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College of Education

Australia Awakening

By Kate Muir Welsh and Kate Kniss


The Australia Professional Learning and Leadership Initiative is a collaborative project between the UW College of Education and Albany County School District 1.  

The project was sponsored by ACSD 1 and an innovative course grant from UW’s Outreach school.  Participants developed skills to lead collaborative learning teams to sustain meaningful professional development based on the outcomes outlined for the three-credit course. The outcomes for the course were

At the end of this course, the participant will:

  • Increase understanding of the types of pedagogical practices for math that can be employed by teachers,
  • Increase content knowledge in the areas of mathematics,  
  • Develop and implement a professional development session for ACSD 1 teachers.


As part of the project, Kate Kniss, (B.A. 2002 Elementary Education, M.A. 2007 Curriculum and Instruction, PhD Candidate Curriculum and Instruction) and Kate Welsh (Department of Secondary Education chairperson) facilitated a three-credit course for ACSD 1 teachers on elementary mathematics education professional development that included a two-week stay in Australia and sessions in Laramie before and after their time Down Under.

We met as a group in November to discuss logistics and to reflect on the process of teaching to prepare and plan for our time in Australia.  We left Laramie on Dec. 6 and arrived in Australia on Dec. 8. We spent the first week in Sydney observing at a primary school.  We interacted with the teachers and K-6 students.  We even played cricket with first graders!  We didn’t learn much about how to play cricket, but we did learn about how this one school dedicates itself to students and learning.

We also had time to reflect on how our schools work with students.  One participant commented, “I think coming back from Australia, I was able to apply an ‘outsider's’ lens to my own culture to some small degree and I found myself pleasantly reassured and reinvigorated."

 Another participant writes, “I plan as if visitors will be observing me and my students with the goal of maximizing student learning.”

Our second week was in Brisbane focused on teacher learning.  We had two four-hour sessions a day- one at the Queensland University of Technology and one at a science center (zoo, botanic garden, hands-on museum, etc.).  At Queensland University of Technology we worked with two mathematics education faculty members.  We focused on the learning and language of fractions.  

After our week, one participant renewed her commitment to teaching mathematics for meaning while emphasizing the importance of also learning procedures with understanding.

Another participant commented, “After Australia, I find myself being more deliberate about giving ample time for students to engage in a mathematical task, share their thinking and give each other feedback.  We're spending more time looking at each other's work and then revising our thinking afterwards, which has been powerful.  I still capitalize on every possible instructional minute, I'm just taking the focus off of me and letting the focus stay on student discourse.” 

In January 2015, we met as a group for a week after school to debrief on our experiences, to read about what makes professional development effective, and to plan teacher sharing sessions.  The ongoing project is intended to improve teacher quality through professional development that is linked to local district improvement and accreditation plans.  Sessions that ACSD 1 teachers can sign up for include:

•    Using high leverage practices to inform learning walks
•    Interpreting the standards for mathematical practices
•    Teachers observing mathematics teaching and learning
•    Division: What it is and how to teach it
•    How to define and celebrate key school values

Participants in the Australia Professional Learning and Leadership Initiative designed the sessions listed above to share their experiences.  As the sessions are offered, we look forward to working together again.  

Brisbane Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens Visit
At Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-tha, working with Paul (education officer) to learn about native plants and education programs. From left to right, Kate Muir Welsh, Paul, Liann Brenneman, Rob Hamlin, Jill Walford, Kate Kniss, Andrea Hayden

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