Oversea School Visiting to Sweden -
Almunge skola 🇸🇪
April 15-29, 2023
Rapport and trust––the key to a close-knit teacher-student relationship // Andy Yeh
Ten minutes before the class started, students in the corridors, in the lounge, and in front of the lockers had all stood up moving towards the outside area of their own classrooms, sitting on benches or leaning towards the walls chatting with each other. With no bells ringing to signal the onset of each class, students all had a schedule in mind knowing when the class starts and ends. However, a few minutes later, some students put their legs on the table, some students opened their laptops and started gaming, and some students even walked out of the classroom without noticing the teacher. Teachers acted naturally and normally, as if nothing happened. The above scene would never happen in Taiwan without teachers being infuriated. How could teachers in Sweden deal with it with ease? How do teachers manage to attend to all students’ needs? We raised the question to Orestis, our oversea school supervisor.
According to Orestis, to develop a good rapport with students requires both teachers’ professional and interpersonal skills. “Every time you want student to perform a specific task, it costs you some ‘trust’ which you accumulate through proving to them you are a knowledgeable, competent teacher who they can learn things from, as well as through being kind of open yet kind of closed in your private life domain so as to show your humane side and make you approachable,” said Orestis.
Students will at all costs find a way to use the least energy to gain the most credits, but teachers on the other hand need to use the least energy to make students do the most work. When it comes to this paradoxical situation, it relies on the amount of their trust and the quality of their rapport for teachers to motivate students. “We want our students to follow us genuinely rather than being forced to do so,” Orestis added, “Being angry at them could possibly work for once or twice, but gradually, it lost its power. You want to be disappointed in them like their parents because they know by this you actually truly care about them.” It is universally true that all students crave for attention from others, including teachers’, and when they try to elicit this from teachers, we, as teachers, give it to them, but at the same time, we take advantage of it. “When they do something worth praising, you generously give them credits, but next time if they are being lazy or mischievous, you remind them ‘I know you can do this. You did it before, remember? That’s what I expected from you. Can you do it again?’ You let them know you care about them,” Orestis said.
Back to the first-paragraph scenario. Teachers in Sweden take attendance at the beginning of each class to keep track of the students coming today, and because the campus is usually an open area, a roll call also ensures teachers will not get in trouble if there is anything happening to students not showing up. On the other hand, if students are acting improperly in the class, a teacher will not force them to stay in the classroom. “Would you rather spend your ‘trust’ making them stay not doing anything but a mess, or would you rather let them leave and not influence the rest of the class? I could make them stay if I want. We have a close rapport, but I wouldn’t do it.” Teacher-student relationship maintaining is one of the main themes we were eager to observe and learn from Orestis. There is a fine line between “forcing them to sit down and behave” and “letting them leave but following up with one-on-one conversation.” As for which one to adopt, it all comes down to how you want to develop the rapport and trust with your students.
About the Oversea School–Almunge skola
Almunge School is an elementary and middle school located about an hour's drive outside the city center of Uppsala. It covers primary education (years 1-6) and lower secondary education (years 7-9) following the Taiwanese education system. Education in Sweden is completely free, including lunch and miscellaneous fees. Compulsory education in Sweden is the same as in Taiwan, with all grades before grade 9 being part of the compulsory education stage.
The elementary and middle school sections of the school are taught in different buildings but share the same cafeteria for meals. The schedule in Swedish schools does not have fixed start and end times for classes. Each class may vary slightly from day to day, but classes do not end later than 3:00 PM. Students can arrive at school before the start of classes and there are no early self-study or early exam preparations. Once classes end, students can leave school and go home. After each class, students are not allowed to stay in their original classrooms; they must leave the classroom as the teachers lock the doors. Students can engage in campus activities or leave the campus, but they should be prepared at the classroom door before the start of the next class.
The teacher-student relationship at Almunge School is close, and they greet and interact with each other in the corridors. Teachers can even recognize who is present or absent without the need for roll call (as they have already seen each other in the corridors). The majority of students in the classes are Swedish, with fewer students from other ethnicities. In terms of English proficiency, the general English ability is good, but there is a wide range of proficiency levels, ranging from B2 to C2 on the CEFR scale.
Although Almunge School is not a so-called "prestigious" school in the city center, it is well-equipped. Each student has their own laptop, and the home economics classroom is fully equipped, including a washing machine, resembling a mini IKEA. There is also a woodworking classroom on the campus where students can work on crafting small household items. Additionally, there is a swimming pool located about a minute's walk from the main building, as swimming is a mandatory skill that Swedish students must learn and pass a test in order to graduate. The campus has gender-neutral toilets, which include washbasins, hand towels, and toilets. These toilets are located in the corridors and can be used by anyone, regardless of gender.
