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Lessons learned abroad shared through blog

A group of 14 graduates from the Queen's Faculty of Education are living and teaching abroad and, in order to share their experiences amongst themselves as well as with others, the group has created a blog, aptly name 14 Beds (for Bachelor of Education or BEd). The organizer of the project is Laura Skellett (Ed’14) who is currently teaching in Karlstad, Sweden. The Gazette spoke to her about the blog as well as her experiences teaching and living in another country.

[Laura Skellet]
Laura Skellett (Ed’14), who is teaching in Karlstad, Sweden, is seen here during a recent visit to Budapest, Hungary. (Supplied Photo)

Gazette: Why did you and the other members of 14 Beds decide to teach abroad?

Laura Skellett: One motivating factor for teaching abroad is that there is simply limited job availability for teachers in Ontario. If hired by the Catholic or public board, new teachers often have to supply teach for a year or more before securing a long-term placement. After being in university for five or more years, many of us were thirsty for our own classrooms and our own students. We were eager to teach. Moreover, many of us want to continue our learning by seeing schools outside of Ontario or outside of Canada. We wanted new experiences, and we wanted to challenge our own ideas of education by being exposed to new cultures and ideas.  

G: What do you bring to the classroom as a teacher from Canada and specifically from Queen's?

LS: This is a tricky question, and one I believe my students could answer about me much better than I could. Being a first-year teacher in an international environment allows you to learn from and with your students. In a new and foreign environment, I find that I often learn much from my students, both about my own culture and beliefs, but also about their own. For example, on the last day of school before the holidays, students in the classroom had brought in candy to eat during our class get together. Based on my own experience in school, students often share food when having a class party. However, when I suggested this I received many strange looks – students in Sweden typically just eat what they bring in themselves. This experience allowed me to understand a little bit more about Swedish culture. I also find it very humbling to be learning to speak Swedish while I am here – it allows me to understand the challenges that my students' face every day in my classroom. More specifically, I believe that Queen’s has taught me to be a critical, reflective and innovative teacher in the classroom and to continuously challenge myself.

G: What are some of the life and professional lessons that have been learned by the members?

LS: In both the personal and professional sphere, I think the biggest lesson that our contributors have learned is to be adaptable. Whether it’s learning a new technological platform at your school or figuring out how to use the laundry machine in your apartment, things don’t always go as expected. You quickly learn to problem-solve, to ask for assistance, and to be open to new ideas. Accepting that things will not always go as planned is important. Creative problem-solving becomes a skill that you quickly develop. 

G: You are teaching in Sweden. What has been the biggest transition for you?

LS: Having studied abroad at Herstmonceux Castle (Bader Insternational Study Centre, BISC), and having traveled throughout Europe, I found it relatively easy to adapt to the social nuances of Sweden. I think the bigger challenges have come in the professional sphere in adapting to the Swedish curriculum and classroom. At Queen's, I was in the intermediate-senior stream (grades 7-12) and I did the majority of my placements in high school. However, in Sweden I teach art to 200-plus students in grades 4-9. The fact that many students are just learning English is another challenge. Moreover, the curriculum and in particular the assessment is very different in Sweden. For example, grades in Ontario are based on your average performance throughout the semester, with some exams or projects weighted more heavily than others. However in Sweden, students are assessed based on different skills in a subject. Once you reach an A level in a skill, you do not have to prove yourself again in that skill. Instead students are asked to focus on other skills for that subject. Adapting my teaching to this system (and its accompanying computer tracking system) has been a work in process. Since I only see my students for one term, I am excited to switch up my assessment strategies for the new term based on what I have learned in the past five months. 

G: Does this blog help the 14 Beds members with their experiences and keep in touch?

