Becoming More International

Tülay Önderby TÜLAY ÖNDER

I have been working in Mehmet Özcan Torunoğlu secondary school since 2008 with teenagers aged 11-14 years old. The journey that I will tell you about started for me and my students in 2009, changing our lives a lot. During these seven years, l took 70 students and 40 teachers to different European countries for international project activities without any cost. These projects were provided by the Comenius programme in tulay pic1the past but for the recent two years they are known as Erasmus+. Every year several countries come together on an online platform, such as eTwinning, create a project incorporating many subjects, and apply for a grant. If the application is approved, each country gets a fund and starts working on the project. In the process, any project involves two kinds of meetings for participants: the Transnational meetings, organized solely for the teachers to plan the activities together, and the Short-term Teaching Learning meetings, in which both teachers and students work out the activities according to the plan.


Our first international project within the Comenius programme was called ‘’Local and national symbols’’. For two years eight participating countries presented their own symbols, traditions, and elements of culture to one another. The budget that we recieved to cover travel expenses and activites we carried out tulay pic2in the course of collaboration allowed 20 teachers and 20 studenst to travel around Europe and share their presentations about the Turkish culture. Most of the students had a chance to travel abroad by plane for the first time in their life, and most of my collegues had a chance to visit another country. Later on we successfully applied for another project called ‘’European gardens’’. Students in our school learnt a lot about gardening, enviroment, and the process of growing plants, and 16 students and 22 teachers travelled to many countries in Europe again.

Last year our school applied for two projects offered by the Erasmus+ programme, “Water” and ’’Healthy lifestyles”. To our joy, both were approved yet again! My collegues and all the students have been working hard on these two projects lately. As a result, we have one activity for each day at school and this made my whole school more international, too. For instance, for the Water project students prepared water boxes to put out on the territory surrounding our school for the street animals. Students wanted stray cats and dogs to drink clean water. Some students are responsible for refilling the cups every day. In relation to this project, science teacher gave seminars about the importance of water in our lives, while other teachers carried out various experiments and conducted classroom activities to support the topic across curriculum.

Impact – for teachers, students, parents

tulay pic3Working on these projects, my students have greatly improved their language and ICT skills as they started to use technology often and in a good way. Their art skills also have got a boost because they have prepared many postcards for their friends in different countries. Now, on special days such as Christmas and New Year, they make posctards on their own, without even asking me, because they know that there are always teachers and students who are waiting for them.

As a result of our international experiences, both school staff and pupils in our school have noticed how important English is, how a foreign language in real life connects people from all over the world. During the visits all students are hosted by local host families, which makes students learn more about the local cultures. Besides, this collaboration is not just a chance to travel to Europe, but also an opportunity to host teachers and students, too. When families of our learners agree to host their peers from other countries, they all try to share Turkish culture in a natural, casual way.

It is interesting to see the impact our exchanges had for the parents. When we first started to take part in project visits abroad, parents were anxious about sending their kids to Europe. Now many of them are waiting for their turn! Moreover, these projects made parents of our students more internatonal, too. Some of the kids connected their parents from different countries, who then started to send e-mails to each others and even making future plans for independent visits.

The experience organizing projects has changed my life, too. My life is richer now as l have many friends and collegues from all over the world. Through connections I’ve established on social media, it became possible for our school to get an invitation from an American high school to come for a visit and make a presentation about our country, tell about our learning adventures. With the help of these projects, we stepped into another world, made friends with students and teachers from all over Europe, created links between schools, pupils, and teachers.


Voices from the iTDi Community 3 – Tulay

Tülay Önder is a teacher of children and young learners in Ankara, Turkey.  She’s actively involved and passionate about developing collaborative projects for her students in Turkey to do with learners from around the world. She’s lively, energetic, enthusiastic, and in touch with her inner child.

What are you passionate about Tülay?

Teaching and still learning when l teach drives and motivates me! l am passionate about projects and trying to do more and more for my students.

We have 3 running projects at school.  One of them has just been approved  by Comenius

The title of our project is Let’s Reveal Secrets of European Gardens. There are 11 partner countries involved and the the Coordinator is Poland. In this project, we will create indoor and outdoor gardens at school and the students will learn about seeds and how a plant can grow .

Our Second Project is called International Inspiration, which is supported by the British Council of Scotland. The focus of this project is on Physical Education and its aim is to develop and expand physical education lessons while encouraging students – especially girls – to be more active.

Our Third Project is an exchange program. l found the school we are working with in Denmark on Facebook with the help of one of my Danish friends. Once we got connected we started to talk about our plans and ideas, and then connected our students on the Internet. Additionally students sent postcards and letters to each other. Later, thirteen students and four teacher from Turkey visited Denmark where our families from our exchange school hosted us in their homes, so we got the chance to learn culture through being part of their daily life. We cooked Turkish food and they cooked Danish food with the students. It was really amazing! We will host them in Turkey next April.

I am very passionate about projects like these, and I am sure you can see why. Projects are a great way to make learning come alive.

How and why did you become a teacher?

Being a Teacher was one of my dreams when l was a child.  There is a belief in Turkey that when you lose a tooth as a child and throw it under the teachers’ desk, you can become a teacher in the future.  Well, l did it and now l am a teacher so it still works …  although it is nonsense. J  l love teaching and having contact with  kids and young learners. l know that there is a child inside me and l love that child.  When l work with the children, l try to listen to this child inside me and it can help me and l can understand the children easily.

What are you most interested in right now, Tülay?

Well, as you can imagine I am really interested in making the three projects I am currently working on successful. In addition, I am also working to organize an exchange program with a school in the United States and Japan. Such projects are really very helpful for students and teachers. Being involved in an exchange programs allows but students and teachers to share and compare ideas and views while also helping everyone have a more more global focus.

What things do you do to help you get better at being a teacher?

I follow and look for things about education on the net, and make sure I am connected to lots of teachers around the world on Facebook. This provides a constant source of stimulation and helps me innovate every day, and we really need to innovate and improve ourselves each day.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

My biggest challenges are finding ways for my students in Turkey to collaborate with other students from around the world and good finding good people for them to do exchange programs with. I could also say that I have the same challenge on a personal level as a teacher: finding great teachers from around the world to collaborate while thinking together with them about projects we could do together once we get connected. Another challenge involves conditions in Turkish schools where class sizes are often very large and where in some schools there is not enough ICT equipment for the students. I wish all schools in Turkey had the same good conditions, but perhaps this is impossible to achieve at the moment.

What advice would you give to a teacher just starting out on a journey of professional development?

Follow and listen to your heart. Be active, be happy and go on learning without stopping.

Tülay, is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

For teachers in who are interested in doing collaborative projects, I would recommend they have a look at Comenius

What’s your favorite quotation about being a teacher?

I am not sure where this idea came from originally, but this is true:

Each teacher means a different method so there are as many methods as there are teachers in the world.