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Teachers benefit from unique exchange

August 25, 2015

After two years of applying for a year-long teacher exchange to Australia with no matches on the horizon, Carla Knezevich of Spirit River (north of Grande Prairie) was about to withdraw permanently from the ATA’s teacher exchange program.

Then the program co-ordinator joined forces with her Australian counterpart to devise a novel idea. They both had applicants who wanted to do an exchange but couldn’t commit to the usual full-year period anymore. So they proposed a short-term exchange over school holidays, as is offered to administrators.

Consequently, Knezevich hosted Australian teacher Jessica Fry at Ste. Marie School for three weeks in March. She then visited Goonawarra Primary School in Sunbury, Australia, for two weeks in July.

Short exchange provides “ultimate PD opportunity”

Teachers and students explore similarities and differences

Carla Knezevich, Special to the ATA News

As I reflect on my short-term teacher exchange to Australia, I am feeling beyond blessed. Although this was not the year-long swap I had applied for, it was the ultimate PD opportunity.

Having a teacher with an accent in the classroom was a novelty for our students. They loved the differences between the countries that we discussed. In Canada, we made lists of words that were different, we explored different animals, and Jessica even brought some vegemite and minties (Australian treats) for the kids to taste. She shared Australian storybooks with our class and brought letters from her school to share with other grades in our school.

The students loved learning about her sense of adventure by listening to all the new activities and foods she was trying for the first time, like skiing, ice skating and her all-time favourite food, poutine! Jessica inspired learning and excitement in the classroom. It was great having another body in the classroom to bounce ideas off of and discuss how things are done differently and the same between the schools.

One of the best aspects of this type of exchange is having the opportunity to see the sights as a local with your partner. Jessica and her husband became part of our family and went to our family’s sporting and community events. In Sunbury, we tried maple syrup, learned about Canadian symbols, played some hockey in the gym and worked on saying “G’day, mate!”

Outside of school our partner was a local guide with a vehicle, which took all the guesswork and planning out of the travel. In Canada, we were able to travel to some of the must-see sights, like Jasper and West Edmonton Mall. In Australia, travel highlights included the sights of Sydney and Melbourne. It was an incredible experience and I can’t wait to do it again!

As I prepare for a new grade in the fall, I will add some new Aussie ideas into my reading and writing program.

Although there are many differences in all schools, one thing remains the same across the globe. At both Ste. Marie and Goonawarra, the staff is like family. The teachers love their students and will continue to do what it takes to make a difference in their lives. We have been blessed by the support of our families and staff. I strongly encourage interested teachers to give it a go!

Carla Knezevich teaches at Ste. Marie School in Spirit River.

You want me to eat what?

Poutine among many surprise highlights for Australian exchange participant

Jessica Fry, Special to the ATA News

I was fortunate to complete a short-term mentoring exchange in Spirit River, Alberta.

The exchange took place over a three-week period, during which I shadowed Carla in the classroom along with other staff members of Ste. Marie School.
From the moment I arrived at the small but caring town, I knew I had found a second family and a place that felt like home. Adapting to a new environment and educational setting was simple because the staff and the community of Spirit River welcomed me as one of their own.

I had previously been told that the Australian and Canadian education systems were comparable, and although there were many similarities in our approaches to teaching, I experienced and learned more than I ever thought imaginable. It gave me the opportunity to exchange ideas and strategies and collaborate with staff in order to build my skills and knowledge in all areas of the teaching curriculum. I deepened my understanding of collaborative practices and gained a strong insight into how professionals learn with and from their colleagues.

I have used these insights to play an increasingly active role in my professional learning team. The concepts and ideas acquired from the exchange program allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of new and effective teaching approaches.

During my time as a guest at Ste. Marie, the majority of my time was spent in Carla’s Grade 2 class, and I was welcomed from the moment I walked into the classroom. It was evident that the students were engaged with their curriculum and were enthusiastic learning about new and exciting things. They were achieving success both in the classroom and in the community because they were continually striving to succeed. The students loved learning about Australia and even made an amazing kangaroo snowman. They were, however, not keen on eating vegemite!

Apart from the educational benefits of completing this exchange, I experienced many new and exciting things. I skated, tubed, skied, watched countless hockey games and ate foods I had never come across before. The concept of hot chips, cheese and gravy sounds unappealing, but I can officially say that poutine is delicious and I miss eating it.

I will look back fondly at my time at Ste. Marie and forever be grateful to Carla and the staff of this wonderful school for allowing me to experience life as a teacher in a country halfway across the world. I would highly recommend this life-changing and positive experience to all teachers. My exchange experience will play a significant role in my development as a teacher and will be an experience I will always remember.

Jessica Fry teaches at Goonawarra Primary School in Sunbury, Australia.


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