LS: In the past five months, the blog has allowed our contributors to stay connected throughout our new professional and personal experiences. I believe that the blog has provided an outlet for our contributors to discuss and compare. When posting photos online, contributors have commented on photos saying – “that’s similar to something I’ve done, that would be a great topic for a post!” It has allowed us to connect and understand each other’s experiences of teaching abroad. While many of us decided to teach abroad to learn about other cultures, the blog has provided us with another tool for understanding other schools and cultures. Contributors have shared that they enjoy seeing what others are up to and to learn about other international experiences. We hope to showcase the diversity of our international experiences in our spotlight posts, which focus on one topic such as assessment or what our classrooms look like.

G: What are your plans over the short and long term?

LS: In the short term, we plan to expand our types of articles that we produce. The winter term is a busy recruitment period for international schools. To complement this, we plan to produce articles about why we chose to teach abroad, how we found our jobs, advice for interviews and applications and more. We hope that this will help our readers who are considering teaching abroad. In the long term, I am unsure how the blog will continue to develop. Some of our contributors are on one-year contracts, while others have two-year contracts. This is something we will continue to think about in the future.

See the blog at 14beds.com.

Educational outreach

New funding from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) will improve outreach to remote areas by the Queen’s Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP). The $421,500 over two years will support the sustained delivery of the programs at Queen’s and remote, community based sites in Northwestern Ontario.

In many Aboriginal communities, education programs are often not available because student cohorts are too small to make them viable.

“It is my hope that this funding will allow us to make the community-based ATEP better than ever,” says Lindsay Morcom (Education), ATEP program coordinator. “This project represents a true partnership with our community-based sites. In addition to facilitating contact between our existing sites it will also open the door to remote delivery in additional Aboriginal communities.”

New funding from the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities will improve outreach to remote areas.

The MTCU also announced $358,123 in funding to support technology education. Queen’s is a partner in the Brock University-led Technological Education Consortium which is using the funding to plan, design and deliver a new collaborative program in technology education.

 “This is an important initiative in sustaining technological education programs in Ontario,” says Peter Chin (associate dean, Education). “This funding will enable us to create and use new communications technologies to support technological education and to foster collaboration and connections among the educational institutions involved.”

Notice of this funding envelope is great news to the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program students at community-based sites, as well as the technological education students, who are often mature students working in technical fields.

With this funding Queen’s will run a Virtually ATEP extension to its existing instructional strategies that will allow small First Nation student groups to virtually join with students from other communities where courses are being offered. Increased student access as well as enhanced information sharing between remote sites is an exciting enrichment of community based programming at Queen’s.

The MCTU Fund was developed to provide a vehicle for sharing capacity through teaching and learning resources and practicum placements, allowing teacher-candidates to continue to live and work in their hometowns without having to travel or spend long periods of time away from home to complete their teacher education.

For more information about these programs, see Aboriginal Teacher Education Program, Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (Community-Based) and Technological Education.

Fostering the giving spirit of Giving Tuesday

With the holiday shopping season upon us, a movement now adopted by Queen’s University is aiming to prove that it is better to give than to receive.

Giving Tuesday is a self-declared movement of charitable giving and volunteering that opens the season of giving the day after the consumer-frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

This year, for the first time, several Queen’s faculties and schools are taking part in Giving Tuesday. Each faculty or school has its own specific initiatives, but the central purpose is to request philanthropic gifts to support students.

The Faculty of Arts and Science is focusing on Dean Susan Mumm’s highest priority: increasing the number of admission scholarships.

This year’s goal is to offer Admission Scholarships of $2,000 to all qualified students.

“We ask that you join us to support our goal in any amount possible,” says Dean Mumm.

From small gifts to funding a scholarship yourself, the campaign is determined to make scholarships happen.

The new Admission Scholarships for the Arts will attract exceptional students to Queen’s, grow the caliber of the Arts and Science student body, and offer students new opportunities that would otherwise not be possible.

Queen’s School of Business is asking for gifts to support four separate funds for students. Donations to the Commerce Legacy Fund for Student Health and Wellness support student health and wellness initiatives like seminars, workshops and increasing the availability of individual counselling.

