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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 @ZestyTeachercontinue reading
…It the first day of the school year and I am going back to the same school where I have been for five years now. It is the same building, but to me it is not the same school. My best friend, Ben, moved away and will not be back. Two other friends who I have known since first grade moved away as well. I am supposedly returning to the familiar, and already know exactly who my teacher will be, but I feel so incredibly lonely. At recess I will miss my ‘to go to buddies’. Who will I sit next to at lunch? Maybe I should not have spent so much time with Ben in the last two months of last school year. Maybe I should have spent more time hanging out with Mike, the new friend I made in January after the winter break. However, Mike just told me he will probably leave at the end of this school year…once again I will be left behind.
Being a stayer is not easier than being the leaver or the arriver. At times, it might even be more difficult.
A few years ago, when I showed one of my (international school) friends my newly published book (B at Home), she read the back blurb with interest and then turned to me with a slightly reproachful look.
“Great,” she said, “I love that you wrote a book for all those kids who move around a lot, it must be hard for them…but do you think you could write another one for people like me, who never moved, but always had to say goodbye to at least one good friend at the end of the school year?”
That’s when I realized it never occurred to me what it was like to be a stayer. I had been the leaver and the arriver so many times and had always felt envious of the stayers. I had been so busy thinking about the predicament that international school kids found themselves in when they had to move around a lot that I had never even questioned how the ones felt who were always left behind and expected to welcome each new lot with open arms.
Without even realizing it, I have become the stayer. We have settled in Switzerland, have been working at the same international school for almost eight years and neither of our daughters have ever moved. My best friend came and went. My parents are thinking about moving back to my home country (the Netherlands). My daughters have had to deal with classmates, and other loved ones, moving. And we have stayed. And saying goodbye is just as hard as when I used to leave. Even when we stay, we have to learn to navigate the painful goodbyes and must continue to embrace the hellos.
Interestingly enough, the stayers are often not asked how they feel about the constant transitions that take place around them, and therefore within them. However, research tell us mobility and moving hurts and it affects our students’ learning: the leavers, the arrivers, and the stayers. In this article, we have addressed the leavers, and this article the arrivers. So how can we help our staying students?
1. Comfort instead of encourage
Acknowledge their feelings and the fact that they are staying. While the leavers are recognized and are busy saying their goodbyes, the stayers might feel neglected. They will not only feel sad, but perhaps angry. They might direct those emotions at the same person they are so apprehensive to say goodbye to. I will never forget when, at the age of thirteen, a good friend told me to “just go to your stupid Luxembourg” a few days before moving. Although her words initially hurt me a lot, I later realized this was her way of expressing her sadness as well as her frustration. The stayers need to feel that their feelings are heard as well, and they need to understand that it is okay to feel many different emotions.
Pollock, Pollock and Van Reken encourage anybody in transition to build a RAFT (Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell and Think Destination). Help the stayers ensure that their relationships are intact before leaving. The emotional burden of carrying unresolved conflicts is equally challenging for the stayers as for the leavers (reconciliation). They also need to have time to recognize and thank those that are leaving for being in their lives (affirmation) and they need to be able to say their goodbyes (farewell). When the leavers are thinking about themselves in a new place, the stayers will be thinking of the empty place left behind. The stayers will also have reinvent their social circles and routines. In the new edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds (2017), another acronym is provided to help younger students process the above-mentioned steps, SHIP: Saying Sorry and I forgive you, Heartfelt thanks for each other, It’s time to say goodbye, Plan for the New Place. Alternatively, in the case of the stayers, the P could stand for Plan to Stay.
3. AFT: Move AFT on your RAFT 
Doug Ota, psychologist and author of Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it (2014), encourages all persons facing transitions to question themselves in terms of their Actions (what am I actively doing to be involved?), their Feelings (How am I feeling about seeing friends leave and about making new friends? Do I feel a sense of belonging in my school community?) and Thoughts (Is this home now?). Not only is it important to address these actions, feelings and thoughts in the Leaving and Arriving part of the mobility cycle, but also in the STaying part, to “produce a cumulative change that will LAST”.
