Collaborative teaching may be the strategy needed to retain, attract and recruit foreign exchange teachers.

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I came to the United States to teach during the height of the pandemic, where all students and teachers were teaching and learning online. It is in this platform of teaching, where I experienced daily interaction and collaboration among my colleagues on how to navigate teaching through the virtual world as this was something new to me back then in the Philippines. This everyday collaboration gives me vital tips and tricks as a cultural exchange teacher to solve and overcome daily classroom routines and challenges.

Teaching under the Cultural Exchange Program of the State Department gives me a myriad of opportunities to expose, explore, and experience the cultural and educational diversity of the United States. As one of my colleagues stated: “It is crucial for us as international educators to continually collaborate with different agencies to better understand and deepen our understanding of the cultural, racial, and academic diversity of the United States.”

I was in total agreement with my colleagues on how school-wide collaboration is very critical to bridging the gap and extending the knowledge, understanding, and mutual respect in navigating the educational landscape of the United States. As I started teaching in the classroom, I was terrified, confused, and anxious about how I would face new sets of colleagues and students given the situation that I started teaching online and during the pandemic time. At that time, it was a struggle for me to effectively collaborate with my colleagues and students due to social distancing, online class time, and other factors that limited me in doing so.

In-Person Instruction

Fast forward that we are now in in-person instruction, I see how collaboration enriches the knowledge and understanding I need as a cultural exchange teacher in the United States. When I started meeting my colleagues, students, and their parents, I was so excited to share with them my experiences in classroom management, positive discipline, and designing a curriculum and instruction for a special education program. Furthermore, I learned the vast intricacies of how educational technology, classroom practices, and methodologies work as we continually collaborate through professional learning meetings and discussions. On a personal level, it deepened my knowledge and understanding of the cultural, racial, and socio-economic background of the district, community, and family I served. 

However, there were times that I was misunderstood or misinterpreted during the time of meetings or collaborative experiences I had. Due to language and communication barriers, it was a challenge for me to share and convey my ideas and suggestions during meetings and collaboration, as I felt shy and less confident in doing so. I also felt that my ideas and suggestions were less valuable than my American colleagues. 

Collaborative Fellowships

However, all these challenging experiences in collaboration changed when I applied for a policy fellowship in Teach Plus Nevada. This platform allowed me to collaborate with fellow American colleagues regarding teaching and educational policies that affect the state of Nevada. It provides me with the depth and breadth of how collaboration is critical to address the pressing needs of transforming educational policies that will truly serve different stakeholders – teachers, students, schools, families, and communities. 

It was another rewarding experience for me when I was accepted to the Senior Research Fellowship Program of Teach Trach Plus. This program is a collaborative project of Teach Plus and American University. Each working group was assigned to conduct research and I was included in the Social Emotional Learning (SEL)  project, which gave me the chance to interview, analyze, and interpret the SEL practices of teachers from different states.

With all these collaborative experiences, I realized how critical it is to genuinely and regularly identify the needs, bridge understanding, and foster continuous communication to address the issues and challenges we are facing as educational stakeholders in our community. More so, how stakeholders and cultural exchange teachers like me benefit from it. To effectively implement collaborative dialogues of different stakeholders that include cultural exchange teachers, I suggest the following recommendations at hand to be considered in each school in the future:

Collaborative Communication

Districts and Schools need to design continuous community communication to foster collaborative dialogue that includes cultural exchange teachers. At the school level, the School Organizational Team (SOT), clubs, and councils are a great channel and platform to develop open communication where cultural exchange teachers can join and share their rich cultural diversity among stakeholders. This collaborative program helps each stakeholder understand and accept the unique cultural background of each stakeholder through collaborative communication. 

Collaborative Agreements

Establishing clear guidance and procedures helps each stakeholder in the school decide on what matters most to the students they serve. Cultural exchange teachers benefit from this collaborative agreement when they are included in the decision-making process of every school program and service. This serves as an ongoing and continuous process when each stakeholder, including cultural exchange teachers, has a voice in every issue before agreeing to a final solution.

Authentic Relationships

Districts and schools continually face issues and challenges every school year. Building authentic relationships through collaboration can be a solution to lessen the impact of these challenges. Building a team of trusting, caring, and supportive personnel in every school helps minimize cultural biases and prejudices. This is where cultural exchange teachers can serve to mitigate and rectify these biases. Every cultural exchange teacher from their mother country brings a wealth of experiences to build, share, and form authentic relationships through collaborative dialogues to address every cultural bias they may encounter in schools that will help other stakeholders.

Looking to the Future

With all these collaborative experiences as a cultural exchange teacher, we have the opportunity to continually open doors for future cultural exchange teachers just as I had experienced it. Policymakers need to create, design, and implement models of collaborative techniques between cultural exchange teachers and community stakeholders to establish and strengthen communication, agreement, and relationships among each other to benefit student needs in the future. 

Lauro C. Esquilona III, Ph.D., BCSE,  is a Department Chair and Student Council Co-Adviser of Theron L. Swainston Middle School – Special Education Department in North Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Teach Plus Nevada Teaching Policy and Senior Research Fellow Alumnus, and a Board Certified in Special Education (BCSE) from the National Association of Special Education Teachers. 

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