Donations are also encouraged to the QSB Commerce Bursary Fund, MBA Scholarships Endowment Fund, and the Dean’s Innovation Fund. Each of these funds provides assistance to students in financial need and helps recruit the brightest students.

QSB has a few twists to Giving Tuesday. First, all individual donations between $1,000 and $25,000 will be matched by the Dean’s Matching Fund. Also, any gifts in this same range from QSB alumni who graduated since 1994 – typically identified as “young alumni” – will be ‎doubled.

The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science is using Giving Tuesday as a way of highlighting the 10th anniversary of the Integrated Learning Centre and raising funds for the Dean’s Excellence Fund. Students are calling attention to the Centre, as home to the Engineering Society, Engineering Student Lounge and Tea Room, as a hub for student experience and learning.

The Faculty of Health Sciences is asking benefactors to support Giving Tuesday through gifts to its three Schools.

The Rehabilitation Therapy Student Experience Fund helps students cover their expenses while they learn away from Queen’s on placements. The Nursing 75th Anniversary Fund supports a variety of causes including bursaries, scholarships, equipment, and professorships. Finally, the Medical School Excellence Fund supports new educational initiatives, simulation and clinical learning, research and provides student support.

Input sought on future of Faculty of Education, next dean

Stephen Elliott’s term as dean of the Faculty of Education ends on June 30, 2015. Dr. Elliott has indicated that he does not wish to be considered for another term as dean.

In accordance with the procedures established by Senate, a committee chaired by the provost will be established to advise the principal on the present state and future prospects of the Faculty of Education and on the selection of the dean. Members of the university community are invited to submit commentary on the present state and future prospects of the Faculty of Education and the deanship, in writing, to the provost by Wednesday, Nov. 19. Submissions should be sent by email to carol.oconnor@queensu.ca.  Anyone making a submission is asked to indicate whether they wish to have their letters shown, in confidence, to the members of the advisory committee. 

Suggestions of individuals who might serve on the advisory committee may also be submitted to carol.oconnor@queensu.ca by Wednesday, Nov. 12.

Undergrads hone research skills during summer program

  • [Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellows]
    Principal Daniel Woolf and Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss with the recipients of the Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowship.
  • [Principal Daniel Woolf and Emily Gong]
    Principal Daniel Woolf listens as undergraduate student Emily Gong explains her research on the history of art, religion and culture in the Dunhuang Mogao Caves.
  • [Ellen O'Donoghue and Mariah Horner]
    Mariah Horner (right) explains her research on contemporary Canadian performance to fellow student Ellen O'Donoghue.
  • [Steven Liss and Jessica Metuzals]
    Undergraduate student Jessica Metuzals explains her work to Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research).
  • [Undergraduate student Michelle Tam]
    A crowd gathers around Michelle Tam as she explains her research during the Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowship celebration.

The university hosted a special celebration on Oct. 27 to recognize the 20 students who participated in the 2014 Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowship (USSRF) program. Principal Daniel Woolf and Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss attended the event and congratulated the students on their accomplishments.

The USSRF program is an opportunity for continuing undergraduate students in social sciences, humanities, business and education to develop research skills under the guidance of a faculty researcher. The program provides meaningful opportunities to engage in discovery-based learning and to develop research and presentation skills. More information

Active learning classrooms making a difference

  • [Ellis Hall Peter Wolf}
    Associate Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) Peter Wolf talks about the active learning classrooms in Ellis Hall during a special event on Monday.
  • [Ellis Hall Alan Harrison]
    Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Alan Harrison speaks during the launch event for the active learning classrooms in Ellis Hall.
  • [Ellis Hall Tom Harris]
    Tom Harris, Vice-Principal (Advancement), relays stories about Drs. Russell and Katherine Morrison and the late Jack McGibbon.
  • [Ellis Hall Active Learning Classrooms]
    A booklet was available for attendees to sign and provide a message of thanks to Drs. Russell and Katherine Morrison.

