Working abroad is a wonderful opportunity for both personal and professional growth because it’s an avenue to learn innovative learning styles, educational materials, and curricula. Furthermore, a survey on teacher recruitment reported that 59% of teachers cited travel, cultural exploration, and challenges as the primary motivating factors to work abroad. However, the same report also illustrated the need to train new teachers in their locality and direct time and resources towards supporting their wellbeing.

Ensuring the welfare of teachers working abroad is difficult without having ongoing collaborations and conversations with colleagues that share similar experiences. This is why having networks is crucial for educators introduced to new environments.

Importance of building a network for international teachers

Networks function as support structures for international teachers as they provide organised professional exchanges, help overcome feelings of isolation, and aid in sharing innovative and good teaching practices.

Networks can also help with professional development through active and interactive pursuits. They are, essentially, a community. Networks also frame professional development as a form of social participation. As such, the growth of international educators should not only hinge on acquiring skills or knowledge, it should also be nurtured by social support. Similarly, having access to that kind of support can help teachers who work abroad understand new communities, identities, practices, and meanings. A study on professional learning networks reports that having a strong community can leverage greater teacher satisfaction, higher morale and commitment, and greater effectiveness in the classroom. This is because networks allow teachers to meet like-minded educators who have the same goals, skills, and aspirations as they do.

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How international teachers can build a network in new environments

The desire to build a network is, at times, eclipsed by not knowing how to go about it. Fortunately, we’ve listed down a few ways international teachers can create their own networks successfully.

Utilise professional organisations

Professional organisations can be a source of valuable networking for international teachers. This is particularly beneficial if you want access to resources like equalities consultation conferences and a nationwide programme of seminars for new teachers. It ensures you’ll have a better grasp of the work expectations, conditions, and different learning and management methods employed in your work country.

For example, organisations such as NASUWT lobby and campaign for the protection and improvement of teachers’ working conditions. The latter is crucial for teachers working abroad to achieve a work-life balance amidst making several adjustments to their new environment.

Put together a reference list

Reference lists build credibility, which is helpful to have in terms of framing your strengths and achievements, and communicating them to local educators. First, connect with past professors and administrators from your alma mater or colleagues from your previous teaching jobs. Because whilst the list of accomplishments on your resume can speak for itself, having a reliable set of professionals who can vouch for your skills, past project successes, and character is imperative in securing a network.

By having a strong reference list, it’ll be easier to match and engage with local teachers, as well as teacher-seeking administrators that are a cultural fit and can meet your career goals. Of course, you will have to be proactive. Fortunately, building a network can be as simple as making a phone call or sending a message via LinkedIn. To go one step further — and articulate a headstrong attitude — you can also invite someone for a coffee or request a 15-minute conversation with professionals you wish to connect with. Remember, these small steps can mean a lot in building lasting relationships.

Attend education conferences

An easy and efficient way to acquaint yourself with local teachers is by attending education conferences. These conferences aren’t meant to only offer opportunities to learn new skills, present their own research, and make new connections, they also allow you to interact with like-minded people who share your daily struggles, joys, and fears.

There are many conferences that cater to specific causes or networks, so joining one that accommodates who you are as both an educator and a person won’t be a problem. In fact, certain conferences such as the ISS Women in Leadership offer mentorships that assist the progression of female teachers. This emphasises the importance of networks, especially inclusive ones, on an educator’s growth. Notably, having a mentor can also provide comfort or affirmation for teachers working abroad who have yet formed close points of contact.

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Written by Camilla Cook
Camilla has been working in education for the past sixteen years, teaching English in the UK, El Salvador, Thailand, and Tanzania. She participated in the Teach First Programme in 2005, and went on to support another Teach First teacher in her efforts to set up The Literacy Pirates, an education charity working to develop the literacy, confidence, and perseverance of young people referred for extra support by their teachers. As their first Director of Learning, she was responsible for planning, leading, and evaluating the learning programmes. She has worked as the Head of Language and Literature in international schools for the past five years, and is now living in Brighton with her husband and two children, attempting to reacclimatise to the weather by cycling around as much as possible and eating lots of ice cream.
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