Wednesday, 9 January 2013

International Mindedness (ACS PR Interview)

I had an interview with someone from the ACS International School PR team and spent a lot of time answering some great questions.  I thought some of you might be interested in taking a look.  There is a lot of information on international mindedness.  I figured I would just post  all of it, so have a look and enjoy!
Please could you give me a brief summary of your background? How long have you been a school counselor for? What different types of schools have you worked at?

I was born and raised in Long Island, New York and always dreamed I would one day be a teacher. It was while I was getting my undergraduate degree in Elementary Education from SUNY New Paltz that a passion for working in counselling began to emerge. As a result, I enrolled at Long Island University, C.W. Post to get my masters degree in school counselling. 
My first job was in an elementary school in Connecticut. I was the only school counsellor for 1,000 students! Next we moved to North Carolina where I worked as an elementary school counsellor for two years. Budgets were being cut and I was getting worried about the security of my job. I was told the last two school counsellors that were hired in our district were the first two that would be asked to go (I was the second to last hired). This knowledge furthered my commitment to search for international opportunities, a process I had previously started. After a few months of interviews, an international job fair and lots of waiting and thinking, I finally accepted my position at ACS Hillingdon International School. My husband and I prepared to move our entire lives (including our two cats) to the other side of the pond all while planning our wedding. We got married in May of 2011 and I am now in my second year working as the Pre-K to Grade 5 school counsellor at ACS Hillingdon. I couldn’t be happier!

What does your role entail?

As the Pre-K to Grade 5 School Counsellor, I work with every student – interacting with them individually, in a small group environment, and/or in the classroom context.
To access individual counselling, a student is referred by their parent, teacher or principal. Students can also request to see me. Students come to me to talk about things that impact their learning at school, such as friendships, worries, and self-esteem. In my office, students can feel free to talk about how they are feeling and we work together to problem solve. 
For small group counselling, I send home a permission form that informs parents about the purpose and duration of the group. Parents can accept or decline the invitation for their child to participate in a small group. Some groups I have run in the past include: friendship, social skills, and new students. Groups are based on student needs and rotate throughout the grades during the school year.
I also address students through the delivery of classroom-based Character Education. Some topics include: transitions, self-esteem, making and keeping friends, positive school behaviours, staying organized, stress, time management, and digital citizenship. As a school and community we all work together to teach students a variety of themes that promote our core values. Developing positive character traits and having an open mind is something that is woven into the curriculum and our school culture.
Beyond these traditional counsellor/student interactions I also coordinate the Peer Mentor Program. Every student in fourth grade has the opportunity to be a peer mentor during the school year. Peer mentors have the important responsibility of acting as a leader for the lower school. As a peer mentor, students will be trained to assist with many student needs: conflict resolution, peer mediation, inclusion and friendship skills, welcoming new students and more! 
This year I am also facilitating our lower school student council in their school leadership to promote international-mindedness. I guide students in helping the school to  think internationally as well as work together to help others that are not as fortunate as we are.
My work with students, staff, parents and the community helps me to support and meet the needs of all students.

What are the main areas of counselling students that you are involved with?

I work with students individually on a number of different things but the majority of my time is spent working with students on transitions. International schools are, by nature, comprised of a transient population so I spend a lot of time ensuring a smooth transition.
As new students enroll throughout the school year, I facilitate a group activity upon their arrival. With the classroom teacher’s assistance, we work together to immerse the new student into our classroom community, usually matching them with a peer with whom they will work closely. The new students come and eat lunch with me and a few other friends during this time. We get to know one another and talk about where new students are coming from. We also discuss the feelings involved with moving and all of the changes that go along with it. This year, students received a new student survival kit to help them transition. The items in their kit were symbolic, daily reminders about staying positive as they navigate all of the changes.
During the school year as students prepare to move on to another school, a group is held to say goodbye and work towards providing the student with some closure. Students are asked to invite a few friends to join them for a lunch group before they go. During this time, their friends will share memories and sign an autograph book so that students can exchange contact information. Last year, I had students who were preparing to move to a new school leave something special behind. They chose to capture their legacy through the creation of a book, giving each student an opportunity to leave advice for incoming students. Some students left general advice about making as many friends as you can while you are here, being true to yourself and to keep calm and carry on while others left more specific words of wisdom like try the cookies in the cafeteria, go on the London Eye, and eat at Wagamama. New students have loved reading through this book to get ideas so it is a tradition I will continue. 
While I work with students individually throughout their journey, I find there is a lot of power in students working together through their transitions. I can give all the advice in the world and use every trick I have but every single time I facilitate a group, I am continually amazed at the advice students share with one another. Students hearing ideas from their peers can be extremely influential. If there is one thing I feel proud of every single day it is how incredible our students are at supporting one another. They are always willing to lend a helping hand, offer advice and cheer one another up. I am so lucky to be at a school that feels like a community.
This year I am asking our students to share their personal experience moving here. We are creating a book to leave in reception so that as new families come and visit our school they can look at the stories of real students. They have had so much fun reflecting on when they first found out their family was going to move, how they felt on their very first day of school and how they feel now that they have settled down.
My goal as a school counsellor is to help every child be successful academically, socially, and emotionally.

Do you find students have particular difficulties coping with relocation around traditional holidays?

