Shifting sands: A brief cultural immersion for Griffith staff

Four Griffith university staff, including Dean and Head of School Professor Donna Pendergast, had the opportunity to travel to Riyadh, for the First Forum on Educational Professional Development, which was hosted by the Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia.

The Griffith Program, within the Khebrat initiative, is jointly delivered by the Griffith English Language Institute (GELI) and the School of Education and Professional Studies and involves 26 Saudi Arabian teachers. Griffith was one of four Australian university and five other countries to host teachers for a year-long professional learning program as part of the Saudi Arabian Vision 2030.

The Khebrat Program is a teacher leadership and school immersion model. Following a two-week orientation, Khebrat delegates engage with GELI for intensive language learning in preparation for their education professional learning and school immersion. In June, they commence an education intensive to develop a shared language and engagement with education theory and practice. During the second part of the year, these teachers will attend schools across southeast Queensland to learn in context.

The team from the School of Education of Education and Professional Studies is led by Dr Kay Hartwig. Dr Elizabeth Wheeley and a team of academic staff are providing expertise and mentoring of the education components with Donna Pendergast leading the evaluation of the program. The GELI team is comprised of Sarah Bissell, Laura Smyth, Alex Norris, Glenn Graham, Patricia Alexander and Christine Grimmer.

At the Forum, Professor Pendergast spoke in the opening session following a keynote by Phil Honeywood from EIAA. Her presentation on evaluation received extensive interest, in particular from other Australian universities keen to explore a validated evaluation tool that could be used in their programs. Elizabeth Wheeley presented a joint paper on behalf of Kay Hartwig and herself on teacher professional learning and leadership through intercultural professional learning communities. This presentation integrated the theoretical underpinnings with the education program design including communities of practice, intercultural understanding, teacher leadership, reflective practice, and action research to address the challenge of enacting change.

One innovation of the Griffith Program, which was well received in a workshop at the Forum, was the use of an ePortfolio platform. Christine Grimmer facilitated a workshop on continuing professional development for English language teachers which included a demonstration of the value of an ePortfolio for language learning. The portfolio has potential to bring together program elements and provide a cohesive representation of participants’ learning. Thanks must go to Learning Futures for their ongoing support and professional learning for Griffith staff to develop this expertise. This is the first time that a digital portfolio has been used in an ELICOS program at Griffith University.

David Richards from Griffith International attended the Forum engaging with stakeholders and hosting the Griffith information booth. Among the many highlights was the opportunity to meet with the Australian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ralph King, in his residence in Riyadh. Shifting sands pays homage to the expansive desert environment, and also the cultural learning for us: shifting programs, shifting schedules, shifting cultural perceptions. The Ministry of Education and Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission were gracious hosts ensuring that we experienced authentic culture and cuisine.

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