Monday, 4 August 2014

International Recruitment Event (before, during and after)...

I have received a TON of messages and emails from my readers about getting in the international school loop. My first blog post on the process is by far my most read post. I wanted to give even more details about the behind the scenes of this crazy, life changing process!

Rewind to fall of 2010 when our wedding planning was in full swing. That's when we first started thinking about looking at working internationally (crazy, right?!). We immediately registered with CIS which was free. We signed up for a recruitment fair happening in Chicago, February 2011. We booked our flights, updated our resumes and cover letters and went with the attitude, if it's meant to be it will be...

If I had to sum up the recruitment fair itself in one word I would use the word 'intense'. We went with an open mind and with the idea of seeing what was out there. My advice to someone going to their first recruitment fair is to at least have areas you would consider moving to narrowed down. So, bring with you a list of countries you would live in. I think having this specific list in your head makes the entire process less overwhelming (we didn't do this ahead of time).

One thing to note is that at this recruitment fair every candidate had a folder, they were grouped alphabetically. This is your mailbox for the entire event and was how schools communicated with you. Each school at the recruitment fair also had a folder for communication. If you were interested in them you could drop a hard copy of your resume and a cover letter in their folder and if they were interested in you they could drop an invitation to interview in your folder. Since this was in 2011 I wouldn't be surprised if this process has changed and they now use email. If there are any readers out there that have been to a more recent event, leave us a detailed message below please!!

Before everything started we had an idea of the positions available and which schools were recruiting for them. We were able to do a bit of research on our end to see if we thought the school was a good fit for us. The evening before our event started they had a general meeting to review the process with us and they went over how things would work. Hundreds of international educators attended. We quickly learned that there was much competition and with only 2 (for my husband) and 3 (for me) years of experience under our belts we weren't sure how well things would go for us. Before leaving for the night everyone got a paper schedule with empty time slots. The idea was first thing the following morning we would enter a room with representatives from each of the schools looking to fill positions and we would run from one table to the next setting up appointments with the schools we were interested in interviewing with. That night we also found out that many of the positions that we thought were available had been filled and many new positions were available. We needed a good nights sleep and a serious plan (of attack) for the next morning. I would say that having at least two years of experience in your position is the minimum requirement.

All of the candidates crowded outside waiting for sign up start. Behind the doors were heads of schools, divisional principals and other representatives from international schools from all over the world. The tables were set up in alphabetical order by country name. Behind most of the school tables were big signs saying the positions they were hiring for. As a teaching couple we were strategically able to work together to get our top appointment slots filled in right away (I told you this was intense). The earlier the interview appointment you get with your top schools the better chance you have at getting the position. We found that many schools would make an offer early on in the process and then cancel the rest of their appointments. That's right, they weren't even interviewing with all of the interested candidates. And yes, that also means that teachers were interviewing and signing a contract on the spot!!!!

So, we had our schedules set and got ready for our first interview together. We had several offers but either not in the area of the world we were hoping for, offers for only 1 position (we felt we both needed to be offered a position before making a commitment) and so after a crazy weekend we left with no positions but lots of inspiration to keep trying! We met so many teaching couples that shared stories about their adventurous, unique lifestyle. If you read my first post you know we ended up getting our current positions on our own by contacting schools but many of my teaching friends got their positions at recruitment fairs through different agencies like:
Carney Sandoe & Associates
Search Associates
So, if you are thinking about starting your journey on a rewarding experience, both professionally and personally have a look and see what's out there. Jump on some international school websites and see what they are like for yourself. There are so many incredible opportunities out there for you to immerse yourself in a different culture and environment that will change your life. I still can't believe we are getting ready to start our fourth school year in London!

Box of Sunshine

As a school counsellor we are often coming up with creative ways to spread happiness and make others feel good. I feel like it is part of my job to ensure everyone has a smile on their face (who said our job was easy?!?). We spend our days working as part of a team of parents and school staff all with a common goal, we have each child's best interest at heart. When a student is struggling we all work together to support them.

A student of mine was very sick and had to spend much of the school year at the hospital. I was able to visit him a few times and always brought with me messages from classmates, work (he requested it) and little things to make him smile. I was searching on pinterest for a unique gift idea when I came across a box of sunshine. All you need to put one together is a box, and anything they might like that is the color yellow or orange (think sunshine). Cut out a few paper sunbeams, print out a little note and you have yourself a box of sunshine! You can give this thoughtful gift to a friend, colleague, student... anyone who could use a smile! 

