Leah Rawlings, a music teacher at École Steffie Woima Elementary School, was one of only 10 Alberta teachers chosen to participate in a summer professional development project overseas.
Rawlings’ group was posted to Ghana, West Africa. They partnered with the Ghana National Association of Teachers to facilitate a New Entrants Program, where both Canadian and Ghanian teammates worked as co-tutors.
The four-week program is a joint undertaking between the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and its member organizations — in Rawlings’ case, the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The ‘Project Overseas’ program has been operating for over 50 years in an effort to strengthen public education in developing countries. In July, 50 teachers from across the country volunteered their time to work with Project Overseas in Africa and the Caribbean.
“Our focus was to work with new teachers, supporting them with knowledge and tools to carry forward with the great work their teachers’ association is already doing,” said Rawlings, who has also spent two years overseas working in the Czech Republic. “The teachers we met are incredibly passionate about their work, but they have significant obstacles to overcome just to provide the basics. Some of them work in open-air structures without electricity, or they work without plumbing and supplies. Sometimes they are placed in villages where they don’t even speak the language, or where they have to walk — or even canoe — a long distance just to get to the school. But despite the many challenges, they are determined to raise leaders among their young teachers and they were so grateful for our involvement.”
Rawlings has been involved in the Chinook’s Edge teacher mentorship program for three years and was able to share many of the activities, workshops and discussion topics from the division’s extensive database. Her experience, along with the strong professional development tools at her disposal, also helped her during the initial 12-page application process.
“There were 13 teams working in 11 different countries with Project Overseas this year. I really felt that I could have an impact with the new teacher mentorship project, especially since I was able to access Chinook’s Edge’s expertise around mentorship,” said Rawlings. “Some of the things we discussed are groundbreaking for them, and I feel we set some strong practices in place that will support teachers. We discussed everything from management skills to cooperative learning strategies — and provided tools for them to take to their classrooms straightaway.
“Everyone we met has a huge passion for education and for bringing forward information that will help make some of the changes they are wanting for their country’s young people. People often return from an experience like this saying they received more from it than they gave, and that is exactly how I feel. Seeing the kids in school — the smiling, welcoming, joyful kids — made everything worthwhile. This was an incredibly enriching experience and I would do it again in a minute.”