Geography Q&A: Sharing knowledge and experiences

Geography educator Susan Caldis is about to embark on the professional learning opportunity of a lifetime, travelling to Singapore to take part in the 2019 Outstanding Educator In Residence program. Taking place over two weeks in February, she was invited to take part in the program, which will have a focus on Geographical education.

She attributes much of this opportunity to the national scope of her work within Geography education. In 2018 she commenced doctoral studies at Macquarie University, focusing on the transformation of pedagogical practice in the secondary Geography classroom as pre-service teachers' transition into the profession. She also works as a sessional academic within the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University. Outside the university, she is the Vice-President of the Geography Teachers' Association of New South Wales (GTANSW), Nominated Director of the Australian Geography Teachers' Association (AGTA) and Honorary Secretary of the Geographical Society of NSW.

We catch up with her before she leaves for Singapore to hear about what the experience will involve and what she hopes she'll learn from her time abroad.

How did you come to be invited to take part in the OEIR program in the first place?

The invitation, to take part in the Outstanding Educator In Residence (OEIR) program in Singapore during February 2019, came unexpectedly and was a very welcomed surprise. The OEIR program establishes partnerships with professionals around the world, tapping into their expertise to enhance the professional development of Singaporean teachers.

With a focus on teachers and the work they do, the Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST) invites outstanding overseas educators to share their expertise on teaching pedagogies and classroom practices. The intention is to strengthen the theory-practice nexus, as well as with the sharing of effective classroom practices to enhance the pedagogical content knowledge of Singapore teachers.

I learnt that I had been recommended to AST as an expert geography educator by an eminent Professor of Geography. It was my expertise around implementing in my own practice and designing and delivering teacher professional learning sessions about inquiry-based learning and fieldwork as the signature pedagogies of Geography that was of significant interest to the AST OEIR team. Additionally, my skills of intercultural understanding and ‘Asia-capability', which were developed and evidenced through my recent participation in the Asialink Leadership Program, were also favourably considered.

It is required that the selected OEIR must be recognised at national/state platforms and must also possess strong pedagogical classroom teaching skills. My three-year appointment at ACARA leading the development of the Foundation to Year 10 and Senior Secondary Australian Curriculum: Geography and current doctoral studies work around pedagogical practice in Geography, as well as my subsequent, continuing leadership in the design and delivery of teacher professional learning to support the implementation of the Australian Curriculum: Geography through AGTA and GTANSW were pivotal contributing factors to my OEIR appointment.

What kind of preparation is involved in the lead-up to the experience in February?

The first part of preparation was to complete a detailed report about my career and explain how key points in my career contributed to my development in becoming an expert Geography educator. The report also included a comprehensive discussion about what I believe I can bring to the OEIR program, what I hope to learn from my participation in the program, and how I hope to share my learning across networks and incorporate ideas gained from the OEIR experience into my future practice.

The next part of preparation was to participate in a briefing session with the Executive of the AST and also the two Master Teachers of Geography with whom I'll be working closely in February. The briefing occurred on-the-ground in Singapore in October, so I was able to start developing a sense of place ahead of the February OEIR program.

What will the two-week program involve?

The OEIR program will run from 11–28 February 2019. Throughout this time I will be involved in a range of activities including:

  • teaching Geography to local students in local schools using the Singaporean Geography curriculum
  • presenting Masterclasses for in-service Geography teachers (a pre- and post-Masterclass component will also hopefully be part of the ‘Masterclass' experience)
  • presenting Masterclasses for pre-service Geography teachers
  • facilitating workshops with the Master Teachers of Geography
  • engaging in dialogue about national curriculum development and implementation with key stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education and the Academy of Singapore Teachers.

Who will you have the opportunity to meet and collaborate with throughout the program?

At this point in time my understanding is that the AST coordinate the OEIR program and throughout the time I am in Singapore I will be working closely with their designated OEIR team and two Master Teachers of Geography. Additionally, I will also have the opportunity to meet and collaborate with academics, teacher-educators and pre-service Geography teachers from the National Institute of Education; in-service Geography teachers, students, and school leaders such as principals from schools across the four zones of Singapore; and directors, curriculum development officers and policymakers from the Ministry of Education.

You'll be the first Australian Geography educator to participate in this program with the AST. What kinds of things will you learn that you'll be able to share with the Geography community here in Australia?

One of my professional goals related to participation in the OEIR program is to further develop my intercultural understanding capabilities and also apply key learnings gained from completion of the Asialink Leadership Program through this authentic ‘on-the-ground' experience. Additionally, as an educator who has had national experience in curriculum development and responsibility for developing and leading related professional learning activities through the professional association, I am also looking forward to learning more about the Singaporean education system through in-country immersion, professional dialogue, and engagement with a range of stakeholders.

As an Australian-based Geography educator, I am fascinated by the research emerging from Singapore in both academic Geography and Geography education, and through mutual sharing of knowledge and experiences, hope to be able to develop opportunities for further teaching, research, and professional collaboration beyond the OEIR program.

Professionally, I also hope to effectively communicate and demonstrate a range of strategies and opportunities for teaching, learning and assessment in Geography related to inquiry-based learning and fieldwork methodologies. I feel very honoured to have the opportunity to participate in the 2019 OEIR program in Singapore, and am very much looking forward to the experience.

Stay tuned: We'll be catching up with Susan Caldis following her trip to hear more about her experience, the teaching masterclasses, and whether she achieved the goals she set out to.

Susan Caldis says she’s fascinated by the research emerging from Singapore in both academic Geography and Geography education. Do you seek out research from other countries around the globe to enhance your own practice? What have you found to be particularly helpful?

Think about the last professional learning session you attended. Did you share any of the things you learned with others in your professional network? How did this enhance your own experience?