Online Meetups Provide Guidance to International Teachers in the USA
Educational Partners International (EPI) hosts weekly virtual meetings with teachers in its program, leading the educators through sessions that provide resources for addressing today’s teaching challenges. Known as the EPI Connect series, these meetups over Zoom provide a platform for discussing the unique circumstances that EPI teachers face. Teachers also join colleagues during the meetings, and they participate in activities that aid their professional development. What’s more, attendees receive resources designed to support their teaching.
Over a period of weeks (or even during a single session), discussion might touch upon topics related to cultural exchange, health and wellness, and professional growth. For this spring semester, the series has covered subjects such as:
- getting organized inside and outside of the classroom
- navigating requirements, benefits, and resources related to J-2 dependent family members
- using body language and nonverbal cues for effective teaching in the USA
Program members appreciate the extra help the sessions provide, as well as the opportunity to meet virtually.
“The Connect Series has played a major role in keeping our sanity during these challenging times,” noted Spanish teacher Milton Villarroel from Bolivia, back in the program’s first year in 2020.
Elisabeth Gandolfo, an English as a second language teacher from Argentina, also appreciates the series. “This has been my 35th year of teaching,” she shared, “but there is always something new to learn. Teachers are professional learners.”
Peñaflor Cayabyab, a mathematics teacher from the Philippines, finds the subjects discussed worthwhile. “The topics you choose are always timely, meaningful, and well-presented,” she commented.
To learn more about the series, we posed questions to some of the EPI staff who make the sessions possible.
When did EPI begin hosting the EPI Connect Series and how would you explain to new teachers what it’s about?
Placement Coordinator Evan Ruffini: The EPI Connect Series began in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to not only provide professional development opportunities for teachers, but to allow for teachers to connect with one another and share ideas and experiences.
What are some examples of strategies you share that teachers will be able to implement in their classrooms?
Teacher Support Specialist Mariela Domine: The strategies that we present in regards to professional development are all pulled from our Launch Your Classroom! website, another resource that is free for teachers here at EPI. Some examples of topics we present include strategies to help structure rules and consequences, create engaging lessons, and maintain attention in class.
How can teachers engage with EPI and each other during each Connect session?
Teacher Support Specialist Hilary Temple: Through breakout rooms, a chat function, and prompted discussion questions we ask throughout the meetings. The EPI team encourages teachers to connect through the chat, and to connect in small groups during our breakout room portion. The breakout rooms allow teachers to connect with each other while discussing the new strategies we are presenting.
What is your favorite part about hosting EPI Connect?
Evan: Hearing the wonderful success stories shared by our teachers, many of whom volunteer their time to act as guest speakers during presentations for a number of topics.
Hilary: My favorite part is listening to teachers share their thoughts on a new strategy we have discussed!
Mariela: Seeing the teachers become involved and engaged on a topic. I love to see them connect with one another, share their own ideas and experiences, and grow and learn together.
How do teachers sign up and start attending?
Hilary: Through email! Email reminders and RSVPs are sent out weekly. A link to attend is included in the email.
Will there be any new changes to the series in the 2023-2024 school year?
Mariela: The newest addition we’re adding to the series for the 2023-2024 school year is the inclusion of more health and wellness topics! It is new, but we are excited to provide more information and resources regarding mental health, self-care, and mindfulness for our teachers.
Evan: A gift card raffle will be held on the last Connect of each month! An RSVP is required to enter the raffle.
Thank you, Evan, Hilary, and Mariela, for answering all of our questions! And thank you for making these sessions possible for the teachers in our program. Of course, the series wouldn’t be successful without the participation of all the program members who attend and share their experience and perspectives. We’re grateful they join us for these enriching exchanges, and we can’t wait to hear from them in the sessions to come!