Sonelja began her teaching career in South Africa and worked there until 2017; she then moved to China to teach Year 12 students. Due to the pandemic, she taught her students remotely from South Africa, often starting classes at 2 a.m. due to the time difference. Balancing this schedule and her daughter starting school became a challenge, despite teaching motivated international students. She yearned for a more balanced lifestyle, and as her career in China progressed with a promotion to Head of Department (HOD), she longed to return to a physical classroom and engage with students. Two years later, an opportunity to teach in Brunei emerged, and she immediately seized it.
In April 2022, Sonelja and her family arrived in Brunei. Sonelja experienced the true essence of Brunei when CfBT assigned her to a school in the water village. Despite initial nervousness about the uncertainties, she embraced the uniqueness of her situation. To her surprise, her experience was far better than she had imagined.
Little did she know that her prior experience teaching Year 12 students would not fully prepare her for teaching lower secondary students, who required more support. Communication challenges arose due to cultural differences and language barriers, leading her to manage behaviours in unexpected ways. Her intention was always to help her students, but she struggled with how to do so.
She candidly admitted,
“I always thought that behaviour is something that you work around and not something that you can change.”
However, this mindset underwent a remarkable transformation after she participated in a coaching programme with Adilla, her EDM. Adilla’s coaching involved asking the right questions to train Sonelja’s thinking and arrive at the right mindset. Adilla guided her to uncover the root causes of certain behaviour issues in the classroom. This process motivated Sonelja to find the right tools to manage behaviour effectively.
Sonelja also adopted the use of a behaviour chart that she learned about in one of her PD sessions, and which has proven highly effective. She enthusiastically remarked, “This works like a charm!” Moreover, her changed mindset influenced how she managed behaviour in her classroom. She came to believe that having kind yet firm conversations with her students was the key to connecting with them. Although this change took time, she persisted, realising that her students understood more than they expressed and simply needed love and encouragement.
Adilla also helped Sonelja overcome challenges related to tasks such as lesson planning and implementing her ideas in class to achieve her TPA targets. With the right mindset, Sonelja became more adaptable.
In addition to the coaching programme, Sonelja credited her CfBT colleagues with inspiring her to excel in the classroom. She actively sought support from them, regularly visiting other teachers and observing their teaching. Her advice was:
“Be specific about what you’re trying to work on, define your goals, and talk with other teachers.”
Sonelja exemplifies the value of collaboration and accountability, actively seeking support from Adilla and her fellow CfBT teachers. After being coached, Sonelja feels that this has been the most transformative experience of her career. She also observed a significant improvement in discipline at her school, which she attributes to the ongoing support they receive.
“The coaching helped so much that it changed my initial thought about teaching in Brunei – I now love teaching in Brunei,” Sonelja declared.
Her aspiration is simple: she aims to be the best teacher she can be for her students. Finally, when asked if she could describe what she does in a sentence, she said:
“I teach students so that they can learn”
Sonelja’s story serves as a reminder that success does not always come with accolades but rather through a genuine commitment to making a positive impact on students and making the most of the opportunities at hand.
Moving far from home to start a new life and career is a big step. That’s why we have a dedicated team to support you throughout your time in Brunei! CfBT also offers generous benefits. You may find out more on our website careers.cfbt.org