Leader in the Spotlight: Heather Carroll, Humanitarian & Education Trailblazer

Our Leader in the Spotlight features Heather Carroll, a recent Memorial University Bachelor of Education and Arts graduate, who is currently pursuing a Master’s in International Higher Education at Loyola University Chicago, while teaching at a school. Heather is making an incredible impact in the education community; she has volunteered as a teacher at schools in Fiji and Cambodia, blogged about her experiences in Cambodia for NGO Projects Abroad and E-zine Project Third World, and presented her work at a number of education conferences. For her efforts, she has won Memorial University’s Platinum VIP Award, and was named a 3M National Student Fellow and one of MTV/Ford Canada’s Top 10 Drivers of Change. In our interview below, learn about Heather’s teaching experiences abroad, the need to mobilize educators, and the importance of experiential learning.

What motivated you to go into education?

Even before I began university, I had a clear sense of purpose that I wanted to pursue education. During high school, I did a co-operative education class where I spent time in primary and elementary classrooms, and it seemed like a natural fit for me. I knew teaching was something that inspired me to work hard and something that I loved to do. It’s incredibly rewarding to facilitate a space where others can grow, learn to interact socially, critically think, and discover their capabilities.

Tell us about your volunteer teaching experiences abroad in Fiji and Cambodia. How did you come across these opportunities? What did you learn from your time there?

These opportunities were born out of a sense of stagnancy that I had during my time as an undergrad. I was accepted into Memorial University’s Bachelor of Primary/Elementary Education, and that program does not have a teaching placement until your fifth and final year of the program. When I was in first year, I couldn’t identify what was wrong with this, but I felt uneasy about it. I wanted to teach… so why couldn’t I put the skills that I was learning to use?

I felt that the program design was limiting me, so I took extra courses every semester; that way,  I could eventually take a semester off and not be “behind.” I am an active volunteer in my community, so it made sense to volunteer as a teacher, and the more I read about the global teacher shortage, I knew that the time I had could help provide a better education to children in overstuffed and under-resourced classrooms. I discovered an organization called Projects Abroad that placed me with an amazing local host family and a school where I was needed.  It was a poetic distancing that lead me to Fiji. I went from Newfoundland, an island in the North Atlantic, to Viti Levu, Fiji, an island in the South Pacific. A year later, I was trying to prove the possibility of an abroad teaching internship to my faculty, and since my teachable area is French, I couldn’t return to Fiji. I sought a place where I could teach FSL, and Cambodia seemed like the best fit.

In Fiji, I taught grade three at Mount St. Mary’s School to a class of 41 students. It was a beautifully diverse school, and the parents and faculty welcomed me into the community the instant I arrived! My work in Fiji really solidified my love for education.

Cambodia absolutely changed my life. I taught French and English at Wat Bo School, the largest public school in Siem Reap, and at the KSEDO Orphanage. The children at KSEDO are so inspiring and hardworking. By Western standards, they have almost nothing, and are academically below grade level, but the children there are a family in every sense of the word; they teach each other, they nurture each other, and most importantly, love each other. I’ve returned to visit and still remain in contact with KSEDO and do fundraising for them to improve their facilities.

On your profile, you mention that you are dedicated to mobilizing educators. Why is it important to do so?

By 2030, the world needs 27.3 million more teachers to achieve universal primary education. Meanwhile, teachers in Canada are often un- or underemployed because of our massive teacher surplus. It makes sense for teachers to be mobile in this age of globalization. In order to tackle this problem, faculties and schools of education need to step up. To achieve this, they can send pre-service teachers abroad (which is what my purpose was when teaching abroad in Cambodia) and set up exchanges and campuses in global centres where local and international students can work together and exchange best practices. Teacher mobility and teacher education is one of the only solutions to this crisis we’re facing. And we don’t have time to waste.

What is experiential learning? How would you like to see it implemented in the education system?

I define experiential learning as being a “thinker-doer.”  It’s when you apply the skills you’ve learned in an academic setting to a real-life situation and have guided reflection and synthesization of material afterwards. Earlier this year, I wrote about how this can be implemented in University Affairs. Check it out here.

Experiential learning opportunities are everywhere!

Experiential learning opportunities are everywhere!

What is the best experience of your undergraduate degree?

How can I pick just one? Hmm.. If I had to choose, I’d say the field trip to Phnom Kulen waterfall with my students at KSEDO in December 2014. They had so much fun and learned about the science and cultural significance of a place in their home country. It was experiential learning in action.

In Cambodia

In Cambodia

My other top experiences were conversations with my classmates, my profs, and students and administrators across the country who inspired me and offered feedback which shaped my purpose. All these experiences lead me to where I am today: teaching at a local school while working on my Master’s in International Higher Education at Loyola University Chicago.



Want to ask Heather a question? Schedule a chat with her today! Heather is happy to answer your questions and offer advice on education and more.

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