4. Give them the CCK/TCK language
The famous words of wisdom from Winnie the Pooh ring so true (“How lucky are we to have something so good that makes saying goodbye so hard”) for those who leave, but also for those who stay. Help your students understand what it means to be a Cross Cultural Kid (CCK) and Third Culture Kid (TCK) and how that influences their identity. Apart from celebrating the positives, they also need a language to express the challenges and grief that goes along with saying goodbyes, time after time again. Your students are never too young to understand the CCK/TCK language. These days, there is a list of TCK literature available to children. Stories about the TCK experience, especially fiction, will give them characters and situations that they can identify with. It is often easier to connect to how someone else’s feelings than to adequately express your own emotions. Children should know that they are not alone and that the CCK/TCK definition is rooted in the idea that TCK children find that “the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar backgrounds”.
5. Help them take ownership of their school
The stayers play a vital role in the well-being of those who are arriving to the school. If they feel a sense of pride and ownership of their school community this positive energy will likely transfer to those who are new. In his book, Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it (Summertime Publishing, 2014), Doug Ota mentions the importance of providing the stayers the opportunity to be an instrumental part of a transition program. Not only will offering leadership positions help students develop and gain experiences that can help them in their future endeavors, but it will also help them feel valued as a staying member of the community. When stayers might be busy tending to the arrivers and leavers at certain times of the year, it is important for the admin and staff to recognize and support the student leaders who are helping their peers.
6. Set up a mentor/ buddy system
Help stayers become buddies for the new students. Depending on what your school already offers in terms of transitions, there is a variety of possibilities for stayers to become buddies or mentors. Stayers could show the new students around on orientation day before school starts (consider giving them a t-shirt or something else to distinguish them from the other students). Alternatively, with older students they could become ‘mentors’ to the new students and already get in touch with arriving students a few weeks or months before their actual arrival. Either way, by allowing the stayers to have an essential role in the well-being of new students, the stayers could also benefit from the experience of reaching out to others while saying goodbye to their friends.
7. Find ways to create stay in touch
Help your students think of ways to stay in touch. Teenagers have obvious access to numerous social media platforms. You might want to remind them that there is a thin line between living your friendships mostly on social media rather than in real life, and help them find ways to establish a healthy balance. For younger students and with their parents’ permission of course, you could have Skype conversations with the leaver(s) and the stayers in your classroom. I recently had a delightful conversation with a student that left in the middle of the school year and his classmates.
8. Throw a goodbye party
A goodbye party is not just for the ones who are leaving. Give the students who are staying the opportunity to give letters, keepsakes, or little gifts to those departing, but also think of ways for the stayers to receive something similar. The leavers often take the signed t-shirt (or something similar) with them and the stayers often having nothing tangible to hold onto. When one of my daughters’ best friends left, her friend gave her a beautiful frame with pictures of their time together that my daughter still has on her wall.
9. Throw a welcome to the new kids party
The students who are leaving will be in the midst of settling into their new destination. During this time, the stayers can open their doors and lives to the students who arrive. Help you students understand that they can still miss their old friends but should need feel any guilt about forming new friendships. Encourage them to reach out to new people, especially if these stayers are the ones feeling just as lonely at the beginning of the year. Devote some special time and attention to helping students to get to know the new people in their lives. Ensure that you not only keep an eye on those that are new, but also those who feel left behind. Although they might become more apprehensive about saying hello, help them understand that relationship fatigue is part of being a TCK, but remind them that each goodbye did initially start with a hello, and that the moments in between are often very much worth it.
10. Remind yourself, as a teacher, that no learning will take place until your students feel safe and secure in their new surroundings
Even if those surroundings may appear familiar to those who stay, the student who stays may feel like they are entering a whole new universe in which they will have to redefine who they are every single time they say goodbye. Remind yourself, as a human being, transitions affect all of us in our international schools. We must support each other, our students, and their families in order for all of us to thrive through them.