My student and his family still remember this thoughtful gift. I wish I had taken a picture of it but wasn't thinking to at the time. I will share with you some pinterest images as inspiration....


I filled my box of sunshine up with lots of small goodies from one of my favorite stores in the UK, Tiger. We had so much fun opening the bright colorful packages with lots of little fun games and toys (play dough, bouncy balls, jacks, a key chain, toy cars, etc). Not only did it make my student smile, this box of sunshine brightened his day and made him feel loved and he still remembers it! 

Does anyone in your life need some cheering up? What will you put in your box of sunshine?

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Third Culture Kid (TCK) update!!

Many of you know how much of my work as an international school counsellor relates to Third Culture Kids (TCKs). This month I ran a TCK workshop with parents and I'd like to share with you what we did and how it went. I worked with our multicultural team who baked delicious snacks to munch on in the morning as well as a light tapas style lunch with treats from all over the world for after our workshop! You need fuel, coffee & tea breaks, water and tissues for something as emotionally draining as this.

First, we came together as a full group for an hour. I ran an ice breaker activity, reviewed some basic background information on TCKs and gave parents some time to share their own stories. We focused on obstacles they have faced as parents of TCKs and then spent time sharing ways they overcame these obstacles. There were lots of tears as parents were reminded that they are not alone.

 I know that along with being a parent comes a lot of worry. I am sure that in addition to lots of worrying, as a parent of TCK you also stop and wonder if you are doing the right thing for your child. I see the benefits of this unique lifestyle every single day. Instead of standing there and telling parents about the ways their children learn and grow from the moves they make and the cultures that they live in, I decided to have the experts themselves do the talking. You HAVE to check out this TCK video that Marc Smith and I made with our students this year!!! There were many more tears but it was so important for our parents to hear these powerful messages from their own children.
 To hear the perspective of TCK reflecting on their first day of school, I read this post written by Shannon who attended ACS Hillingdon a few years ago. You can read a reflection about the same exact day but from Joyce, Shannon's mom's perspective here. I also shared this post so parents could hear more thoughts from a TCK parent. When you have a minute be sure to check them out!

We broke into divisional groups and each counsellor ran a 45 minute session that was more specific to that age group. After, we came together again for our delicious lunch, which was also a great time for parents to meet and talk to one another. We had more than 70 parents participate and I know that this day and time was so important for them to have! Until next year...

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Office Tour

Welcome to my office tour!! I am always curious about what school counsellors do with the space that they have. I thought I'd share with you what I've done with my space. When you walk into my room this is what you see! 

I love that I have a couch and 4 chairs, which comfortably fits at least 8 kids or 6 adults. I am also really lucky to have windows that let in lots of natural light (when the sun decides to come out in England). I hold Student Support Team meetings in my office (they rotate and I meet with a different grade level each week), parent meetings, small groups and lots of individual sessions. 
You can also see my sand tray (under the little wooden table) which is new this year. Some of my students that have a hard time talking will open up more if they are talking while playing in the sand box or drawing, playing with clay...
I have started my thank you card collection on my back windowsill. If I am having a tough day at work, seeing appreciation from others usually makes me smile. :)
You can also see my small fan/space heater under the printer. I need white noise to sleep at night and find that sound very comforting and relaxing. The fan runs all day and helps keep our conversations private and drowns out background noises. I don't think I could comfortably work without that sound.

This is the view of my office from my desk. I pretty much always have 'to do' piles on the right. As you can clearly see I have lots to do. I still handwrite my schedule in a planner, I'm not quite ready to make the jump to my calendar on my iPad. Maybe next year? What do you use to keep track of your schedule?

In a previous post I mentioned this large world velcro map. I had my eye on it for a while and wrote a grant to get funding for it. I am so thankful that I was able to get it through our GIFT grant program. We ended up getting a thin wood board to nail it to. Whenever students come into my office they almost always first notice this beautiful map (some see my free hug bear and think it's someone else in the room). Students love to find places they have lived or have traveled to. The map also comes up with velcro pieces that are flags, animals and landmarks from all over the world. They love to move the pieces around.
International schools by nature are a very transient community. We constantly have students coming and students leaving, all year long. One of the many things I do with students before they prepare to leave our school is have them write their name on a small piece of cardstock. I attach a piece of velcro and they get to put their name up on the map wherever it is that they are heading. Throughout the school year as their friends come to my office they always look at the map and see the names of their friends and take a moment to think about them.
Yes, that's my red and white polka dot tea pot! I do live in England, and a meeting is so much more comfortable and relaxing with a cup of tea in hand.

