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Be a Financially Empowered Expat Teacher!

September 19, 2020


My name is Sorcha Coyle and I’ve been teaching in the Gulf (Qatar and Dubai) for the last 8 years. I have always taught local students and I love the unique cultural insight that this has given me. Outside work, I love travelling (not at the moment, of course! #flattenthecurve) and the sunny expat lifestyle! In my time abroad, I have been fortunate enough to save six figures, which I have used to purchase 2 properties (a 4-bedroomed house in my home country and a 3-bed apartment in Spain), start a profitable investment portfolio, complete my Masters, set up a side business, and travel the world. Today I will talk about my “why” and how it pushes me to save more and more each year. Then I will share my “how” with you, so you can boost your savings too!

Why?

9 years ago, when I lived in the UK, I was working at a lovely school but because of my long hours and low pay, I was incredibly stressed and overwhelmed. I was spending well over 50% of my salary on rent (in a shared apartment) and after council tax and bills; I was barely breaking even each month. Meanwhile back in my home country of Ireland, we were facing our worst economic crash. In 2008, the construction industry collapsed. Businesses went bankrupt. Property values plummeted. Almost overnight, hundreds of thousands of citizens lost their jobs. Honest hardworking people couldn’t repay their mortgages. Many lost their homes. From that moment on, I swore to myself that I would be financially empowered. I wanted to have peace of mind no matter the state of the economy. Soon I realised that I had to take a drastic step to fulfill this goal, so after much research, I moved to the Gulf region in 2011. As an expat there, I have job security, a great salary, zero rent, and zero tax- what is not to love about it?

It is true that the expat life has so many wonderful aspects- the high salary, the job security, the sun, and the standard of living. However, it has one downside- it is unpredictable. We might plan to teach here forever with its tax-free salary and perks, but life here can change in the blink of an eye. We might lose our job (sadly more common since COVID reared its ugly head), do something silly and get deported, or we may have to go home for family reasons. Whatever the reason, we want to have something to show for all our hard work.

Moreover, many of us are no longer paying into our private teaching pension at home, which means we must have alternative methods to fund a comfortable retirement that will allow us to lead the kind of life we have now. Speaking of pensions, right now we have longer to work before retirement (until 68 instead of 65) to qualify for the state pension. Unfortunately, by the time we get closer to retirement, the state pension age may even have been pushed up to 74 years.

From the day I began teaching abroad, I realised the incredible saving potential that this situation gave me and made a decision there and then to maximise it to its fullest.

How?

Regardless of where we work, us single teachers have a great opportunity to save tonnes and set ourselves up for life, financially.

How much you save all depends on 2 factors:

1) How much you want and plan to save

2) Your desire to do extra to save as much as you can

Let me go into more detail…

1) How much you want and plan to save

Saving does not happen by chance; you must absolutely plan for it. You need to set a financial goal, make a budget, and then work hard to stick to it to achieve it. I highly recommend setting SMART financial goals. This means that your goals are:

  • Specific: You have a specific amount of money in mind.
  • Measurable: You can break your goal down and set yourself weekly, monthly, half-year, and annual targets to chart your progress.
  • Attainable/achievable: This is REALLY IMPORTANT! Look at your monthly salary to make sure your monthly saving allows you to live as well!
  • Realistic: AGAIN, this is REALLY IMPORTANT! While you are working abroad, you have to enjoy yourself too by socialising, travelling, etc., so if what you need for a house deposit is completely unrealistic in a 2-year timeframe, then either look at a smaller and cheaper property or decide to commit to living abroad for 3 or 4 years instead. Sometimes, you will be homesick and lonely as an expat teacher, so feeling like you’re broke all the time while you save will probably discourage you from staying and ruin your expat experience!
  • Timed: If you plan to work abroad for 2 years, break it down into months and weeks, i.e. 24 months = 104 weeks to save it up. This makes your goal seem a lot more attainable. If 2 years is not enough to save for your house deposit, then perhaps extend your timeframe to 3 or 4 years of teaching abroad? Again, break it down into months and weeks to know how much to save each week, month, etc.