About the Team
Henry Chen, Home University Supervisor, College of Teacher Education
Susan Lee, Dept. of Education
Henry Liu, Dept. of Education
Gunter Chien, Dept. of Education
Erica Chen, Dept. of Geography
Andy Yeh, Dept. of English
Sally Jao, Dept. of English
Chinese Author: Sally Jao & Prof. Henry Chen
Chinese-English Translator: Andy Yeh
Practicing Competency-Based and Differentiated Instruction: NTNU’s Preservice Teachers Visited Sweden for Overseas School Practicum
As the pandemic restrictions eased, the “Realizing the Potential of Each Student: Swedish Overseas School Visiting Practicum,” subsidized by the Ministry of Education for the 2021 academic year, finally took place in April 2023. Led by Professor Henry Chen from the College of Teacher Education, six preservice teachers from the English, Education, Geography, and Fine Arts departments participated in the program from April 15 to April 29. In addition to observing local teachers’ teaching, during the two-week practicum, these preservice teachers conducted up to 25 cultural and professional lessons to Swedish students ranging from year 7 to year 9, which corresponds to the age of junior high school students in Taiwan, allowing Taiwan’s education practice and its culture to be seen on the international stage. Through numerous class observations, lesson discussions, and reflection sessions, the selected student teachers were able to explore and understand the meaning and challenges of “student-centered teaching” in Swedish schools.
When asked about their most impressive learning experience, the preservice teachers unanimously agreed that they saw the complete manifestation of competency-based instruction here at Almunge skola. They saw how teachers strive to design rigorous lessons to enable students’ learning to transfer and connect to their real-life situations, how teachers provide learning support or reinforcement based on individual differences through diverse assessment methods and strategies, and finally how teachers continuously monitor learning process and progress rather than defining it solely by grades. For example, in English classes, language’s communication function is prioritized, and pedagogical tasks such as oral presentations and diary writing are commonly seen in the class to enhance students’ communication abilities. The teacher also uses diverse strategies to ensure both low-achieving and highly-motivated students have suitable learning opportunities, such as playing board games to learn English, using English version comic books as extracurricular reading materials, and giving optional assignments like etymology research. Plus, to provide personalized learning, the teacher seizes various opportunities to understand students’ levels, such as chatting with students during lunchtime to establish a relationship and assess their English proficiency.
Moreover, cooperative teaching and interdisciplinary teaching were also highlights of this visit. Teachers of the same or different subjects at Almunge skola often work together in both assessment and lesson planning. Regarding co-teaching, it was observed that when students gave oral presentations in English class, the teacher would divide students of different proficiency levels into two or more classrooms, and collaborate with other English teachers to assess students, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to showcase their abilities within a limited time. As for interdisciplinary teaching, preservice teachers specializing in geography and home economics found that the social studies teacher often integrates different subject areas based on a mutual theme and incorporates tasks that involve inquiry and practice, allowing students to gain a well-rounded learning experience. For example, when discussing Judaism in a religion class, the social studies teacher collaborated with a home economics teacher, letting students make Jewish bread. Besides, Geography and home economics, these two subjects also worked together by having students choose a country, make its traditional food, and explore the interaction between humanities and natural environment.
In addition to observing, the preservice teachers also attempted to incorporate Swedish teaching style into their own prepared cultural and professional lessons, trying to spark diverse cultural exchanges. They taught and shared various topics such as Taiwan’s marriage and gender equality movement, the hand-shaken beverage industry and its online marketing, AI writing, Taiwan's educational system and the Bao Gao Zong custom derived from test-driven environment, Spring Festival couplet calligraphy, Eastern ink painting, Taiwan’s climate and Chinese pastries culture, Dragon Boat Festival culture and rice dumplings craft, and food loss and food waste issues, which amazed Swedish teachers and students.
Apart from the practicum at school, the preservice teachers also exchanged ideas about education with Carl Lindberg, Vice President of the Uppsala Municipal Council, Esbjörn Larsson, Dean at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Uppsala University, and Katerina Gahne, International Coordinator at Department of Education, Uppsala University to understand essential social and educational issues in Sweden, as well as the system and belief of teacher training in Swedish middle and upper secondary schools.
During this journey, the preservice teachers not merely expanded their international horizons, but also witnessed the possibilities and experienced the challenges that could result from a student-centered education, which provides them with abundant nourishment for their future teaching careers.