All aboard, ready to depart

As I prepare to complete my 9th and  final year as an educator at an international high school and enter ‘retirement’ from the profession in a traditional sense, teaching will always remain a part of my identity. As an intercultural trainer who helps schools and individuals with transition, I’m now embarking on my own transition and I’m reminded of the challenges I experienced upon my arrival to my first international school. See my blog titled ‘Top 6 Challenges…’ to learn more about those.

I’ve been reflecting on the book Safe Passages by Doug Ota (2014), which I highly recommend for anyone experiencing a transition, which talks about arrivers becoming stayers and stayers becoming leavers. I’m now a leaver. Ota suggests in order to make your next transition, you must say a proper ‘goodbye’ in order to say a proper ‘hello’. I’ve wondered how to say this proper goodbye with the current situation due to the covid-19 pandemic. I had plans for going away drinks with my colleagues and celebrating Leigh who is retiring this year, Katie and Nate who are returning to the States, and saying a proper goodbye to so many other treasured colleagues. Perhaps at this moment, we’re left with the option of a Zoom party to help us close this chapter as colleagues. It’s important we still engage with rituals that help us move onto the next chapter of our lives in order to help the stayers make room for those transitioning into the work environment and to help us leavers process and begin navigating our new transition. 

Ota, D., 2014. Safe Passage How Mobility Affects People & What International Schools Should Do About It. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing.

Hello.

Thanks for visiting my page. I’m an independent cross-cultural trainer and learning specialist with expertise in helping students, educators, senior leadership, and families transition to and from new cultural contexts. Through tailored transition and intercultural engagement programs, my goal is to help improve student achievement, educator fulfilment, and family cohesion. 

I have experience working with a variety of both state and private education establishments operating in the elementary, secondary, and higher education sectors. I am a certified teacher and high school principal and an approved NEASC Evaluator who visits and evaluates schools globally. I have directed several research studies on educators’ experiences and perceived needs with regards to transition to and from international schools in Europe and the Middle East, in order to improve the transition experience for educators, students, and families.

I am originally from Wisconsin, USA, where I worked as Head of Science in a local state middle school before taking up a specialist role with Chicago Public Schools as an educational consultant; there I analyzed data on student achievement and collaborated with teachers and senior leadership to develop best practice that met the needs of a diverse and socioeconomic challenged student population. In 2011, I relocated to the UK where I have worked as a learning specialist and head of year at an international school. In the UK, I led and managed the achievement, progress and pastoral provision for neurodiverse high school students. I also served as project coordinator for the Namibia project

I have a Bachelors of Arts and Sciences Degree in both Education and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, with minors in Theology and Hispanic Literature. I have a Master’s of Science Degree in Educational Administration. I am in the final stages of completing my doctoral degree, which has a psychological and sociological focus on teacher transition in international schools. 

I currently live in London, UK with my husband and provide transition advice, workshops, and training on cultural competency in the USA, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

Top 6 Challenges I faced as an educator new to an International School

There is an abundance of challenges we face as a teacher new to a school, but those challenges are compounded when you are transitioning to an international school. Perhaps the biggest challenge is being unsure of our needs and which activities or support would best aid our transition. Here are the top 6 challenges I had to navigate:

1 Adjusting to a new location and culture

Every move requires us to adjust to new norms and ways of working within our new community outside of the work environment, which is task on its own. This adjustment is even more tricky when you include working at International school (IS). ISs are complex entities and each has its own unique culture and conveying an IS’s culture to a new employee appears to be a difficult but not insurmountable task. Adjusting to a new location and culture takes loads of effort, energy, and time. Sometimes you don’t feel like investing but it’s worth it in order to successfully navigate your new personal and professional life.

2 Unfamiliarity with the curriculum

International school curriculums vary from school-to-school. The English national curriculum is the most popular curriculum choice in the world, followed by a U.S. orientated curriculum and in third place is the ever-growing International Baccalaureate programme (IB). Never during my time at university or completing my teacher training, did I learn about The English National Curriculum or the IB or the complexities of teaching multiple curriculums. Do universities and workplaces teach this nowadays? I struggled with navigating the requirements and expectations of a curriculum I was unfamiliar with and as a result, perhaps favored the curriculum of my U.S. background. 

3 Dynamic student and staff population

International schools have a changing student and staff population each year and throughout the year. It was, at times, difficult to know who to turn to with questions and as Doug Ota (2014) suggests, new teachers are not the only ones in transition. Eventually, new arrivers become stayers and stayers become leavers. With high turnover, it can be difficult for other staff to invest in your transition. Trying to keep up with the turnover of students and staff was a challenge for me both professionally and personally.

4 Unfamiliarity with staff cultural norms and leadership styles

In addition to adjusting to the location and culture of my new community and teaching environment, I also had to decode the differences amongst the varied approaches to teaching, learning, discipline and feedback, from my diverse group of colleagues, which represented countries, ideologies, and cultures from around the world. I believe there were 25 different nationalities within the teaching staff of the international high school I worked in. Needless to say, a road map would have helped.

5 Parental expectations

With over 80 nationalities within my school, it took some time to work out the expectations of my students’ parents. Parent teacher conferences varied greatly. Some parents were quiet, reverted back to being a child with the authoritative teacher, and quickly left after our 20-minute conference while other parents wanted an agenda before the meeting, visuals during the meeting, and follow-up email with minutes after the meeting.  Over time, I began to notice some tendencies amongst cultures, which helped me prepare a bit for future meetings and emails.

6 Paradoxical: trained to teach but for a different environment

My position as a new teacher in an international school environment felt paradoxical as I was qualified, experienced, and trained to teach, but for a different environment. There were tensions and feelings I was expected to manage with little assistance; this struggle felt unnecessary and left me questioning what are the experiences other teachers in international schools have had during their transition?

What challenges did you face? Comment below.

Ota, D. W. (2014). Safe Passage: How Mobility Affects People & What International Schools Should Do about It. Netherlands: Summertime Publishing.

What is teacher ‘cross-over’?

While teachers go through an adjustment and transition period when starting at a new school or a new position, teachers who work in International Schools (ISs) appear to encounter additional challenges (Alexander and Daresh, 2016). Teachers in ISs are required to do more than transition, they must ‘cross-over’. While the term ‘crossing-over’ is not widely used, there are various terms such as transition, acclimatisation, assimilation and enculturation, educators and researchers use to describe the process teachers experience when they are new to an IS (Brown, Burton, Dashwood, and Lawrence, 2010). 

‘Crossing-over’ for teachers in ISs can include adjusting to a physical location change and/or navigating through aligning previous pedagogical practices, philosophies, and teaching perspectives with new institutional expectations and strategic direction (Brown, Burton, Dashwood, and Lawrence, 2010). This definition of ‘crossing-over’ is particularly useful as it identifies and illustrates the need for educators in ISs to adapt and navigate through ideological, pedagogical, and cultural barriers in order to successfully integrate into their complex work environment. 

Have you heard of the term teacher ‘cross-over’? Do you think teachers need different skills to work in an international, private, state or comprehensive school?  Comment below.

Alexander, L and Daresh, J. (2016) Beginning the Principalship: A Practical Guide for New School Leaders. United States of America: Corwin.

Brown, A., Dashwood, A., Lawrence, J., & Burton, L. (2010). ‘Crossing Over’: Strategies for Supporting the Training and Development of International Teachers. International Journal of Learning17(4). Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

This exert was adapted from, Teacher transition in international schools: A literature review, from ACS Centre for Inspiring Minds (May, 2018).