Sokly & Theany go to Thailand!

By Zoe Eleftheriou

Sharing about our organisation’s achievements and what is yet to be achieved fills our team with excitement and motivation to keep working to provide quality education, nutritional support and healthcare to more than 200 impoverished Cambodian children from more than 100 families. 

For those of you familiar with our past blog posts or social media, you may know by now that our team is always keen to share our programs’ positive impacts on our beneficiaries. That said, we rarely have the chance to delve properly into all the behind-the-scenes work that our team does.

For the last 3 years, with a strong focus on local leadership, our Cambodian team have been in the depths of curriculum development for all our programs, our team have been busy writing frameworks and lesson plans for all our educational programs, with our English Classes being the largest project of all.

Thousands of hours of work have been put into this project already, and as a result our entire team have witnessed successful learning outcomes in our students, a rise in school attendance and progress in our teacher’s pedagogy. By the time you finish reading this blog, you’ll understand the beginnings of our educational curriculum system, the opportunities our local team had access to, and an overview of REACH’s future when this project is complete.

Teacher Srey Orn Explaining the Lesson

Teacher Srey Orn explaining the lesson.

Building a structured curriculum has allowed each of our teachers to have organised daily lesson plans and a clear framework so that they understand REACH’s approach to teaching, each programs goals so that they can continually identify and report back on the areas of improvement.

Our curriculum development journey started in September 2021 after being mandated to close our doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this difficult period, our education team decided to take this challenge and convert it into an opportunity, spending their time without students, to properly plan and develop our English and Ethics framework for the years ahead.

Even though borders were closed, we were lucky to have the help and guidance of an international volunteer who worked alongside our local team to create engaging lesson plans, activities and worksheets for our teachers. Her experience as a teacher and creative ideas helped our team to understand the benefits of being interactive inside the classroom.

Team Correcting Home Work PacksOur team correcting the homework packs during the two years of pandemic in our Cambodian children’s charity.

From there, our team’s entire focus was on the Let’s Go framework, a popular curriculum used by many international schools and At the same time, our local team also worked on developing the Ethics lesson plans by building on the foundational classes taught in public-school curriculum as well as introducing other soft-skills that they felt were important to address from a young age relating to safety and wellbeing.

After 19 months of closure, and much teamwork and effort, on the 23rd of October 2021 the government authorised the re-opening of schools, although only for a limited number of students.  Although we were eager to welcome all our 200+ students to the classroom, we were forced to reduce our numbers, and the silver lining was that having a pilot semester at half capacity allowed our Education team to test the first level of lesson plans and activities created for our English Classes.

During this 6-month period of reduced class sizes, our teachers assessed the effectiveness of our lesson plans based on our student’s performance and school engagement, and quickly saw that our kids absolutely loved learning through play. 

The Cambodian education system largely follows rote learning practices with very little to no activity-based learning, at public school they sit in overcrowded classes and are told to repeat what is written on the board…but at REACH, for the first time ever, they were studying with toys, flashcards and games.

Our classrooms were loud, fun and with more than 32 unique activities built into the 130 hour Level 1 course, the team had a great supply of creative resources to support their teaching.

During Our Pilot SemesterDuring our pilot semester, our team were able to welcome only half of our student body.

Through this 6-month pilot, our Senior Education team learned the importance of not only creating a quality curriculum, but also that ensuring the appropriate training was in place for every teacher to learn our approach was paramount.

By this stage, our international volunteer and local teachers had developed approximately 10% of the supporting resources, but classes were back on, and their time to produce new materials was limited.

And so, in December 2021, a new job opportunity was born within the organisation and we began internal recruitment for a “Curriculum Developer”.

The moment the new position opened, 2 of our local team members ‘Theany’ and ‘Sokly’, originally hired as English teachers, showed a strong interest in the role, and were both very capable of developing creative and detailed lesson plans.  And so, they were both promoted to having additional responsibilities as part-time English teachers and Curriculum Developers.