I was overwhelmed with the number of my 'go to' books. I decided I will need to dedicate an entire post just to my favorites. My filing cabinet is sorted alphabetically. Most of my notes and records are typed on my computer and are backed up to my time machine. Another post for more details on my system.
I collect seashells and have them all around my room. My collection continues to grow thanks to my students. They know how much I love shells and always remember to bring some back from me when they go on holiday! 
The teal and green boxes are filled with candy. This comes out at grade level meetings, specials meetings and they are there for when a co-worker or I need a pick me up! One box is filled with sugary, sweet, sour candies the other is filled with chocolates. You never know when someone needs a little treat!

I am so lucky to share this space with the middle years counsellor. Her office is the second green door on the right. It is wonderful to have a counsellor to chat with, run ideas past, get/give advice throughout the day. We work very closely together so being a shout away is wonderful. We constantly share this space and I am always using it for lunch bunches, small groups, meetings, etc. We almost always have freshly brewed coffee and snacks so it is a nice place for teachers and staff to come by and chat too.

And I have saved the best for last. My school is absolutely beautiful. Every single day that I pull up to this view I feel like I am dreaming. I am one lucky school counsellor to work in a school that is so beautiful on the inside and outside.

Thanks for joining me on my office tour. Cheers!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

A few of my favorite things in and around my office...

Is anyone else wondering where the time goes? Seriously, how is it October already?? My school year is off to a great start and I hope yours is too! I thought I should take some time to share a few of my favorite things...

I worked with the middle years counsellor to figure out a good way to decorate our shared bulletin board that was appropriate for both lower and middle school students. I got the idea and .pdf files to decorate our board from entirely elementary! Thank you, Susan, for your inspiration and for making it so easy to make our own version. Here are the signs and here are the words. Now all you have to do is pick fun paper colors, print, laminate and get creative in your display! Here is how ours turned out:

 I have decorated the door to my office thanks to some other school counsellor blog ideas.

I have seen this on so many blogs and decided to make one myself. Right after I put it up I changed the dial any time I left my office. Now I have fallen out of the habit and keep forgetting to change it. Don't worry though, my students are always fixing it for me. Really, they do! They love to tell me that I forgot, again, and then they move the dial to the right spot. So lucky to have them help me keep track of my whereabouts!

Behind my door you may have noticed some of these letter magnets. My husband gave them to me a week ago and I put them right up on my magnetic wall. Later that same day this is what I found! My students are loving these magnetic letters, which makes me so happy. During a quick conversation with a parent the other day, one of my students walked over to the magnets and put up the words 'teamwork' and 'smile'. In character education this week we had been talking about working together and being bucket fillers. I think it stuck! I love that this wall and the words on it are constantly changing. All of my students (and teachers too) seem to be attracted to it. :)

Some other must haves in and around my office:
- Soft tissues and sanitizer are a must and are always out.
- My students love playing with this wooden world. Inside are little wooden people that come from all around the world. They line them up, move them around, make them talk and always have fun with this one.
- This timer is the greatest thing ever. I think I may have 'borrowed' it from my brother (thanks MJ). They love watching it ooze from one side to another. Lots of students ask to borrow it for their cool down kit to help them set a time limit on taking time to relax and cool off.
- Another thing worth mentioning is the book my students helped me to create, "While you are at ACS Hillingdon be sure to..." Last year, students that were leaving our school to move to a different school, got to leave their advice behind. Each student decorated a page to put in this book. Their advice is for new students that join us. Lots of time during a new student welcome lunch bunch group we pull out this book to hear the words of wisdom that students left behind for them. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Some advice is serious and other advice makes us smile or laugh. The pictures and uniqueness of each and every page make it so special. I love keeping this out for anyone to pick up and browse through!
- Post-its are there for students that come by when I'm not in my office (and may or may not have forgot to change the dial on my Where Is Mrs. Seaberg sign). Only fifth graders pop in on their own so they know to write their name on a post-it and to put it on my chair so I see it in case my desk is messy right away!