This article was written by International School Community member Valérie Besanceney. Over the past eleven years, Valérie has been a primary school teacher at five different international schools on four different continents. Valérie is also the author of the children’s book B at Home: Emma Moves Again (Summertime Publishing, 2014). It is a fictional memoir about the experiences of a ten-year-old girl and her teddy bear who have to move yet again. During the different stages of another relocation, Emma’s search for home takes root. As the chapters alternate between Emma’s and her bear’s point of view, Emma is emotionally torn whereas B serves as the wiser and more experienced voice of reason. My Moving Booklet (Summertime Publishing, 2015) is workbook that can be used with or without the chapter book and intended to help children to welcome the new challenges and adventures that lie ahead of them, together with their parents and teachers. It is available in English and French. For more information on her books and the topic of Third Culture Kids, please visit her website: www.valeriebesanceney.com.
 Ota, Douglas W. (2014). Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing.
 Pollock, David C., Van Reken, Ruth E., and Pollock, Michael V. (2017). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Yarmouth. P. 240.
 Pollock, David C., Van Reken, Ruth E., and Pollock, Michael V. (2017). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Yarmouth. P. 347.
 Ota, Douglas W. (2014). Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing. P. 182.
 Ota, Douglas W. (2014). Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing. Pp 182-186.
 Pollock, David C., Van Reken, Ruth E., and Pollock, Michael V. (2017). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Yarmouth (chapter 2 and 3).
 Definition of TCK by David C. Pollock in the TCK Profile seminar material, Interaction, Inc., 1989, 1.
Barron, Jane (www.globallygrounded.com). “6 Steps Towards Being a Successful Stayer in an International School”. Found on: https://globallygrounded.com/2017/02/28/6-steps-towards-being-a-successful-stayer-in-an-international-school/. Originally published in Vol. 31 No. 3 February 2017 The International Educator
Ota, Douglas W. (2014). Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing.
Pollock, David C., Van Reken, Ruth E., and Pollock, Michael V. (2017). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Yarmouth.
Photo credit: free images from Pixabay.com
This time of year means Back-To-School for most kids, but for internationally mobile children it often means Start-A-New-School. A transition to a new school, country, language, and culture can be overwhelming, and children need time to adjust. Teachers and administrators can contribute to a smooth transition in many meaningful ways. The ten points outlined below can make a significant difference in the emotional and academic well-being of a child who is already dealing with all the challenges of a move. Although these points are meant for primary age children, they can be adjusted as you see fit for older children.
1. Show them where the bathroom is and give them a tour.
Show them where the bathroom is within the first ten minutes of meeting them. For obvious reasons, I cannot stress how important this. When we do forget, this can be a huge source of stress for a child the first day of school! On the first day, classmates can give the new students a tour or the school. If you teach the early primary years, some older students could do this. Feeling lost emotionally on your first day at school is one thing, but to be lost literally adds a whole lot of unnecessary anxiety.
2. Find a way for them to express themselves if there is a language barrier.
If the new student does not speak English or any other language that you speak, try to find another teacher or student who does. If a student is able to type, you can use Google translate or something similar, but finding a way to communicate with them is key. Also, make sure they immediately receive EAL/ESL. When new students have no previous knowledge of English whatsoever, receiving additional English support from the start provides them with the necessary foundation to begin communicating with those around them.
3. Get to know your new students.
Make sure to ask questions about their family, previous home(s), school(s), and how they are experiencing their move. Sometimes the days are over before we know it, so a good alternative to conversing with new students is to give them a small journal they can take home. Every day you can jot down a few questions which they can respond to, in writing or using illustrations, at home. Not only will their responses give you insight to each new student as a person, it will also provide you with some immediate feedback on (some of) their academic strengths/weaknesses. It might also indicate if the move is causing stress. Acknowledge their emotions in a supportive way, but also make sure to communicate any concerns through the appropriate support channels within your school.
