Every school wants their students to be happy and confident. But to have happy and confident students, you need happy and motivated teachers. So what’s the secret?
Obviously, there’s no single answer or quick-fix solution. But at Reay Primary School, in South London, putting an international spin on learning and teaching the curriculum is one way they are getting this right.
With help from headteacher Caroline Andrews and international coordinator Luisa Ribeiro, we explain how they got started, how you could easily do the same and why it all comes together with the help of an international coordinator.
'Isn’t David Beckham the Mayor of London?'
Of course not. But in the school where Caroline used to teach, this is what some of her students thought. And when she moved to Reay Primary, many of the students had never heard of the River Thames, despite being only a mile away from it. For Caroline, this was an issue. She wanted her students to not only be proud of where they come from but also understand how they fit into the bigger picture. In other words, in order to expand your world locally, you really ought to know what’s out there globally.
Caroline Andrews: “I wanted my students to grow in confidence and understand more about where they come from. By putting a global spin on learning, we were able to put this into context for them and give them a will to learn other languages, communicate across cultures, go abroad, the list goes on. In many ways, the world should actually be quite a small place because if you can start to understand more about different cultures, it can bring people together. And that’s got to be important, no matter where you are being educated.”
You’ve got to have a vision
So, how exactly do you bring in the international dimension? First, you’ve got to think about where you want to go as a school. Maybe you would like to incorporate languages into other subjects. Perhaps you want to make a link with a school overseas. Or maybe you just want to start by finding activities that could be integrated within the curriculum but help your school learn about other cultures at the same time. No matter how big or small, you’ve got to be clear about what you want to get out of doing international work before you start. Don’t just think about next year – what’s your end goal?
Caroline: “It’s very tempting to jump from one thing to the next at school without properly planning. But from the little seed of an idea I had, things really blossomed. Things will always evolve but to begin with you’ve got to think: who are we as a school, what can we do realistically, and how can the teachers help? This way, you can avoid international work becoming something extra to have to think about, an onerous task, and, crucially, one that doesn’t get done well. Plan it carefully and don’t overwhelm anyone.”
Appoint an international coordinator
"We haven’t got time to do this." We hear this a lot from teachers, and we get it. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs out there, with so many pressures coming from so many different angles. You might be passionate about the idea of international education but how can you find the time to make it work? That’s where the international coordinator comes in. By appointing someone to be your international coordinator, they can make sure your vision doesn’t get lost within the day-to-day runnings of the school and keep on top of the practicalities. We’ve seen teachers taking on the role, support staff and even assistant heads.
Luisa Ribeiro: “My role at Reay Primary expanded from teaching French to helping develop the international dimension as their international coordinator. It’s been great for me and my career; I’ve found an outlet for my creative ideas, I’m always open to new projects, and I never feel stagnated in my job. With the international coordinator role, you’ve got to appoint somebody who knows the school well, can think about what it needs and can dedicate some time to finding the right opportunities to make that happen.”
From there, it’s a domino effect
Your international coordinator is also there to help galvanise staff and parents and make sure they realise this isn’t just another one of those initiatives that’s not built to last. They can find ways for parents or the wider community to get involved with some of the activities you might have planned. They can hold meetings with staff, get feedback on what activities might be working or not, and get them to share their own plans and ideas for success. If it’s going to work and if it’s going to be sustainable, everybody needs to be on board.
Luisa: “Always have staff members feeding in new ideas to keep enthusiasm up. Teachers have a thirst to do more, even when under pressure, and through international education you can create an environment for them to develop. We send our teachers abroad on training and job-shadowing placements and the evidence is increasingly positive. Now they all want to go, even in their own holiday time. I think it’s important for teachers to be involved internationally so they can value where they are in their career and gauge where they want to be. It opens up so many career possibilities. “
'What about putting a swimming pool on the roof?'
It’s not just teachers who need to have their say; students are at the very centre of international education. OK, so maybe you’re not going to give in to their wishes to build a swimming pool on the school roof but giving them a sense of ownership over their learning, and listening to what they have to say, keeps them involved.
Caroline: “Our children started to ask for more after-school language clubs, so we listened to them and tried to plan out how it could work. We also tested out their idea of a photography club where we explored their identity and family backgrounds. Sometimes you can’t act on all of their ideas but young people have a very strong voice and at Reay they are encouraged to have an opinion. It keeps them happy.”
Don’t forget to measure your impact
It can be difficult to put the impact of your activities into words but we hear from schools all of the time about how it is making a difference. We’ve seen schools with international partners using Skype to run joint projects in subjects like maths and science, and we’ve seen how it’s helping to get students who weren’t previously interested in those subjects engaged and more motivated. The International School Award gives schools an opportunity to reflect on everything they are achieving as well as global accreditation that really recognises international work. And it’s your international coordinator who can help you put together the application.
Luisa: “We are very well supported by the International School Award team and a lot of schools probably don’t even realise they are already doing activities that could qualify them for the award. The team who manage the award are always ready on the other side of the phone. When we apply, they read through what we have been doing as a school, give us feedback on our activities and suggest how to make the most of them.”
Finally, some top tips…
If you think this could be for you, here’s a final round of our top tips to help you get the most out of an international coordinator:
- Appoint somebody who shares your vision for international education and with the energy to help you get other staff involved.
- If you are drawing up the role profile from scratch, take a look here for some ideas to help you get started.
- Create an open environment for learning. Ask them to put together an action plan but be willing to try out new ideas from staff and students along the way.
- Ask them to search for funding opportunities for your school. They might not jump directly into your inbox but the money is out there for those who are looking.
- Get them to help you put an assessment procedure in place. You will need something you can use to monitor the impact of your international activities.
- Make sure they put your school forward for the International School Award. Even if you are just starting out on your international journey, it’s always worth applying.
For further support bringing an international dimension into your school, visit Schools Online where you can download free, cross-curricular classroom resources to help you get started.
Lucy Zarbal is the content manager for education and society at the British Council