A professional development experience for teachers like no other

Participants in the inaugural Social Ventures Australia Bright Spots School Connection International Exploration trip agree.

The trip was the most valuable professional development exercise they’ve ever experienced.

The three-week trip, made possible thanks to the support of a number of partners, saw a group of Australian educators visit Vancouver, Boston, New York City, and San Francisco, where they were exposed to a wide variety of education best-practice.

Participants were from the SVA Bright Spots Schools Connection, a network of high performing school leaders working in low socio-economic communities to improve educational outcomes for their students.

The goal of the exploration was to expose these school leaders to new contexts, ideas, and practices, outside of the Australian education landscape.

School visits punctuated a structured program of inquiry and reflection and gave the group an opportunity to see how Canadian and American schools are working to overcome the challenges specific to communities experiencing disadvantage. They immersed themselves in the next generation of education technology at the Samsung Developers Conference in San Francisco.

While in Vancouver the group got the chance to meet the innovators behind Spirals of Inquiry, a cutting-edge model for evaluation of school improvement initiatives.

Western Port Secondary College principal Michael Devine says it’s one thing to read about best-practice, it’s another thing altogether to see it in person and speak to those implementing it.

“To actually live and breathe it, to be part of it, is a really rich experience,” he says.

“I don’t think I’ll ever have a professional learning experience as profound as that. So it really resonated.”

A little over a month since returning home from the trip, Devine is already working to implement what he observed when visiting schools and the non-profit Harlem Children’s Zone in New York.

“What we saw there was an opportunity to change whole communities by changing outcomes for kids,” he says.

“They were providing extended school days. So we’re currently working with two primary schools, and meeting with funders, as we look to implement aspects of that model – extending school days as method of early intervention.”

Wirreanda Secondary School principal Caroline Fishpool says she came away from the trip with a real understanding of the importance of collaboration, not just between colleagues, but schools and communities more broadly.

“One thing it makes you realise is, yes we do great things in our own schools, but to pop your head out of the clouds and look internationally, you can’t get that experience anywhere else,” she says.

“The Canadian system is built on really strong collaboration, so that was a big affirmation for us. We’ve already built a really strong structure, and experience at that school. The next step is to build that collaboration. That was certainly our key takeaway, particularly for our leadership team.

“Now we’re looking at some powerful mentoring models, not just for graduates, but also for experienced teachers.

“I think creating a network that makes that possible is what’s really powerful about the Bright Spots Schools Connection.”

The SVA Connection team would like to thank all of the wonderful supporters who shared their time, insights and experiences with the SVA group:

Linda Kaser & Judy Halbert, Spirals of Enquiry

Delta Farm School

Norma Rose Point School

Citizen Schools

The National Math & Science Initiative

Pace High School

Urban Assembly for Green Careers


Google Campus

Bright Bytes

New Teacher Centre