Teacher Sokly using Let's Go For Students Teacher Sokly using Let’s Go resources to help the REACH students understand the lesson.

To further expand upon the Let’s Go Activity Book and Teachers Book, our new curriculum developers were tasked with creating the following content for each English Level at REACH:

  • 1 x Pacing Guide & Activity Planner
  • 120 x 65 minute Lesson plans for the 6-month course
  • 197 x additional worksheets
  • 716 x accompanying audio clips
  • All in-house training videos on how to carry out each activity (recorded by the teachers for the teachers)
  • 1 x Tub with all resources (flash, cards, toys etc.)

With 6 levels to create, it was no small task, but both women took on the role with the utmost determination to do their best for our kids.

Upon the commencement of their new roles, Sokly and Theany began working alongside our Program Developer and Senior Education team to adapt, modify and improve our initial Let’s Go lesson plans.

New English Curriculum Developer SoklyOur new Curriculum Developer, Sokly, working on creating lesson plans for our English curriculum.

After re-adapting our curriculum for Let’s Go 1, the team was half way through Let’s Go Level 2 when our Founder and Program Director, contacted Salisa Language School (SLS) a professional TEFL training school located Thailand.  In 2017, the Founder of SLS Thailand ‘Paul Lambert’ had ridden 800km across Thailand with Emily, and with 9 years of experience teaching intensive TEFL courses in SE Asia, to ensure what was being produced was of an excellent standard, we wanted to get his feedback on our initial resources.

As a first step, we sent across the Let’s Go Level 1 curriculum our team had worked on for the past 6 months. We received direct feedback from SLS: “Your course core material is excellent, and the kids will learn from this. We suggest you take a look at the 3P’s lesson planning method, which is most often included in TESOL or TEFL training.” 

With the amount of hours being poured into the project, it was decided that SLS’s ongoing feedback on all materials would be a great way to ensure professional and effective content was being produced.

Students Reading English BookIt fills us with great excitement to see our students reading in English and engaging in their education.

Through subsequent Zoom meetings with the SLS team, our curriculum developers commenced fortnightly online classes with their certified trainer, Eve, with a specific focus on LP production following the 3P format.  To ensure that the four core skills were being properly covered (Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing), their trainer also reviewed and gave regular feedback on their work. In between these online classes, our dedicated team pushed forward creating the lesson plan for Let’s Go 3, a curriculum that was needed in time for our students in December 2022.  

Whilst our curriculum developers were busy completing their online training with SLS, Paul proposed an exciting opportunity to REACH, offering to host our team in Thailand to learn directly on site. Shortly after, the team were offered the chance to apply for a scholarship to travel to Thailand for 1 month and visit SLS Training Centre to study a 120-hour intensive TESOL course.

After applying for the scholarship and understanding the expectations required for partaking in this course, Sokly and Theany expressed their interest in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, highlighting their commitment to REACH and the ability to see the fruition of their hard work in the development of our children. 

Sokly and Theany Receiving Passport“I was looking forward to receiving my passport. When we got it, we were so excited to see our pictures and feel the passport.”-Sokly

For thousands of Cambodians, owning a passport and leaving the country might never become a reality, so when both of our local team members were selected to travel to Thailand, their excitement couldn’t be put into words. Proving the opportunity for both Sokly and Theany to travel to their neighbouring country was only possible thanks to the immense generosity of SLS Training Centre by giving REACH 1 free course and 1 other at 50% off. With this, our organisation could fund the rest of the scholarship, including accommodation at a serviced apartment, the production of their passports, food expenses, overland travel and their flight back home.

Here’s what Sokly had to say about the start of their trip….

“On the 5th of February, we travelled to Thailand. I had prepared my suitcase a week before. Every day I checked all the stuff, took them out and put it back in at least once a day. The night before going to Thailand, I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited. We travelled to Thailand in a private taxi from Siem Reap to the border and from the border to Pattaya, Thailand.