From Day 1 in Qatar, I told myself I’d save €100,000 before I turned 30. I don’t even know where I plucked that number from- it just seemed like a nice round number! By having this SMART financial goal, I was focused and knew that I had to save a certain amount each month. It also continuously motivated me as I would have a competition with myself and try to beat my previous month’s savings! I was 25 when I moved to Doha and I managed to smash that goal when I left 4 years later at the grand old age of 29. However, I didn’t reach my savings goal just from sticking to a budget and saving as much of my teaching salary as possible. I knew that if I wanted to accelerate my ability to save, I would have to increase my (streams of) income! Read more below….

2) Your desire to do extra to save as much as you can

In addition to saving as much of my teaching salary as possible, I do a few more things too…

  • I only apply to schools whose packages include a decent rent allowance rather than school accommodation because I know how much it can boost my savings provided the amount is equal to or above the rent of a one-bed apartment in a nice part of the city in question. I then rent a studio, so I can pocket the difference! Last year, I saved $7900 of my rent allowance by doing exactly that.
  • During my summer holidays, I always spend a month working as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Teacher at a summer school in the UK.
  • I have a side business called Teach Abroad Transformation, which teaches future and current expat teachers how to craft an outstanding CV and cover letter that guarantees them an interview for every single teaching job abroad they apply to.
  • I tutored students of all ages most evenings in Qatar.
  • For a few years, I would work in a friend’s parents’ shop in my hometown for a few weeks in the summer (after my month at the summer school in the UK!), which I absolutely loved!

All those actions above have helped me reach my target of saving six figures in 8 years, so these small “sacrifices” are 100% worth it! What can you do this year to boost your savings?

As well as teaching full-time, I am also the founder of Empowering Expat Teachers and my mission is to empower future and current expat teachers to lead personally, professionally, and financially rewarding lives! Follow me on Facebook, IG, and my blog for lots of helpful tips and advice to help you become an empowered expat teacher too! I have recently set up the Financially Empowered Expat IG that focuses exclusively on saving more, earning more, and retiring with more and you can find me @thefinanciallyempoweredexpat on IG!

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Discovering the DNA of Learning: How the CGC Cracked the Learning Code

September 3, 2020


Introduction

In a previous article we looked at how the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) set about creating a complete, connected, Learning Ecosystem, using Four Guiding Questions. The first of these, ‘What is Learning?’, the CGC’s ‘Define’ question, has provided an answer far more powerful than we anticipated. Now read on…

What is learning and how do we do it?

When we set out to re-engineer learning, it felt like common sense to start by defining it. We’re all in the learning game, so wouldn’t it be sensible to decide what learning actually is before we start trying to make it happen? 

Of course, there are lots of statements about learning out there, some of them presented as ‘definitions’. Eventually, though, as our own definition of learning evolved, we realised that it was ‘different’. Rather than cozy generalizations about, for example, ‘lifelong learners’, ours was a practical definition of the actual learning process, designed to drive the teaching process.

Developing experts

We worked backwards from an understanding of the behaviours of experts, based on the common sense notion that an expert has probably learned well. We determined that experts have a deep understanding of the ideas of their domain and the relationships among them and that they are highly competent in the skills of their domain. We were also committed to the importance of developing expert human beings, with strong, positive values and dispositions. 

With this in mind, we felt our definition needed to address the learning of ideas, skills and personal traits. Since we are also committed to simplicity, we turned this raw material into the powerful, memorable CGC Learning Definition, known in all our member schools as ‘the 3 Cs’: Conceptual, Competency and Character Learning.

The reason for separating out these forms of learning was not just to give us a simple, memorable definition. We knew we needed to think differently about building learner capacity in conceptual understanding, competency and character because the pedagogy required to build each of these capacities is different. 

From learning process to teaching process

Knowing this, we unpacked each form of learning into a clear methodology that is simple enough for large-scale applicability in multiple school contexts, yet deep enough to genuinely drive learning. For example, we believe that inquiry-based learning is fundamental to building conceptual understanding but we were wary of over-complicating inquiry-based methodology or falling into the trap of presenting one inquiry-based process as dogma. Our own approach is to strip things down to their essence, making them, in the words of Einstein, ‘As simple as possible and no simpler than that’. Hence our take on building conceptual understanding as a process of Connect-Construct-Contribute. For Competency Learning: Deconstruct-Identify-Practice. For Character Learning: Consider-Act-Reflect.

