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7 ways to bring an international ethos to school life

From activities to trips abroad, there are many ways schools can act internationally for the benefit of pupils and staff

Teachers looking at globe with pupils

As the saying goes, "travel broadens the mind". This is because it opens us up to new experiences, new cultures, new people and new ways of thinking – shaking us from our assumptions and forcing us to re-evaluate what we think we know about the world.

Within schools, helping children to see the world beyond their village, town, city or, indeed, country is an important part of the learning process – and there are numerous fun, engaging and beneficial ways that schools can bring an international element to school life.

With International Education Week running every November, it could serve as a catalyst to drive an international focus that has benefits for students and staff alike. We spoke to teachers to get some ideas for how to just this – from simple games and activities to educational visits across the world.

‘Give it a go’ languages sessions

If you’ve got staff who can speak a host of different languages, why not consider arranging "give it a go" language sessions, says Adam Lamb, an MFL teacher in East London.

“In my learning area, several of us have different languages including Russian, Catalan, Slovak and Austrian. We decided to [hold] sessions in which students could try out some of the languages that their teachers speak but don’t teach," he explains.

“Not only did students get to indulge in new languages, but they also got to see their teachers speak a language they have heard they can speak but never necessarily heard them speak – great for boosting relationships.”

Put on an international breakfast

Karen Carter, headteacher at Lockerbie Primary School, in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, says a fun way of engaging with other cultures is by enjoying their breakfast delights.

“I lead each session and we start with a song from the target language and either a quiz or share some information about the country then enjoy the typical breakfast from the country  – thanks to our wonderful catering staff.” 

Foreign film screenings

Lamb says getting sixth-formers and staff to work together to host a foreign film club has been a great way to engage all the school in a cultural activity with an international focus. “This helped raise the profile of the sixth-formers with the lower school students; but also was a nice opportunity for students to experience foreign cinema,” he says.

Quizzes and competitions

Quizzes are always a fun way to engage children in learning new information. You could task them with learning facts about a certain country, continent or the world at large – from capitals and costumes, to languages and learning practices – and then host a quiz.

Connect with classrooms across the world

Engaging with classrooms in other parts of the world is a great way to give pupils an insight into other cultures. At Lockerbie Primary School, for example, they have engaged in activities such as Culture in a Box, where they share items with a school in Palestine, or learn songs in the language of a partner school and share videos of them singing these songs.

Of course, doing this in person has even more benefits. Nick Brown, from Lincoln Castle Academy, recently took pupils to France for a seminar to meet a partner school, helping students from both nations to put their language skills to the test.

“Languages are a very practical subject – you can use them in everyday life on a visit,” he adds, noting how the pupils also taught each other phrases as part of the trip, which was a great way to boost intercultural learning – as the video below shows.

On the trip, which was part of the International Exchange Programme for schools, the students also worked together on projects about the concept of "freedom" that considered everything from the two nation’s schooling systems' approach to uniforms to the Second World War.  “This really got the pupils thinking and opened their eyes to different ideas and ways of doing things,” Brown adds.

Send teachers on international exchanges…

Teacher-focused international visits can also play a major role in boosting a school’s international ethos by giving staff experiences of other cultures and teaching styles that can feed into their roles.

A good example of this comes from Andrew Christie, assistant headteacher at The Leys Primary School, in Stevenage. The school used the Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning (CCGL) programme from the British Council and UK Aid to bring together 13 schools from their region to engage in a partnership with schools in Nepal, using grants to fund the visit.

The teachers visited Nepal in September, spending time learning about Nepalese teachers' teaching styles, priorities and challenges, and developed plans around how to get students working on initiatives to embrace each other’s cultures and explore their perspective of global issues such as gender equality.

“All of the participating teachers (from Stevenage and Nepal) spent a day working through the project plan to ensure it was robust and would deliver benefits for all involved,” Christie said.

…and host teachers from overseas

Or you can invite teachers from across the world to engage with pupils and staff alike. This is something John Kingdom, assistant headteacher at Queen Elizabeth's High School, has done, as part of the school’s international ethos: “We want our students to be global citizens and have wider perceptions of the world and broaden their aspirations,” he says.

To do this the school regularly engages in overseas visits, with staff and students visiting locations such as China and Tanzania, but it also regularly hosts teachers from these parts of the world, and others from South America, Eastern Europe, Malaysia and Australia.

“It’s always very exciting when we have teachers from other parts of the world in – they come in and teach lessons, host assemblies and generally take part in school life. It can really help you think outside the box, too.”

He notes, for example, that it can help teachers to pick up new teaching ideas and approaches to professional development, with staff keen to share ideas and discuss teaching styles and pedagogical approaches.