A special event was held Monday to celebrate the launch of the Ellis Hall active learning classrooms and acknowledge the support of key donors.

Associate Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) Peter Wolf, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Alan Harrison and Tom Harris, Vice-Principal (Advancement) all spoke about the importance of the new classrooms and the crucial roles that Drs. Russell and Katherine Morrison and the late Jack McGibbon played in making them a reality for Queen’s University and its students.

While the Morrisons were unable to attend, a special booklet was available for attendees to sign and provide a message of thanks.

The three newly renovated active learning classrooms in Ellis Hall are designed to enhance students' learning experiences. The classrooms offer configurations and technology – such as whiteboards, moveable chairs and linked screens – that enable instructors to use different teaching and learning strategies.

A video displayed during the presentation provided rave reviews from students and teachers alike.

Curriculum conversations

Christopher DeLuca and Theodore Christou attend the launch of their new curriculum research group.

The Faculty of Education at Queen’s has launched a new research group for focused studies in curriculum.

The Curriculum Inquiry Research Group (CInRG) expands upon the topic of Curriculum Theorizing – a new PhD field at the Faculty of Education that involves asking questions about teaching and learning across contexts while considering social, historical and contextual facets of curriculum spaces.

Faculty members Christopher DeLuca and Theodore Christou lead CInRG. The pair also serve as the Editors for the Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies (JCACS) – a Queen’s-based journal that supports and brings together the diverse scholarship of academics involved in curriculum nationally and internationally.

“We want students to see themselves as a community of emerging scholars with responsibilities for each other’s development and with a commitment to the collective learning of the group,” says Dr. Christou.

CInRG was officially launched in late-September and included an event with a lecture from curriculum theorist Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, who presented work that was recently published in the Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies entitled, "Provoking the very 'Idea' of Canadian Curriculum Studies as a Counterpointed Composition."

“We understand the value of having a community of scholars to support graduate students and faculty members working in a field that is characterized by diverse methodological and disciplinary area,” says Dr. DeLuca. “We’re looking forward to giving back and fostering that community at Queen’s through the study of curriculum.”

The next step for Drs. Christou and DeLuca is to launch a new interface and website for CInRG to increase readership and further support the curriculum theorizing community at both national and international levels.

Follow these links for more information on CInRG and JCACS.


Insights, advice and a song for Major Admission Awards

  • [Admission Awards - Abrams Brothers]
    John and James Abrams of The Abrams Brothers perform during the Major Admission Awards Reception held Monday, Sept 22 at Wallace Hall.
  • [Admission Awards - Abrams Brothers]
    John and James Abrams of The Abrams Brothers perform during the Major Admission Awards Reception.
  • [Admission Awards - Abrams Brothers]
    John and James Abrams stand alongside Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic), during the Major Admission Awards Reception.
  • [Admission Awards - Haley Kawaja]
    Haley Kawaja, a Chernoff Family Award Scholar, speaks during the Major Admission Awards Reception as Ann Tierney and Alan Harrison look on.
  • [Admission Awards Reception]
    Donato Santeramo, Department Head for Languages, Literatures & Cultures, speaks to students at the Major Admission Awards Reception.
  • [Admission Awards - Ann Tierney]
    Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs, emceees the Major Admission Awards Reception at Wallace Hall.
  • [Admission Awards Reception]
    Students and faculty members attend the Major Admission Awards Reception held Monday, Sept. 22 at Wallace Hall.

A pair of upper year students offered their advice and personal insights Monday evening as Queen’s recognized its major admission award recipients at a reception. 

Both John Abrams and Haley Kawaja are award recipients themselves but have taken very different paths in their education and lives.

Mr. Abrams, a Chancellor’s Scholar from Kingston, is in his third year majoring in Film and Media with a minor in English Language and Literature.