Students are coping with a ‘different’ holiday celebration if they are in a new place. It can be especially difficult for families who are unable to travel to their home country or be with their family and friends during this special time. That being said, I feel those times of year can be a challenge for some families, especially the newer ones that have more recently joined our community. Things are going to be different in a new place and the adjustment period is different for everyone.

What would your top advice be to students and families struggling with transition during a holiday season?

Some families choose to travel back home to be with their families and friends during our breaks. Others travel to new places and experience different and new traditions.
Whatever it is that families choose to do over the holiday season, my advice is to keep your culture, traditions and holidays alive and help your children appreciate the new and different experiences that come with it!
Although it is not always possible to be close to our loved ones, technology makes interactions with our friends and family more accessible over the distance. Email, skype, and facetime are some ways to ‘be’ with the ones we love. Though certainly not the same as being geographically close, those technology tools do much to help families navigate the transition.
I am always available for parents that are struggling with transition. Every person and family goes through their transition in their own way and I am always here to offer my support. I know that the holidays can be a difficult time to be in a new place so I would encourage parents to reach out if they need some advice. The exciting thing about being part of our international community is having the opportunity to learn and celebrate other holidays as well as our own. I would suggest that parents remember this as they carry on their traditions and try and incorporate new ones to have the best of both worlds!

How does ACS celebrate different cultures attitudes towards Christmas and other holidays, and how are you involved with this?

At ACS HIllingdon, we do our best to celebrate as many different holidays as we can. We know that our students celebrate a number of different traditions so we are intentional in our encouragement of parental participation when it comes to sharing cultures and traditions with our students.
Throughout the school year, we have Multicultural Exploration. Last year students explored the cultures and traditions of Scandinavia, China, Latin America and India. This year we had parents come in to teach students about the United States of America. Students learned history, were taught how to square dance and enjoyed traditional American treats. We will have more Multicultural Explorations this year including Israel, Japan and other countries. Most recently, students learned about the five-day festival, Diwali that some of our students celebrate. Students also talked about things for which they are thankful as some of our other students celebrated Thanksgiving. The lower school will come together to sing Christmas carols and we are all really excited to learn more about Hannukah this year!
In January students will learn about the Brazilian culture and will make wishes on Bahia Bands that are supposed to come true when they fall off. Last year our Scandinavian students and families helped us to celebrate the festival of Santa Lucia on 13 December.  We also celebrated the beginning of spring last year when our Romanian students shared Martisors with us. We hope to keep these traditions alive and also celebrate new ones each year!

Do you think international schools are more inclusive of different cultures and celebrate diversity more than other schools?

All you have to do is walk through our front doors to immediately feel like you are in an international school. You are greeted with flags from every country our students and staff represent. At ACS Hillingdon, we celebrate internationalism throughout the year. In lower school, we are lucky enough to have students representing thirty-two countries and we find so many ways to celebrate our diversity! At ACS, one of the core values to which we strongly adhere is our commitment to Enrich the International Experience.
We highlighted our unique diversity throughout our Spirit Week in October. Lower school students began the week in the auditorium with a “parade of flags”. Each of the thirty-two countries that we represent were proudly announced as students paraded their hand made flag through our multinational audience of flag-waving students. The assembly also included first graders on stage, introducing themselves in their native languages, a skit performed in Spanish, and a medley of music where we sang in four different languages.
Throughout the week, students were encouraged to dress in different outfits to celebrate internationalism. They wore clothing related to their own nationalities, clothing related to our host country, clothing related to any other country than their own and finished our International Spirit Week with a parade of students and staff dressed as book characters from any country other then their own.
One of my favorite days is our International Food Day. Though we coordinate with our PTSA and Multicultural Liasons for so many events throughout the year, our parent volunteers in particular enrich this day as they work hard to prepare food from all over the world. It is delicious and quite a learning experience, especially for our taste buds!
I think it is easy for us to embrace our differences.  We take every opportunity we can to celebrate our diversity.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

When a student leaves my office saying, “I feel like skipping. I feel so much lighter then I did when I first came in.”
When I get great reports from teachers about a student’s progress.
When parents call to thank me for my help.
These are the things that warm my heart and make me feel lucky to have the most amazing job in the world. I don’t know many people who can proclaim as much love for their job as I am able to. I go to work with a smile and leave at the end of the day with a smile. I love making a difference in people’s lives. That is what makes my job so rewarding! 


  1. Hi, I am so excited I found your blog! My husband and I are thinking of trying to teach overseas in the next couple of years. Your post about how you got hired was so helpful Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    Using My Teacher Voice

  2. Sarah,
    Thank you so much for your comment. Glad that you found my post helpful! I am excited to hear that you are thinking about joining the international loop! Please feel free to email or get in touch as you get closer to making a move. I look forward to checking out your blog as well...

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  4. I am thrilled to have found your blog, as well! Can you provide more information on the job fair process and tips for landing a job? I would LOVE to return to London as a school counselor! Thanks.

  5. Stephanie thanks for your message! I have been getting lots of emails lately on the international recruitment fair and process. Will do a post very soon with more details and some tips! Keep in touch...

  6. I attended an international job fair recently and am now considering a position overseas. I enjoy reading your blog and would love to hear more about the acceptance and moving process, as well as your work with Third Culture Kids. Do you have any book or blog recommendations? And again thanks for your blog!