Having built our learning definition we set out to ensure that it drives our learning model. We developed learning standards for each of the 3 Cs, each with their own, simple sentence stems, as follows:

  1. Conceptual Learning: I understand that…
  2. Competency Learning: I am able to…
  3. Character Learning: I am becoming more…

These standards drive all CGC Learning Modules, so that the learning definition shapes the learning goals and the teaching methodology. Within this ecosystem, teachers plan, teach and assess for conceptual, competency and character learning. When students self-assess, they do the same:

  1. I used to think that, now I understand that….and here’s my evidence
  2. I used to struggle to, now I am able to…and here’s my evidence
  3. As a person, I am becoming more…and here’s my evidence

Just as we had hoped from the outset, we had found a ‘process’ definition that shapes everything that follows. We realized, of course, that our definition is, like all ‘curriculum’, simply a human construct. We realized that, with any kind of authentic learning, any and all of our 3 C’s may be in play, although one or other may be more dominant, depending on what is being learned. We saw each kind of learning, not as a cycle, returning to its original starting point, but as a spiral, constantly evolving, one step leading to the next, throughout a lifetime of learning. 

The DNA of Learning

The idea of three spirals, constantly interacting, evoked a powerful image.  The 3 C’s as a living construct, a triple helix, the DNA of learning. It’s a bold claim, to claim to discover a learning DNA, and it’s obviously purely a metaphorical one. But the metaphor works. It works to explain, and to remember, what’s happening when we’re learning, and to remember to plan, teach and assess for what matters. It brings teacher clarity and collective teacher efficacy.  It helps in our quest to build our young learners into experts, with deep conceptual understanding of important ideas, high levels of competency in key skills and strong, positive moral character. We think that matters.

In the next in this series, we’ll extend the metaphor. A DNA doesn’t live in a vacuum. It shapes a body. So we’ll be asking questions about the 4th C: Content…a body of knowledge that really matters.  We’ll be asking, ‘What’s Worth Learning…and Why?’

This article was submitted by Kevin Bartlett. Kevin led international schools for over 30 years in 4 different locations, while working on a number of fronts to systematize international education. This work included designing accreditation systems including ACE, leading courses for the Principals’ Training Center, initiating and leading the IB Primary Years Programme and co-founding The Next Frontier Inclusion and the Common Ground Collaborative.

www.thecgcproject.org
kevin@thecgcproject.org
#CGCKevin




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Making Friends Outside of Your International School is…

August 30, 2020


…HARD!

I don’t know about you, but I think making friends outside of your school community can be one of your biggest challenges when you live abroad.

International teachers hanging out in a bar

If you are an outgoing person, maybe it is a bit easier. However, if you are on an introverted side and also don’t know the local language, then you are up against a steep hill.

Either way, you could say that it is just safer and more comfortable to be friends with your colleagues at your international school. You usually have a lot in common with your colleagues as they also like adventure, share your love for traveling, and have the same vacation calendar as you.

But to get the most out of your international school teaching experience, the elusive goal of many international school teachers is to make some local friends, too.

Lonely expat on the street

If you don’t know the local language yet, then you are limited to the locals that are able to speak English (or your home language). Normally, these locals already have other foreigner friends and most likely have traveled internationally or had even lived abroad. These locals are easy to find as friends because you have a lot in common. For example, you probably have many places to go visit and hang out together in the city. If you are lucky, these locals are even available to do some traveling with you during your vacations.

To meet locals who don’t speak English and have a very tight-knit group of friends, let’s say, is a different story. To befriend the locals is typically easier if you have a partner or spouse that is also a local. If that is the case, then you have “a ticket in” to those exclusive groups of friends. Having these kinds of local friends really can give you the “VIP level” on the experience of the city and country that you are living in. These locals know what and where things are happening. International school teachers without these types of friends typically miss out on a number of cultural events and are left without a deep insight into the local lifestyle.