However, he is better known as half of The Abrams Brothers, a country music duo named Best New Artist at the 2012 Canadian Country Music Awards. He and his brother James performed a song for the gathered crowd at Wallace Hall.  

His message was that many people, past and present, may have the ability to study at the university level but may not have the means. It was a message he related through the stories of his grandparents and parents. His father, now a judge, studied law after a career in the RCMP. Mr. Abrams recalled going to his father’s classes at Queen’s when he was a mere three years old.

“Most importantly for me, I recognize that in my generation a lot of us have what I would consider a misplaced sense of entitlement,” he says. “I observe that and I try every day to remember that I am not necessarily entitled to this, that this is a wonderful privilege to be here at this institution, to have this scholarship. As a result I carry myself accordingly and try and work as hard as I can to live up to those expectations and responsibilities.”

Ms. Kawaja, a Chernoff Family Award Scholar from Cornerbrook, N.L., is a fourth-year biology student with a minor in English Language and Literature.

She too has not taken the conventional path in her education, having taken a year away from her studies to live in Kenya, where she developed an educational program for HIV prevention.

Her message was that it was okay to not know what you want, a pressure that many award recipients and Queen’s students may feel.

“I wanted to get across that your plans are always made by a less mature version of yourself,” she says. “You make a plan in high school for the next four years, then in four years your plan hasn’t accounted for everything you learn over that time. More than anything, (my message is) it’s okay to not know what you want and to change your plan.”

Currently, there are 251 entering and in-course award recipients at Queen’s, hailing from coast to coast and across all faculties and departments.  

“Major Admission Award recipients are those who are engaged within their high schools and/or communities, demonstrate outstanding leadership abilities, possess creativity and initiative, and excel academically.  They continue to demonstrate these attributes throughout their time here," says Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs, who emceed the event. “Each year, the selection committee has to work harder to make its decisions, because of the calibre of students who apply to Queen's.”

The awards are generously supported by numerous donors.  Many donors want to give back this way because they too received some form of support, recognition and encouragement when they were students. Their generosity has a significant impact within the Queen's community and the recipients of their awards.

The 2015-16 Major Admission Award application is now open for students applying to Queen's for the 2015-16 academic year. The deadline to apply is Dec. 1, 2014. Visit the Student Awards website for further information about our Major Admission Awards.

Principal Woolf announces his priorities for 2014-2015

At the beginning of each academic year it has been my practice to outline for the community, in broad strokes, the goals and priorities I intend to pursue over the course of the year. These goals are, unsurprisingly, aligned with the four strategic drivers identified in the Queen’s University Strategic Framework 2014-2019, a document that will guide the university’s decision making over the next five years.

Principal Daniel Woolf speaks with students during an event on campus. Strengthening the student learning experience is one of his goals for the 2014-15 academic year.

As I commence my second term as Principal my overarching goal remains unchanged-- to advance Queen’s as a university that uniquely combines quality and intensity of research with excellence in undergraduate and graduate education. The strategic drivers – the student learning experience, research prominence, financial sustainability and internationalization – directly support the success of Queen’s as a balanced academy.

It should be noted that the framework builds on and is fully aligned with The Third Juncture, a 10-year vision for Queen’s that I wrote in 2012, as well as a number of other recent planning documents including the Academic Plan (2011), the Strategic Research Plan (2012), the Teaching and Learning Action Plan (2014), and the Campus Master Plan.

In this context, my senior administrative colleagues and I are committed to:

1. Strengthening the student learning experience

A transformative learning experience is central to the Queen’s identity and to our vision as a university. Our academic plan outlines the centrality of developing our students’ fundamental academic skills while also providing them with learning opportunities that will help prepare them for the future. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Increasing the number of new opportunities for expanded credentials, as well as more opportunities for experiential and entrepreneurial learning, both on and off campus.
  • Further integrating technology into the delivery of course content where it enables improved learning.
  • Continuing to focus on strategies for teaching and learning based on student engagement and broad-based learning outcomes.

