How Teaching Abroad Shaped My Classroom Strategies

May 17, 2018

Alexandra Mercer

Ed.D. in Leadership


From classroom strategies and student behavior expectations to parent-teacher communication and overall views on learning, every country and culture has its own style of education.

What can we learn from these varied styles? The short answer? A lot.

To be truly effective teachers and open-minded learners, we need to learn about the best practices the world of teaching has to offer. Below, I have highlighted four effective practices that I’ve picked up from educators in classrooms around the world.


While teaching abroad in Japan, I observed a kindergartner walk up to his teacher and explain that his classmate was in the back of the classroom, throwing markers. The teacher calmly replied, “I see. You should do something about that,” and then turned back to what she had been doing.

From the very start of their education, Japanese children are taught to be problem-solvers. The teachers will not step in to fix every issue. Students quickly learn to think critically, rely on themselves and speak up with confidence.

After seeing this, I gave it a try with my own class, responding to many little tattles with, “Okay, how can you solve that problem?” I would talk through the scenario with the student, but the decision of what to do was left up to them. The results were terrific. Not only did my young students become critical thinkers and conscientious members of their classroom community, they became certain of their ability to solve problems.


Looking at Shanghai specifically, I noticed one strategy of professional development that can be easily replicated in the U.S.: peer lesson demonstrations.

Whether a teacher is testing out a new teaching strategy or trying to adjust a lesson that doesn’t quite seem to be working, teachers in Shanghai find it helpful to demonstrate their lessons to their fellow teachers who will then give feedback from the students’ perspectives. A step beyond simply sharing lesson ideas or collaborating on planning, peer lesson demonstrations allow your colleagues to see your lessons as they will really play out and give you authentic, helpful feedback.


I think we can all agree that good teachers create to successful students. One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is a desire to keep learning and adapt to constructive feedback. I once worked with a Singaporean teacher who sought information whenever possible — even from students.

Like any customer service agent, this teacher realized the benefits of customer feedback. The only difference was that her customers were students. So she surveyed them, finding informal, age-appropriate ways to ask:

1) Was this activity easy, hard or in the middle?

2) Did you understand how I explained this concept?

3) Is there something I could change about the way I teach lessons that would help you learn?

Teachers should be lifelong learners and seek new knowledge wherever it can be found. Why not start right there in your classroom?


As an American who went to schools that had custodial staff, I was amazed to see that, in many Korean public schools, the students do the cleaning. All the kids are responsible for keeping their classrooms clean and I don’t just mean organizing their own desks; students wiped the windows and swept the floors. There was even a rotating schedule for each class to clean non-homeroom spaces like my English classroom.

It is incredible how much more carefully students treat their surroundings when they are the ones to have to clean them. Not only is there less mess, but fewer homework assignments go missing and fewer textbooks are forgotten. The lesson here? If you want students to act responsibly, you must give them responsibilities.

There is no one right way to teach or to learn. You will see variations throughout your teaching career from differences in personal style to the policies dictated by administration. Keeping this in mind, why not expand your study of teaching beyond country boundaries?

Teaching is a collaborative art – we must always be ready to learn from one another. Let’s not limit that learning to our own national borders.

American College of Education gives educators the chance to exchange experiences with and learn from people who live and work all over the world. Join our expansive community by exploring our graduate-level programs in education.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Alexandra Mercer
Alexandra Mercer, Ed.D. in Leadership

Alex has been teaching for six years, leading classrooms abroad in Korea, Japan, Thailand and Morocco. She continues to be active in the global English education community and loves writing about what she's learned along the way.

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