"International", "Out of your comfort zone", "Thinking out of the box" – are these just words and phrases we use because they are trendy? Or are they really at the heart of our work as teachers? Is "international’’ something that we mention only in International Week in school, or something that we build in every day in different ways, with different approaches?
I am a big fan of radio, and I listen to podcasts in my car while commuting to or from work. My favourite podcast is the weekly programme The Fifth Floor, a weekly programme produced by the BBC World Service, the place where 27 languages are spoken every day, to reach out to people from Africa to Middle East, from Asia to Europe or Latin America.
Imagine each school had a "fifth floor", a place where languages are spoken daily, and also where pupils learn more about the world around us.
I want pupils to understand that the world does not end when you reach your house or when you have visited London. It also does not end after you spend two weeks abroad during your summer holiday. The world is far bigger than this. We might not have the time, or the opportunities or the luck to see it all, but we have an amazing tool to reach out there: the technology.
As a language teacher, I have always made the most of every new tool I could use effectively in my lessons. For example, we moved quickly from the traditional letters we used to send by post two years ago to e-mails and Skype conferences for our pen pal project with two schools in France. They were quicker, less time consuming and far more effective, as well as giving the children the opportunity to see their friends while talking to them.
After achieving the British Council’s International School Award, we moved fast to the next step, starting a new British Council project, Teddy packs a bag and starts travelling. Working with partners from France and Poland, we explored different currencies, basic language skills and travel essentials, such as food and transport.
This was a great opportunity for us to start using the eTwinning platform. This is an amazing tool for any international project, a free online community for schools in Europe, which allows you to find partners and collaborate on projects within a secure network. Once your project has been submitted and approved, you have access to your own twin space that you can use with your partner school(s), where you can upload different materials such as photos, videos, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, etc.
There is a journal of the project where the partners can set out the steps they followed, there is a teacher bulletin, where teachers can exchange information about the project and even a chat room for participants.
Coordinating this project was a great opportunity for me to work very closely with my English colleagues, but also with my French and Polish colleagues. The pupils enjoyed the Skype conferences with the French and Polish schools and they learnt new skills, like using a map or making a short film.
We watched Teddy travelling across Europe using different methods of transport and we used our very best French accent while buying some food at the French market. Not to mention improving our maths skills while converting euros to pounds and pounds to zloty. We have also added and implemented a new word in our vocabulary: collaboration.
With this word in mind, a new project focused on languages, science and geography came to life in our school – "My international garden: the travelling seed". Schools sent seeds of plants traditionally found in their country, with instructions on how to look after them.
As the coordinator of this project, I have not only learned so many new things about the schools and the countries involved (Italy, Germany, France, Latvia, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Greece), but I have also learnt about international policies, effective communication, productivity and how to lead a team of 17 people with patience and positivism. My team and I hope to obtain a Quality Label with our project, owing to the impact it has had on our pupils’ learning.
I have not done all this on my own, of course. My headteacher, Sue Sayers, has been enormously supportive. She said: “We feel it is vitally important that our curriculum is shaped with opportunities for children and staff to look beyond our community boundaries and to share our values with others of different cultures.
“Seeing our children learning a new language is satisfying but to see them feel so confident that they can use it to communicate with others is wonderful.”
Ofsted has also praised the school’s holistic approach, commenting that the curriculum was imaginative and well-balanced and not just focused on the core subjects.
In the meantime, my colleagues have applied for different professional development workshops across Europe, and my headteacher is looking forward to applying for a workshop for school leaders and headteachers on the theme of eTwinning.
We might not (yet) speak 27 languages in our school, but I feel that my "fifth floor" has started to take shape and that international is not only a word, but something we are living every day through learning.
Florentina Popescu is a teacher at Send Church of England Primary School in Woking, Surrey