I could go on and on, but I am only picking a few of my favorite things. Last thing to share for now are my Kimochis, which in Japanese means feelings. These are beautiful stuffed animals, each with a story. For example meet Bug (on the left). Bug is a caterpillar that is afraid of change. At the end of the school year when we are talking about transitions (moving, changing grades, new teacher, things happening over the summer) I bring Bug in to my grade 1 and 2 classes during character education. Students come up with advice to offer Bug and encourage him to change because change can be a good thing. They try to convince him and say things like, it might be scary at first but you will discover new and exciting things come with change. I take Bug into the hallway to think over their advice (which always works) and pull out Bugs wings (which are tucked into little pockets behind his back) and he enters the classroom as a beautiful butterfly! Another great thing about my Kimochis is they have stomach pockets that we fill with feeling faces. These are often incorporated into individual and small group counselling sessions when we are discussing our feelings. The kids love them and if you want your own, you can find them here.

Next up is a picture tour of my office!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Digital Citizenship

Let's face it, our students are the iGeneration! Preparing our students to be safe, responsible and respectful in the digital world that they live in is an extremely important job and someone's gotta do it!

This year, our IT strategic plan included most of the students in my school receiving an iPad! With our students using technology more and more, they are very much living in a digital world.

On Friday, 15 March I presented at the annual ECIS Tech Conference on our Digital Citizenship Programme in the Lower School with the mobile technology coordinator at my school. I was so excited to present to over 50 professionals from all over Europe! Below I will share with you what I spoke about in my presentation. Be sure to also check out the prezi that goes along with it.

As time has passed we have all seen the increased use in technology and the very strong need to work with our students on important things like how to stay safe while using all of this technology. As needs continue to arise I'm sure that like me, many of you have been working hard to develop a programme at your school to adress these needs. In developing our programme we wanted to make sure that we were being pro-active and not just reactive.

Our students have charged ahead into a digital world full of creative opportunities, ethical dilemmas and cyber-risks that were unimaginable just a few years ago. I believe that we will continue in this direction as things like iPads, phones and google glass get into the hands of younger and younger students. The topic of digital citizenship is certainly gaining momentum around the world. With the growth of bring your own device (BYOD) and 1:1 initiatives in schools, there is a need to talk about responsible use of technology. Every day, our students are tested with each post, search, chat, text message, download and update they make. We have always taught our students and our children manners at the dinner table, how to interact with others in public places and to treat others the way we want to be treated. Now we need to talk to our students about how to use good manners when leaving a comment and discuss with them what to do if someone is bothering them online or wants to meet them in person. These are the new social skills for our students.

At ACS Hillingdon we were all in agreement that these things needed to be integrated into our curriculum so we came up with an idea to develop a programme to support our students. It was so important for us to work as a team. At ACS Hillingdon that team was made up of our administrators, counsellors, librarians, IT department, teachers, parents and students. The time that we took to collaborate was vital in making this programme work.

We also came up with a school procedure called the Technology Acceptable Use Agreement (AUA). This agreement aligns with our school rule of respect. Our students are all very familiar with this document.

Another key component is working with our parents. Communication with parents is so important, always let them know what you are doing with students. Invite them in for parent information meetings and listen to their concerns so that you can help to address them or give advice. The internet is such an integral part of children's lives these days. Whether on a computer at school, a laptop at home, a game console or mobile phone, children are increasingly accessing technology whenever they can and wherever they are. As parents would protect their child in the real world, they will want to make sure that they are safe while using technology. Like learning to cross the road, online safety skills are skills for life. An important thing to remember is that what happens at home, at school and online all need to be addressed in a similar way.

Think about what technology was like just 5 years ago. In a short timespan it has changed so much! I have to admit it can be quite scary to think about what direction we are headed in and what technology will look like in 5 years. As technology constantly changes, you have to be willing to let your programme change with it. It is so important to be flexible and adaptable. Don't get your heart set on anything because your programme should not be set in stone.

When you think about everything related to digital citizenship it can be a bit overwhelming...

Take a look at this video, Be a Digital Citizen.

Ok, back to the development of our programme. So, with all of these other pieces in place I was then able to sit down with the other school counsellors at ACS. We thought of digital citizenship as an umbrella term that covers many important skills to be taught and topics to explore. Our first question was how can we make time for this in an already overcrowded curriculum? As the Pre-K to grade 5 school counsellor I am already going into classrooms every other week. During this time I run character education classes. Topics range from friendship to personal space came and from kindness to managing worries. I figured it would be easy enough for me to incorporate digital citizenship throughout the school year through my character ed classes. It is also important to note that this is NOT the only time that we talk about digital citizenship or cyber safety. As things come up we adress them. Something might come up with a classroom teacher, a specials teacher or in the hallway. All of our teachers integrate this into their day to day activities and as needed, especially for those important teaching moments.

