How Do You Build Cultural Bridges In Education?
Welcome to our continuing thought-leadership series with 51Talk. Today, we chat with Isaac Johnson-Tyas, who recently came on board to support 51Talk teachers. He also does a lot of work behind the scenes. His role is invaluable as he helps to build a bridge between teacher communication, recognition, and socialization, while helping the operations team make informed decisions. His work supports two cultures.
Isaac, please tell me about yourself, your education background and what you were doing before you started working at 51Talk.
My name is Isaac Johnson-Tyas, I have been working in the education industry since 2008 in Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China. I have always had a passion for Edtech and helping organizations succeed. The key to organizational success is, and has always been, with the people involved. While I worked in Saudi Arabia, the greatest strength that I had was to bring all perspectives to the table, so that we could make better decisions as a result of having more information.
Isaac, please tell me about your official role at 51Talk. What is your job title and what exactly do you do for the company?
My official role at 51Talk is “Teacher Engagement and Operations Manager.” I’m pretty sure someone just translated that title because to me, those are two completely different jobs. I’m currently building-up teacher engagement at 51Talk through a focus on teacher communication, recognition, and socialization. I’m also working with the Operations teams to help update the 51Talk processes by listening to all stakeholders and then supporting informed decisions.
Why do you think this position is critical to the success of the company?
Improving teachers’ experiences is the only way to inspire retention and maintain high quality teachers. High quality teachers will teach high quality lessons which will then improve student retention rates. The whole reason why were are all here is to provide a quality learning experience for students, and we can’t do that without quality teachers.
Looking at balance and communication, how are you helping to build a bridge between American educators and China administrators?
The first step in building a bridge is to help both sides realize that,
The geographical distance poses the challenge which allows assumptions, on both sides, to run wild at times. At the end of the day, whether you’re in America, China, or the Philippines, our shared goal should be student learning. As long as we can rationalize our decisions to be in the best interests of students learning, then I think we can always be united with that essential common goal.
You have a critical role to play, what has been your biggest achievement so far?
I’m not here to steal the spotlight or change everything overnight. My biggest achievement is to consistently make small improvements, mostly behind the scenes, and to improve the experiences of as many teachers and colleagues as possible.
What has been your largest challenge and how have you overcome it?
So far, my largest challenge has been legacy. Communication between everyone has the greatest room for improvement so far. I’ve been encouraging and participating in conversations with teachers, tech teams, trainers, department heads, developers, and everyone else at 51Talk. Only when we listen to others and ask them questions can we more fully begin to understand their (valuable) perspective. Believe me, I don’t have all the answers; but I’m not afraid to ask questions and learn more everyday.
Isaac, please tell me what an average day is like for you.
An average day for me begins at 6:00 am with a morning jog, a quick breakfast, and then two hours of working on work-related projects. From 10:00am-6:00pm, I’ll attend meetings, check email, and continue working on existing and new projects. What makes every day memorable for me is the people around me. Keeping work fun and enthusiastic is the only way to enjoy every hour of every day.
Some examples of this are sharing random foods with as many people as possible (South African Biltong), walking up to the most miserable person within view and paying them an authentic compliment, such as, “Your shoes look awesome! How do you keep them looking so new?” Saying random things all day to see if people are just nodding their heads or if they are actually listening to you-“I heard that the ‘subway’ in Beijing was actually the first example of copyright infringement in China from the Subway restaurant, did you hear that?”
What is your favorite part of your job and why?
My favorite part of my job is working with talented people. I love talking to teachers and hearing about their experiences; whether good or bad, feedback is essential for organizations to function.
Finally, any new announcements you’d like to share with us?
The age of teacher engagement is upon us! We have some great new engagement projects that we’re going to be rolling-out soon involving communication, recognition, and socialization. But to really keep things fun and enthusiastic, we’d love to hear your ideas for new fun projects too! As long as you can clearly connect your project to improved student learning, it will definitely be considered!
What’s on the horizon for 51Talk as we approach 2018?
As we approach 2018, 51Talk will continue to be the market leader in online education in China and beyond!