cup of coffee around any corner, stroll the Freo market full of food, buskers, and shops, or catch a movie. While this laid back life seems ever so enjoyable, it gets a little pricey: a movie ticket itself (student price)-$23; croissant sandwich-$10; and the luxury of ketchup-$2.Living on campus has become a great support system especially socially. We've enjoyed our first authentic Aussie BBQ at the uni where residents also gathered for beach volleyball, basketball, and the hit bubble soccer. Every day the village hosts some sort of small social gathering, offer tons of free food (who doesn't like free food?), and an overall enjoyable atmosphere.The similarities between Australia and Canada makes for a lack to write about in our everyday living, as nothing seems too notably different. We are however witnessing extreme ends of the educational spectrum. After visiting Kalgoorlie today we had our first day at an all boys private school, where we will only attend for five school days. After reading some of the other blogs I can't help but feel like we are missing out on actual teaching experience. Our roles here, since we will be spending relatively short amounts of time at each school, are less demanding. For example, my role this week will be small group or individual instruction, spending one on one time with a couple boys with scribing difficulties. Their assignments and work is very laid out for them and easy to follow, I will simply guide them keeping them on track. Although missing out in hands on aspects, with having only three days so far in schools I feel as though my mindset and perspective on different educational settings has been greatly impacted. Three schools, three completely different atmospheres and educational focuses, and I slowly but surely am becoming more aware of the school settings in which I can imagine myself working and thriving in and those that I would rather not commit myself to. The first day impression of this school is one in which I don't particularly envision myself being part of, but I am curious to see how the week plays out. It is a constant reminder dancing in my head that of what we see, at any moment or given day, of any individuals behaviours or actions is just that...a moment, a snap shot.
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How ya going? Week 1

My first post unfortunately didn't stay up so here it is again...On a social level, Australia seems very similar to Canada. Across the globe, yet I don't feel so far and removed from home. This begins to make more sense when you put on your historical lenses to realize that we are sisters in colonization. The city life; the buildings, shops, and similar foods does not appeal greatly to my adventurous side so rather I have connected more with the environmental social side of Australia through my travels so far. Hiking spectacular views in The Blue Mountains, kayaking crystal blue waters in Noosa Heads, and diving open waters in Cairns have put me in touch with the recreation of Australia's culture. With recreation comes meeting people of all walks; another thing that Australia and Canada have in common. If I have felt that Australia has not presented itself with differing culture, the people I have met from other countries around the world have definitely endowed upon me differing views, ways of thinking, and small cultural blessings.Our program here in Perth doesn't take off until this coming Tuesday when we will be making our way to Kalgoorlie, a city in Western Australia characteristic of a high Indigenous population. Having experienced a small amount of Indigenous education through a volunteer program with the UofC where I volunteered in a Reservation school, I am very curious to begin comparing and contrasting Indigenous education here in Australia with that of Canada. While being in Kalgoorlie I am also hoping to learn about and experience other aspects of Indigenous culture.The remainder of our time will be spent experiencing educational settings in an all boys school, an inter city school with high Indigenous enrolment, as well as a state of the art Inclusive Ed. School. So while at this moment I do not feel that I have experienced much cultural diversity, I am undoubtedly about to experience plenty of educational diversity for which I maybe welcome more eagerly.

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