So we had our team, AUA agreement, parent support... next, the counsellors developed a scope and sequence using the NETS performance indicators. Other schools have scope and sequences so do your research before you sit down to do this. We borrowed ideas and put them together in a way that worked for us. Once our research was done the counsellors worked together on a shared google doc. We came up with two strands for our scope and sequence; digital citizenship and cyber safety. Our scope and sequence is our map and it is our expectation that as students progress through our school they will move from basic to intermediate to proficient in these areas. Here is part of what it looks like, for the whole document check out my prezi.

Now with our plan I needed some activities. That's where common sense media comes into the picture. They are hands down my go to resource for digital citizenship. Common sense media shares a FREE digital literacy and citizenship curriculum to help educators empower their students and their school communities to be safe, responsible and savvy as they navigate this fast-paced digital world. Their activities are research based and come with videos, extensions, student assessments and follow up material to send home to parents. Not only that but common sense media is a great resource for parents too!

Their curriculum covers eight categories and the sequence consists of spiraling units, each containing five lessons that build on one another, reinforcing developmentally appropriate topics through age-appropriate activities. Incredible, I know! I will almost always start here and take bits and pieces to make activities work with my students. Here are some examples of some lessons I have done with my students so far this year...

In kindergarten at the beginning of the school year we learned about, going places safely. Students are comparing staying safe in the real world with staying safe in the online world. By the end of the lesson they see that the rules are the same whether you are on or offline. After going through this activity with my kindergarteners at the beginning of the school year, watch this video to see what they took from it.

In second grade we did the lesson, follow the digital trail. This was fun because my second graders were detectives. They were looking up information about Electra the elephant and Mizzle the mouse. They got to determine who had a bigger digital footprint by following their digital trail. Students understand the important message that once you put something online it is part of your digital footprint, which is permanent.

Next, in fourth garde we talked about staying safe online. Here is a video of my fourth graders so you can see what they learned from some of our activities.

I loved using this poster with my 3rd and 4th graders!

I know, there is a ton information. Sorry for the overload but I could talk forever about this. I will end this very long post with a quote, "Technology has a tremendous impact on our culture. Like learning how to read and write learning digital citizenship prepares students to fully participate in a digital world that is here to stay. Let's prepare our students with the best internet filter in the world... the one right between their ears." Cyberwise

What do you do to teach your students about digital citizenship? I am always looking for new ideas and resources. Be sure to comment below!!

Monday, 4 March 2013

My First Documentary!

I am so beyond excited to finally be able to share with you my very first documentary!! I just got the 'ok' to officially make the video public and I already have a request from Families in Global Transition (FIGT) to show it at an upcoming conference. It's really exciting to be able to share this incredible resource with others.

Rewind to last year. It was at the ECIS conference in Portugal that I saw Laura Cowan's TCK Documentary made with students at the Shanghai American School. Hearing the voices of Laura's students was so powerful. I knew immediately that I wanted to make my own documentary.

As soon as I got back to London I started filming my students. I decided to interview students that were preparing to move on to new schools. Helping to create the video was something special that they were able to leave behind. They knew that their advice and voices would be heard by many children and people all over the world! Students were so excited to share their feelings on being a TCK. They had so much to say about the benefits and challenges of being a TCK. Students were able to offer advice to other TCK's like them and to parents and educators on ways to best support them through their transitions and developing identities.

So, basically I was able to get lots of incredible footage, it was the editing that I needed help with. That's where Jennifer Margain Salvador comes into the picture. Jennifer is a good friend of mine and she recently graduated from film school in London. She had some time on her hands and offered to edit my documentary. Jennifer spent a lot of time getting this video just right. She is so talented and passionate about her work, I can't wait to see more videos that she makes in the future. I couldn't have done this without her help.

I don't need to say much more, the kids cover it all! When you have 10 minutes take a look at how amazing the kids that I get to work with every single day are. This video will help you to understand why I love my job so much. My students are incredible. Enjoy my TCK Documentary and be sure to let me know what you think!

Just click on the link below:
TCK Documentary