Expat friends talking

One of the ultimate events in your friendship with a local is to be invited over to their house, even better – for a meal. It can be that you invite a local to your house for dinner multiple times before finally, the stars align and they invite you back to their place. If you are at your international school for only two years, that might not be enough time for this to happen. Building this kind of relationship usually takes longer than that.

What is your experience with making friends in your host city/country? Logon to ISC and share what you know by submitting some comments on your school’s profile page.

When using the keyword search feature (premium membership required), we found 143 comments about friends. Read below a few that are connected to making friends outside of your international school.

Comments about Making Friends

“Leysin is a small mountain village and as a result, the community is limited. There is a definite LAS bubble and most of the staff spend time outside of work with each other. It is rare to meet and become friends with people outside of the school community unless you have worked here for many years. It isn’t easy being single here, but the lifestyle is worth it if you love the outdoors and the mountains. It is a quiet village and a great place to live if you don’t like the city.” – Leysin American School (113 total comments)

“I find my Albanian friends quite generous: they always fight to pay the bill in a coffee shop but also for lunch. It is a local tradition though, and keep in mind that, if you want to keep your friends close to you, next time will be your turn. It is important to understand quickly these cultural habits as it will allow you to make good friends. One thing that it is generally badly perceived is to be stingy in friendship.” – Albanian College Durres (111 total comments)

“The locals are very friendly and accommodating. We recently went on a one-day trip with a local tour company. As the only foreigners, we didn’t have much company at the beginning but we found out the locals on the trip actually spoke a very good level of English. By the end of the day, we made friends with many of them!” – Khartoum International Community School (153 total comments)

“Lots of people learning English in Saigon and they will all want to practice with you. Learning some Vietnamese helps with bonding and making local friends but generally, a lot of people speak or are learning to speak English.” – Renaissance International School Saigon (52 total comments)

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SAME GAME, NEW PLAYBOOK

August 13, 2020


The Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) is re-inventing the learning game as one simple ecosystem. In this series of articles we’ll unpack the CGC story, sharing our work with ISC readers.

A few years back, the CGC team looked at the current state of play in ‘the learning game’ and saw too many things that didn’t make sense to us. Where there should be connections, we saw gaps. We saw gaps between what teachers wanted to do for their students and the ways in which they were obliged to spend their time. Gaps between students and what they believed was worth learning. Gaps between mountains of standards and the time available to teach them. Gaps between parents and schools, between disciplines, between departments. Ultimately, a major gap between what we promise and what we deliver. We looked at it all and thought, ‘We’ve had it with that!’.

So we set out to change it. To bring clarity to schools confounded by complexity. To work with schools constrained by compliance to co-create contexts where teachers and leaders could follow what they believe, instead of jumping through someone else’s hoops. We set out to transform the learning game into one where we teach learners how to play. We re-imagined learning as a game where every child feels like the M.V.P. every day, where every parent is a player, where every teacher is a coach. The only game in town where everybody is a winner. We imagined the game as one connected ecosystem and we set out to write a new Learning Playbook.

But where to begin? We identified four key questions for getting learning systematized, and then we gave each a name, and the system emerged, like this:
Define: ‘What is learning?
Design: ‘What’s worth learning and why?
Deliver: ‘How do we build our learning culture?’
Demonstrate : ‘How do learners show what they’ve learned?

These 4 D’s provide a clear, connected framework for a coherent Learning Ecosystem. We knew that if we answered our questions faithfully and provided practical learning solutions for smart, hard-working professionals we would achieve our goal.  We would find the elusive ‘holy grail’ of the articulated curriculum and we would co-create learning cultures in which that curriculum would thrive.

We would move from silos to systems, increasing learning while reducing stress. We’d have learners and teachers feeling that their work had purpose and their energy was well spent. We’d have replaced common nonsense with uncommon sense. We’d have redefined the learning game, for the benefit of all learning stakeholders. We liked that idea. So that’s what we’ve done and now we’re ready to share…

In the next article in this series we’ll share the DNA of Learning, a simple, shared definition of the learning process that is transforming learning conversations around the world.