We needed to check in to get a stamp for our passports. I was worried, excited and scared because I didn’t know what I should do, what kind of questions they would ask me and what I should answer. There were a lot of questions loading in my mind. After we checked in, we arrived at the Thailand border. I felt amazing when I stepped on another country’s land.

Thailand is a stunning country, and I could not wait to see our apartment and school. At about 5 o’clock in the evening, we finally arrived. I was excited to see the room and ready to explore the city. We were very lucky to have Eve, our curriculum mentor. She toured us around the city and recommended us good places to shop, relax, eat food, and much more. We had a great day with her.”

Sokly &Theany at SLS Training Centre in PattayaSokly and Theany at the front gate of SLS Training Centre in Pattaya, Thailand.

Now that the curriculum developers were settled in their accommodation and knew the way to school (a 1.5km walk from their apartment), they were eager to meet their classmates and course teacher.

Their other 2 classmates were from Portugal and Sweden, making up a tightknit class of 4 people in the TESOL course. Sokly and Theany soon realised that the English accent of the teacher and even their classmates was difficult for them to follow. Their discomfort was compounded by homesickness, making the first week in Thailand challenging for them. 

Finally, at the end of the first week of class, our curriculum developers accepted the challenge with a positive attitude. They rapidly got used to the course rhythm and English accents, so their perception transformed into commitment and determination.

From the 6th of February to the 4th of March, Sokly and Theany learned:

  • New skills and strategies to implement inside the classroom
  • How to deal with a student’s challenging behaviours
  • Break down grammar for a better understatement of the class
  • The 3P’s format
  • I.S.S.S method
  • Introducing new vocabulary
  • Effective teaching techniques
  • Classroom management

Sokly Presenting her HomeworkSokly presenting her homework on creating a presentation. Her topic? REACH!

In the second week of training, on top of their regular 8 hours of lessons each day, Theany and Sokly were also tasked with the challenge of preparing lesson plans and other resources in anticipation of teaching 6 classrooms of all different ages, levels and abilities for 2 days at an international school the following week.

That weekend, the girls had a pleasant surprise as Emily, our Founder and Program Director, decided to join Sokly and Theany for the weekend and take them out to experience Pattaya.

On the third week of their course, our Curriculum Developers’ skills and newly learned knowledge were put on trial by following the assignment of teaching 6 different classes on different English levels.

This intensive task was an excellent challenge to our team members as every level had different age gaps, so they had to create individual lesson plans, board plans, flashcards and worksheets for each class, all of this while having an SLS mentor observing and taking notes for future feedback. When their performance results were published, everyone at REACH was extremely proud since both of our teachers had outstanding reviews.

Theany Teaching her ClassTheany teaching one of her classrooms as part of their final task.

After successfully finishing their final exams and discovering more about Pattaya, Sokly and Theany returned to REACH, eager to implement all their new knowledge into our curriculum.

It’s been a month and a half since their return, and with the support of international volunteers, our team has completed 439 lesson plans with 281 to go. This is solely the Let’s Go framework (Levels 1 – 6) which will cover 3 full years of learning at REACH, following this, there will then be the need for a additional framework to teach intermediate classes too.

Since returning, along with the continued development of lesson plans, they have shared some of the classroom management skills to our other teachers, focusing on how to deal with students’ challenging behaviours. Having learned so much in their time away, both Theany and Sokly are passionate about hosting more peer-to-peer training sessions with the rest of the team and plan to share everything they learned in the course.

Teachers Follow Structured CurriculumOur team of teachers have a structured curriculum to follow.

The support given to our team by SLS, has provided our NGO with an enormous advantage as our Curriculum Developers are far better prepared to support the development of each program and are more able to produce optimal resources and training materials for our teaching teams.

Having a clear structure for how English classes are taught at REACH has encouraged our team to further develop the lesson plans of every educational program. This means that now, our Role Models are learning from more structured Lesson Plans in the Garden and Repair Shop classes, and although there is a long way to go until every program is completely developed, the path looks promising.