2. Strengthening our research prominence

Queen’s is recognized as one of Canada’s outstanding research institutions, but sustaining and enhancing our status means we must guide and support our research enterprise while resolutely pursuing funding. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Maintaining success rates in applications for Tri-Council funding.
  • Remaining among the country’s top three universities for faculty awards, honours and prizes, and election to major learned bodies such as the Royal Society of Canada.
  • Supporting the development and engagement of Queen’s faculty members as set out in the Senate-approved Strategic Research Plan.

3. Ensuring financial sustainability

To support teaching and research into the future, we will need stable and diverse revenue streams, particularly as government funding, per student, continues to fall. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Continuing strong revenue growth together with revenue diversification.
  • Meeting our $60 million annual fund raising target as part of the Initiative Campaign, while focusing on its overall achievement by 2016.
  • Pursuing long-term sustainability for our pension plan.

4. Raising our international profile

Two years ago I stated in The Third Juncture that as global competition among universities increases over the next decade, it will not be sufficient to be simply ‘known’ in one’s own country. Increasingly, the value of our students’ degrees will be tied to our international reputation, as will our ability to attract international students, who raise our profile and contribute a great deal to the academic environment. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Moving forward on multi-year plans to increase undergraduate international enrolment.
  • Maintaining our strong record in attracting international graduate students.
  • Supporting growth in international collaborations and partnerships.

5. Promoting and developing talent

We will need to ensure that we are able to acquire, develop and retain top quality faculty and staff to thrive as an institution. Our talent management strategy, which I initiated last year, will provide a strategic approach to ensure we have the right leaders in place and in the wings as we advance our academic mission and work to secure financial sustainability. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Continuing with succession planning efforts for academic and administrative leadership roles across the university.
  • Developing a competency model that will be used to identify necessary competencies when hiring, and for leadership development and performance dialogue discussions.
  • Refining our hiring practices.
  • Promoting discussion among the Deans around faculty renewal. 

A unique take on street art

  • Stopping by the exhibit were Stephen Elliott (Dean, Faculty of Education, l), Rebecca Luce-Kapler (Associate Dean, Faculty of Education) and Peter Chin (Associate Dean, Faculty of Education).
  • Artist in residence Nancy Douglas discusses the mural with Stephen Elliott.
  • Artist in residence Nancy Douglas explains the project to Angela Solar (Faculty of Education) and visitor Mandy Marciniak.
  • The mural was created by students from Frontenac and First Avenue Public Schools.
  • The mural mounted on a floor gave viewers a unique top-down view of the artwork.
  • First-year education students Alexandra Brickman (l) and Victoria Courtney stopped by the gallery.

Students from Frontenac Public School and First Avenue Public School converged on The Studio Gallery at Queen’s Faculty of Education Tuesday for the unveiling of the 210 square foot mural representing their neighbourhood. The project, titled My Magical Neighbourhood, includes contributions from Grade 4 students.

“We normally pull from the Queen’s Education artistic pool for shows in this space, but this is a great opportunity to engage the community,” says Angela Solar, lecturer in the Faculty of Education and the curator of The Studio Gallery at Queen’s Faculty of Education “It also gives our teacher candidates a chance to see what children are learning about art. It’s an amazing experience.”

Led by Limestone District School Board’s artist in residence Nancy Douglas, the project encouraged the students to look at their neighbourhood through a different lens.

“This is a really wonderful experience for the students,” says Ms. Douglas. “They hadn’t seen the mural all together and mounted until today. It makes a huge impact on their lives with the public here, the media here and teachers and other students visiting the gallery.”

Ms. Douglas tackled the project in different stages. The students first had to sketch their home. Then they had to write a fable or a story about their home and neighbourhood. Next, she took them on a walking tour of their neighbourhood to learn about their surroundings. Finally, the students got together, designed the mural and created each panel representing where they live.

The show runs weekdays from 11 am to 2 pm until Oct. 10.


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