This article was submitted by Kevin Bartlett. Kevin led international schools for over 30 years in 4 different locations, while working on a number of fronts to systematize international education. This work included designing accreditation systems including ACE, leading courses for the Principals’ Training Center, initiating and leading the IB Primary Years Programme and co-founding The Next Frontier Inclusion and the Common Ground Collaborative.

www.thecgcproject.org
kevin@thecgcproject.org
#CGCKevin


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The Big Shift: Advice for Teaching Through a Pandemic

March 29, 2020


Life as an international teacher requires you to be incredibly flexible as you move between countries, cultures, and schools. But nothing has required as much of a willingness to adapt and evolve my practice as being locked in my apartment and having to reinvent my approach to the classroom. Switching it up for my 10th grade Language Acquisition class was one hurdle, figuring out how to co-teach 7th grade Humanities required even more of a leap.

I am in my first year of working in Bangkok after several years in China. Like the rest of the world, I watched this pandemic unfold there with a heavy heart, fear for my former students and anxiety that it was coming soon to Thailand. But then it came, and step-by-step we readied for the change and in the end, it was a swift and easy transition to delivering my classes online and reaching students no matter where they are.

Our administrators warned us weeks in advance that this could happen and had a meeting to show us how to use Zoom. Our librarian made sure many digital resources are available on our library page. But at the end of the day, it was down to each individual teacher to remap their techniques and plans the day the call came to close.

First and foremost, we as educators have to change with the world around us and educate our students to operate in the world that is to come in the years ahead and not just the one we live in today. This challenge is forcing all of us to adapt our practices and approaches to teaching to reach across digital divides and keep learning alive. To be honest, I probably would have never drug all of my lessons into the modern age or ever opened Zoom or a Padlet if this hadn’t happened. No matter what, I am grateful for that. Silver linings!

Advice from Lockdown:

Relax

Take a deep breath and remember that no matter what, you are still the amazing teacher you were before your school closed. You will continue to be that teacher and your stress and worry for how you will keep teaching today is proof that you are dedicated and committed to reaching your students.

Start over

Your students are not only adapting to your new class and ways of digital teaching. They are also adapting to every other teacher they have and their new systems. Treat the first week like the first week of any school year. Teach expectations, set boundaries, get to know your kids in this new way, find a new balance and a new norm.

Slow down

The biggest surprise to me was how little work my students were able to accomplish in the same amount of time. Even if I kept them in Zoom with me to complete something, they fumbled and struggled to get the task done. We take it for granted that they are digital wizards because they live on their devices all day. They don’t have any more experience at this than we do, and they need time.

Stick with what matters

Look at your unit and decide what the most important things are for your students to master in this unit and keep your focus on those critical components. Add in the rest if you have time, but lock a laser focus on the heart of the topics and achieve those goals first.

Walk away

Do not let yourself fall into the trap of confusing down time and work time. Just because you moved your work to your home, doesn’t mean it should dominate your life. You and your students need you at peak mental and emotional health right now. Take breaks, walk away, and don’t let this overtake every part of your life. You are living in this crisis too. You have mental, emotional, and physical needs too. See to them first so you have something left to give to your students when you hit week 3, 6, or 10 of school closures. Locked in your home? Have a Zoom game night or dinner with friends. Take walks. Have a life. You need it to sustain you.

Reach out

Remember you are not alone. There are countless teachers in the same situation you are in and we are all just figuring it out. Join a group where you can find resources and advice from other teachers like Educator Temporary School Closure Community. Don’t just Zoom with your students, have meetings with your co-workers to see what they are doing. Don’t feel as if you are the only one struggling. We are all adapting and coming together like never before.

Lean in

In the end we will all come out of this as better teachers with countless hours of self-study professional development from all the new systems we are adapting to. So find your fellow teachers and learn from them, teach them, and stand strong. Show your students what it really looks like to embrace a life-long love of learning and take them on the journey with you.

This article was submitted to us by guest author and ISC Member Michelle Overman. Check out her website atwww.zestyteacher.com and follow her on Twitter at @ZestyTeacher

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