The following article comes from Fethy Letaief, an English teacher at Collège Pilote Sousse in Tunisia.
Real people, real encounters are so important for young learners as well as educators across the world to have access to face-to-face learning and to make” in the flesh” exchanges. It’s enormously transformational and powerful.
As an international coordinator, I have done a lot in terms of collaborative learning in and outside the classroom. I’ve taken part in so many conferences and meetings and have participated in numerous learning projects and have always thought that any curriculum needs to ensure that learners are TRULY “citizens of the world” BUT nothing compares to real visits to our partners and to meeting their learners in person in their tangible learning environment to experience that sense of global citizenship and to witness their eagerness to know about the world.
After two decades of learning about global education and putting theory into practice in the classroom, I found out that an episode is still missing in this international journey. The experience lacked its hard copy, namely real visits so I set the journey to the UK with a well-designed plan in collaboration with some amazing global educators and their schools and linked organisations who made this experience possible and perfectly done.
November the first, I took my flight to London and landed in Gatwick. As soon as I reached the monumental Victoria station, John Rolfe from the Global School Alliance was waiting for me. He always liked real encounters and he always made everyone feel comfortable whenever he meets them. We had a work lunch in an iconic restaurant in Victoria station and talked about the schedule of the visits including that of Carlton infant and Junior School our newly-linked partner also considered Sister School via the GSA platform. I handed John a symbolic culture bag to be delivered to the school before getting in touch with them. I had a busy schedule to visit Reay Primary school in London and St Mary’s Primary Academy in Folkstone so John got me ready with recommendations related to their conventions and how to break down any preconceptions in advance. In fact, The CPD I took earlier on Global Awareness and Conventions was of great help before heading to the schools of our partners where they are. Being fully aware of the face-to-face exchange requirements is a crucial key to a successful visit.
Visit to Reay Primary School in London
Global educators are able to build a quality network that enables them to get involved smoothly in international collaborative learning and to get opportunities for sustainable partnerships as well as organising visits. That was the case with my visit to Reay Primary School in London thanks to International coordinator Colette Cotton from St Mary Academy who suggested and facilitated this visit.
At Reay Primary‘s reception wall there were valuable awards and recognitions, most of them related to international exchange and a huge “All around the World” map referring both to the origins of the school community and to links sharing learning with the school. That was already impressive and enriching as it reflects how the school is celebrating diversity. The headteacher invited me to start the visit with an assembly where a couple of classes were learning a poem about Diversity which conveyed a desire to have equal opportunities for everyone. The teacher explained how many strive to have respect for all, despite differences between people. She was helping those young learners to adopt the same values which is an important aspect when they’re growing up. I realised that was part of the designed curriculum and which was taught differently according to learners’ levels in different classes.
The most remarkable thing was the astounding role done by the assistants who facilitated the mission of teachers, something that schools in my country Tunisia lack and that makes the job of a teacher so challenging especially with learners who need special care or with behavioural issues. That was the first idea I thought about sharing with my school community and educational leaders once back home. The headteacher showed me round the school and in almost every corner there were books and reading corners which were amazingly arranged. Publishing was given a great value so wherever I walked in and outside the classrooms and corridors there were works by the learners and their teachers which reflected their creativity. Again, I witnessed the huge efforts made by teachers and assistants namely with learners requiring more care. There were many inspirational things to consider once back to my country and to my school.
Visit to St Mary’s Primary Academy Folkstone
The visit to Reay Primary School in London was a great preparation to my 3-day visit to St Mary’s Primary School Folkstone in another part of England. I arrived in torrential rain at Folkstone Central Train station but I was warmly greeted later by the new Head Boy & Head Girl and the Year 6 Global Councillors. Later in the day, I met more of the Global Councillors and Mr North the Headteacher.
We visited the Forest School, where we hung named wooden labels on 6 of the trees. An oak tree for my school in Tunisia, another oak tree for their school partners in Malaysia, a silver birch for Finland, a dogwood tree for Bangladesh, a rowan tree for Moldova and a hawthorn tree for DAV BRS School in Ludhiana India. On the second day of my visit, I managed to see nearly every class and was very impressed with the children’s politeness and enthusiasm.
When me and my host Colette were in Year 3 their current Years 4 and 5 had worked collaboratively with my school, on Climate Action and Wellbeing and really enjoyed asking me questions about my school and country. Some of them asked if we have Internet facilities in my country, funny but that showed their curiosity to know many things and discover how other people around the world live. That was good for them to know that we are all Global citizens and that Tunisia and Africa is just a 2-hour flight from them. Tiger Class wanted to tell me all about plastic waste in the oceans and to show me the work they’d been doing relating to this.
Year 2 learnt a little Arabic from me and discovered that we write from right to left, backwards as one of them said! I brought some beautiful gifts for the school from Tunisia and my pupils had made amazing cards, which were full of intriguing pockets and messages, which they found fascinating.
. In their Celebration Assembly, Mr North presented me with a certificate to take back to my school, and a book showcasing the joint work between our 2 schools. The children then gave me cards that they had made for my students. Some memorable and unforgettable few days for both the pupils and for me, with many things learnt and projects for further collaboration between the schools established. I have learnt how the school works and how the lessons are planned following a pre-set curriculum. Their curriculum designer invited me to his office and showed me a follow up chart with topics and themes to be covered in classes. They worked on topics like “The Empire”, “climate change”, “ celebrations” and “ Diversity”. I saw a lot of these while visiting the classes from different levels.
The 3 main goals to consider he informed me, were how to make a positive change on ONSELF, THE COMMUNITY and THE WORLD. The school staff were extremely careful about safeguarding measures and the work done by the teachers as well as assistants was splendid. It was very challenging to deal with some behavioural issues but the school staff have the suitable mechanism to do things right. The whole school worked as hive, so busy and productive and the international exchange culture was clearly set. I was very excited and proud to see works of my Tunisian learners published in some classes and the Tunisian flag among many other flags celebrated in many parts of the school. No wonder values like empathy, tolerance and integrity were practiced and taught on daily basis in their classes. I have also witnessed how positive were the school admins and the school leaders. They showed a lot of respect and motivation to the teachers and to the pupils which clearly promoted both learners and teachers ‘ agency.
Carlton Juniors and Infant school
Due to the trains strike on the day of the planned visit to our partner school via GSA, I planned with John Rolfe and the Headteacher Rizwana an online meeting to get in touch for the first time with the Global councillors and launch our new partnership for future face to face visits between the two schools. John from GSA was present in the school with the culture bag and some cards from our pupils and we both received a certificate of recognition for our partnership. We talked about the topics we are going to work on soon and the pupils asked me about my country, my school and also about the international work we are doing. They were really motivated and eager to learn together and share findings on GSA Platform.
Back to my country and my school, the visit to the mentioned UK schools is having an unequal impact on my professional career and on my teaching. Am trying things I saw during the visit and I had a meeting with the school staff to share the experience and suggest ways to improve our school life accordingly. Am trying to bring effective practices into my classroom. I reckon that some features may not be accessible in here but learners are citizens of the world and what matters is to give hope for a better and brighter future via valuing collaborative international learning.