4. Learn about their academic background.
Should they need learning and/or EAL/ESL support, inform all necessary parties promptly. If nothing is mentioned on their transcript, it never hurts to check with the administration and the parents in the first week of school. Parents with children with special needs may have very useful ideas and tools for modifications that worked well in a previous school. A transition can be challenging for any student, but when a student falls between the cracks academically, it will be even more difficult.
5. Make sure the other kids get to know the new students.
A new school year usually means a round of get-to-know-you games. In a bigger school, classes might get mixed around and even though the students already know of each other, many of them do not necessarily know all of their classmates. Finding out they’re not the only one who doesn’t know their classmates can be a relief for a new student. Nevertheless, don’t underestimate how much more a new student needs to adjust in those first days. If a new student is willing to share, encourage them to do a Show & Tell/ or PowerPoint presentation with pictures or other items that help explain where they are from, what their background is, and what their interests are. This will not only give them an opportunity to connect with their classmates, but it could also contribute to the global awareness of all the students, foster open-mindedness, and mutual appreciation.
6. Give the other students a chance to help them.
In turn, have the other students make a list of things a new student should know about the school/area/after-school activities. Also, put a buddy system in place. Assign a couple of classmates to each new student and ask them to involve them during playtime at recess, sit with them during lunch, and walk with them to any other classes. Try to gauge if the students you paired up connect in any way. If not, match them with some others the next day. This will also give the new student the opportunity to get to know other classmates a little faster.
7. Explain school rules, procedures, routines, and expectations.
Most of the time, these will be reviewed with the whole class at the beginning of the school year. However, some rules, procedures, routines, and expectations that may seem clear to your school culture might not be so obvious to a new student. This could cause some serious misunderstandings, so make sure to be patient with them the first couple of weeks. Also, go over emergency and lock-down procedures early on in the year. Given the change and/or lack of many daily routines during a transition, new students will most likely be grateful for a classroom routines. However, they need to be given clear explanations of what is expected of them and possibly additional time to get used to them.
8. Put up a wall of fame.
Create a wall of pictures in your classroom of other people they will be seeing often. For example, the principal, vice-principal, their PE/art/music/drama teachers, the school librarian, the school nurse, and any other support staff they might interact with. So many faces, so many names! A visual reminder without having to ask can be helpful for everyone, even returning students.
9. Connect with the parents.
Most likely, the parents are super busy trying to settle in. Should you not see them during the first orientation days or a parent information meeting at the beginning of the year, a friendly line from their child’s teacher usually is very much appreciated. Also, an ‘Open House’ at the beginning of the year gives new parents an opportunity to meet the other parents and often triggers many first play-dates. Should they express any concern about their transition, make them aware of any in-school counseling available.
10. Give new students a story to identify with.
It is absolutely wonderful to see a growing list of resources about third culture kids (TCKs) available for parents and educators (please click here for a list). With B at Home: Emma Moves Again, I hope to give younger TCKs (in particular 8-11 age group) a story they can identify with while they experience their own move and search for ‘home’ and ‘belonging’. Also, I would like to encourage them to enjoy a passage in life that can be such a rewarding and enriching journey. By giving your students a story they can identify with and relate to, you can make it easier for them to express themselves about their own experience.
This article was written by International School Community member Valérie Besanceney. Over the past nine years, Valérie has been a primary school teacher at five different international schools on four different continents. Valérie is also the author of the recently published children’s book B at Home: Emma Moves Again(available on Amazon). It is a fictional “memoir” about the experiences of a ten-year-old girl and her teddy bear who have to move yet again. During the different stages of another relocation, Emma’s search for home takes root. As the chapters alternate between Emma’s and her bear’s point of view, Emma is emotionally torn whereas B serves as the wiser and more experienced voice of reason. For more information on her book and the topic of Third Culture Kids, please visit her website: www.valeriebesanceney.com.
* Take a look at the International School Community Photo Contest related to this article. The top three photos will receive a free signed copy of her book!continue reading