Our Curriculum Developers are in high demand, when they’re not working on the English Lesson Plans, they are mentoring other members of the team in Lesson Plan development.

The REACH team is positive that these resources that have been made with compassion and care, and that these sets will be used to benefit future Cambodian generations to help them break the cycle of poverty.

Reach Children From Yellow ClassroomREACH children from Yellow Classroom.

Theany and Sokly’s Highlights

Not everything was hard work for our girls in Thailand, and we’d love to share with you some of their highlights while abroad.

In their free time, Theany and Sokly discovered and enjoyed Thai culture. Being the first time, our Curriculum Developers left their country and were far from home, the first week was full of uncertainty and worry. Feeling homesick and a bit unsure about going out on their own to the streets of a new city was a big challenge for them, but once their nerves calmed and they acknowledged how capable they were, Sokly and Theany began to enjoy this new experience.

Theany & Sokly Enjoying  BarbequeTheany and Sokly enjoying a delicious Thai barbeque.

SLS is located in Pattaya, a city located in the eastern gulf of the country. Pattaya has beautiful beaches, green landscape, vibrant markets and delicious food.

As mentioned before, Emily visited our unstoppable duo on a weekend full of fun. Together they visited the night markets, having a seafood barbecue and Thai delicacies feast. The next day, after Theany and Sokly finished their homework, Emily took them to a coffee shop with fluffy chinchillas. They also found a place to play fun board games; our team had a night full of laughter! 

The last day Emily was there, the REACH group had a lovely afternoon watching the sunset from the seashore and taking lots of photos.

Being able to spend time with Emily encouraged the girls to shake some of their nerves and motivated them to discover more of Pattaya. After she left, the girls approached their classmates to organise a visit to the neighbouring island, they caught a ferry together and travelled to Koh Larn having a wonderful time and, more importantly, got to enjoy more time outside the classroom.

Theany & Sokly With Their ClassmatesTheany and Sokly with their 2 other classmates.

On the last two days of their trip, our international team member Zoe kindly flew over to join them to share the celebrations.  Zoe is a huge supporter of the project and the team, and wanted to ensure that their final days in Thailand would be ones to remember!

After visiting the girls, Zoe said: “I am super proud of both Sokly and Theany for pushing through the challenges and really pushing themselves through the obstacles. Being able to have two wonderful tour guides show me around their favourite places for the past month was a real treat for me.”

International team member Zoe visiting our local team members on their final days in Thailand.

Together with Zoe, on their final Sunday Morning, the three team members took a bus to Bangkok, having one last afternoon in Thailand’s capital before their flight back to Cambodia. After discussing what was the best way to enjoy their remaining time, they decided to explore Lumphini park, since it had lots of free activities and beautiful spots to take a rest and enjoy nature.

One of the free activities was lake paddling in a giant swan. There were “swan” races, lots of laughter and tons of selfies. After that, the girls went for a final walk around the park to take more pictures and be amazed about the giant lizards living there.

Team Having Fun at Lumpini ParkOur amazing team having fun at Lumpini Park.

The final highlight was their first time on a plane and there was no doubt that they were nervous.

Here’s what Sokly had to say…“The last interesting point was experience on the plane; it was so amazing. It seems like I am flying to the moon. I never took the plane before; it was my first time…There were a lot of questions loading in my mind. One thing I told myself was to follow the person in front of me and copy their actions.”

Moments before catching their first flight!

These professional and personal growth opportunities are immensely beneficial to our local team as it’s very rare in Cambodia to find workplaces that provide such benefits as scholarships, courses or workshops while working.

 As an organisation that pursues our team’s improvement, we strongly believe that new-found skills will help our programs to run at their best capacity for the benefit of our students. On the other hand, personal growth and new experiences will ensure our team feels happy and comfortable at REACH, which in the long run, is the best investment for our community.

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