Belonging, Connections and Growth: Reflections on an Exchange | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
Carla March Ferrer and Sanum Khan are educators at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School, in Aylesbury, U.K.

Belonging, Connections and Growth: Reflections on an Exchange

Two teachers share how a school exchange trip had a lasting impact on staff and students alike, and how Facing History UK helped to make it happen.

Assistant Headteacher at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School, and longstanding teacher leader in the Facing History network, Sanum Khan was recently invited to supervise an exchange trip to Murcia, Spain, with her school’s Spanish department. It was a chance meeting in the corridor that led to her attending the exchange, but it ended with lasting change for all. Here, Sanum discusses with Carla March Ferrer, Head of Spanish, the deeply impactful experience for the students and colleagues involved and how Facing History UK helped make this happen. 

Sanum: What were your hopes for the students and how do they compare to the actual outcomes?

Carla: I hoped the students would feel proud of themselves for stepping out of their comfort zone, that many of them would improve their Spanish noticeably and that some students would make long-lasting friendships. I wanted our students to travel with a true purpose - one that goes beyond the search for beaches and good weather. It was important to me that students saw that their way of living was not the only ‘normal’ and that their way of seeing things - routines, relationships with parents, school life - was not the default way the world does things. I knew they would sometimes feel ‘othered’ but also knew that, in feeling a little like this, they would grow immensely. 

I particularly enjoyed being able to show them my country, build their confidence in their linguistic skills as well as empower them as young citizens. 

I think these objectives were achieved quite well as both parents and students confirmed that in spite of their initial hesitation, they highly enjoyed the experience. Not all of them would do it again, and that is fine, but all of them felt that the experience was well-worth it, and some of them felt that they had made long-lasting friendships. With regards to their language skills, I cannot yet speak about their actual GCSEs and A Levels, but to give you an idea, some students who attended the exchange have managed to get +2 grades between the November and the March mocks. 

Something I had not planned for but did work well was having mixed year groups (years 10-12). Students who had never spoken to one another before were now greeting each other with warmth every morning.  A few moments stand out in particular. One was a student who said “if his Spanish is that good now, mine could be that good in a year too!” Students also spoke with us more openly and modelled that so well for younger peers. One student sprained his ankle but, as I recall it, the only thing he wanted to talk about was how many peers were messaging him to see how he was doing. And we now have 16 of our 50 GCSE students opting for A Level Spanish - a huge achievement! 

Sanum: How do you think these outcomes were achieved? 

Carla: It’s a combination of factors. Certainly, I was clear with all involved that this would be a challenging exchange that would push people outside their comfort zones. The students and families came with open minds and a thirst for an adventure. They were also emotionally invested in their journey and eager to have meaningful conversations and reflect throughout. I was very lucky to share the trip with you because you came with the same openness and willingness to grow. We managed to model what we wanted the students to do. We didn’t plan for that, but I’m grateful it happened so naturally. Oh, and lots of paperwork and planning! 

When the students and staff of Jose Planes came to visit us in the UK, we did a Facing History and Ourselves  lesson with them. Could you outline what we did and why?  

Carla:  First, I want to point out that it was a pleasure to see you in action preparing and teaching a Facing History lesson! Even reluctant students shared and reflected by the end of the session and that was great to see. Team-teaching the lesson empowered me as a language teacher to carry on my journey to challenge students’ views and it motivated me to revise my pedagogy. 

As colleagues, we talked lots about identity and belonging when we were in Spain. We hadn’t planned for this for our students and said that, in future, we should make time for this. We decided to do that for the Spanish students when they returned to us, though.

The Bear That Wasn’t

In this video adaptation of Frank Tashlin's children's book, a bear is forced to navigate society's perception of who he is.

The aim of our Facing History lesson was for students to see this trip as a cultural exchange where their own sense of identity and belonging could grow. 

We started with names and what our names tell others about us, reflecting on the Japanese Proverb that “Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names”. We explored the view that context, culture, language and histories can impact the extent to which names can help or hinder us. We used The Bear that Wasn’t to develop this conversation. 

It was important that we, as teachers, modelled what we wanted to see from the students and so we shared our own experiences with our names. That was really powerful because they could see that we all wanted to be part of this exchange together.

Human Rights Day Assembly

This assembly guides KS3 and KS4 students to consider the importance of human rights and will deepen their understanding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, how it came into existence and some of the human rights it covers. Students will have an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas about why human rights matter using a case study of the Hillsborough Disaster.

We used Facing History’s Human Rights Day Assembly for a large part of the lesson. We grounded it in what our identity as a school was - one that believes in doing the right thing and standing up for just causes. It was important to us that students could access the content, so we used team-teaching to support with translation where necessary, but also important that they felt fully prepared for a cultural exchange as well as an exchange of locations.

Actively plan for the outcomes you want to see - such as challenging stereotypes and developing exposure to diverse thoughts and experiences.
— Carla March Ferrer

My Honest Poem

Rudy Francisco reflects on his identity in his spoken-word poem "My Honest Poem."

Sanum: How did starting the week with this lesson help for the rest of the exchange? 

Carla: It was important to start the week with this so that students went ahead with the rest of the week fully prepared and focussed on our intended outcomes for them. Of course, it was difficult to assess exactly how much of our lesson had had an impact as we didn’t know the students well and having two teachers teaching in two different languages can feel overwhelming. However, almost all students produced a My Honest Poem at the end and many read theirs aloud to the group - including members from their own school and ours. 

A common theme was that they felt different in the UK and how language and culture separates them from their British peers. But they also shared how being a human being and wanting to be friends unified all. This is one of my favourite poems: 

When you take off your wings

And your fly from your nest

You realise the difficulty

To adjust to a new place

Judging is easy

When they see you

When they hear you

When they feel you

Go from being ‘normal’

To be the exception

Go from being a stranger

To be the centre of attention

They will see you as a stranger

They will look at you weird

They will want to see you well

But not better than them

You will feel weak



You will feel alone and inferior to “the other”

That’s why you never have to forget

Your own identity

Your personality


Martina Raigal Muñoz


Sanum: We’ve discussed before the impact on the staff involved. Could you outline what you think this was and why you think this happened? 

Carla: Giving up personal time to support trips is a big ask. I wanted to offer an enriching experience for the person who came with me and I wanted them to enjoy Spain beyond the stereotypes and preconceived ideas that they might have had. What are your thoughts about this? 

Sanum: It was certainly enriching! I had never visited Spain but am interested in history and culture and have wanted to see the Alhambra for a long time. There’s something about actually experiencing a culture - being immersed in it - that enriches in a way that reading books just can’t. We learnt lots about one another. Not just about how much you like sushi and how much I like coffee, but also about how our stories have led us to where we are now and why our histories and heritage are such an integral part of who we are. We also developed meaningful relationships with our colleagues in Spain over sharing meals, watching an intimate flamenco show and being hosted with such love. I am truly grateful to you for inviting me along. 

Sanum: Finally, what advice would you give to colleagues considering exchange trips? 

Carla: It is time consuming and a mildly terrifying experience but it is worth it. Actively plan for the outcomes you want to see - such as challenging stereotypes and developing exposure to diverse thoughts and experiences. For example, we wanted students to understand that, for centuries, Spain was a melting pot of different cultures and a very diverse country. So, we asked the school in Murcia to plan a trip to the Alhambra. We also took a range of different year groups and this was the best accidental success of the trip! Finally, allow yourself to be vulnerable at times. Experiences like these are for students and staff alike; don’t be shy about making the most of it yourself.