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Exchange program adds Iceland as destination

November 27, 2018 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor


Melanie Matheson (left), assistant principal at Charles Spencer High School in Grande Prairie, takes a coffee break during a trip to Jasper with her exchange partner Brynhildur Sigurdardottir. (Supplied)


It’s nice to have someone to talk to, even if it means travelling more than 5,000 kilometres to arrange it.

For Arnbjorg Stefansdottir, principal of a small school in Iceland where she’s one of nine teachers overseeing 52 students, an exchange with a Calgary colleague was a chance to engage in rare collegial conversations.

“Often I don’t have anybody to talk to, but we have sure talked a lot,” Stefansdottir said of her exchange partner Aubrey Fletcher of Marlborough School 
in Calgary.

The two principals are part of a new exchange program being piloted by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Over a two-week period spanning late September and early October, three Icelandic principals shadowed their counterparts in Alberta schools, who will visit Iceland during spring break 2019.

Bonnie Countryman (left) of Harry Gray Elementary School in Valleyview with her Icelandic exchange partner Asta Flosadottir. (Supplied)


Fletcher said the exchange goes beyond the school and classroom, since exchange partners stay in each other’s homes.

“At first it’s the educational experience and the education system, but having them come and stay with you truly gets them immersed in our culture and day-to-day life,” she said.
The Icelandic visitors said they noticed more cultural diversity in Alberta schools than they’re used to back home. 

Brynhildur Sigurdardottir, who exchanged with Melanie Matheson of Charles Spencer High School in Grande Prairie, also said she was impressed during a professional development event how administrators “put themselves on display” by sharing their professional learning plans with staff.

“I’m sure that when I go back I will take with me a broader, deeper understanding of the relationship between teachers and administrators when it comes to professional learning,” Sigurdardottir said.

She added that it’s helpful to see how things work in another system.

“In my job as administrator you’re always very busy. There’s always too much to do, and I find that it is very helpful to reflect on that.”

Asta Flosadottir, who shadowed Bonnie Countryman of Harry Gray Elementary School in Valleyview, said she learned that a principal gauges how well a school is functioning just by walking around. 

“I think it’s amazing, and I didn’t realize it until now how well you can see it, just being out there in the classrooms,” she said.

She agreed that it’s helpful to witness the workings of another education system.
“In Iceland we think very highly of the school system in Canada and especially in Alberta,” she said. 

New contract
The exchange with Iceland came about due to the Association’s research partnership with the Nordic nation.

“We’re very excited,” said Carolyn Freed, the ATA’s exchange liaison. “It’s a new chapter and I think because we’re running it just at a principal level right now, it was a really good way to launch it and give it legs.” 

As of July 1, the ATA and Alberta Education have been collaborating to implement the Educator Exchange Programs under a new shared governance model that is intended to provide more exchange opportunities for teachers and administrators. The programs include the new exchange with Iceland, a new exchange with South Korea, and existing exchanges with Australia, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and other Canadian provinces. ❚

Applications are now being accepted. Visit for more information.

When you return home to Iceland, how will you describe Canada?

It’s big. Everything in nature is big.”
—Brynhildur Sigurdardottir

The people here are so open-minded and friendly.”
—Asta Flosadottir

It’s very bright and beautiful and lots of trees … 
The agriculture is big and I would recommend 
people to visit. 
—Arnbjorg Stefansdottir



Icelandic principal Arnbjorg Stefansdottir (left) and her exchange partner Aubrey Fletcher of Calgary's Marlborough School during a visit to Lake Louise.


Where can I go?
Type of teacher Short-term exchange
(10 days – two weeks)
 Full-year exchange
Australia, Germany,
Full-time teacher
(min. five years; experience)
Australia, Germany, South Korea (special education teachers) Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, other Canadian Provinces
Part-time teacher Australia, Germany, South Korea (special education teachers), Spain  

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