The Importance of the Home-School Connection in International Schools

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Written by Aya Ninomiya

Aya is an occupational therapy consultant for globally mobile families with special needs kids. Is your child set up for success at their international school? Are you feeling overwhelmed to rebuild a system of support in a new location? Aya is the problem solver and lifestyle coordinator you are not going to want to let go of! Find out more on her homepage: 

There was a time when roles and responsibilities between parents and teachers were roughly defined. Parents looked after their kids’ emotional development and teachers taught to improve literacy.

This separation is coming to an end, especially at international schools. Teachers and parents have had to form a tighter safety net to provide students with a safe place to learn while being on the move. More schools took on the responsibility that comes with being the child’s second home. Increased parent participation in a child’s learning showed evidence for improved school experiences. Teachers and parents are shifting towards embracing the whole child. 

Bringing together 2 of their most important worlds

For globally mobile children, their family is the common thread that strings together all of the moving and international experiences. And school communities, despite the frequent changes, are the common ground in these moves that offer a safe space for the children outside of the home.

When parents and teachers welcome each other to celebrate wins and share worries, it helps bring the child’s 2 significant worlds together. The stronger the bond between teachers and families, the more protected and secure children feel. When they see their teachers and parents come together as a caring team, it nurtures their self-esteem. 

Their 2 worlds come together to form a wider safety net of trusted adults allowing them to feel safe to freely learn and play — just as kids should. The most thriving kids have teachers and parents that facilitate their learning towards shared goals. 

This sustainable bond requires consistent and open communication. And it starts before the first day of school.

Support your child by sharing their family life

At the beginning of a fresh school year, your kiddo (especially your shy little human) will need that extra love from home to settle in their new classroom. It’s about setting them up for success.

For younger children, it’s important for your child to learn and share about your home and family life. You may also share recent changes your family is going through. For example, you can mention how your child is behaving differently following a death of a relative in your home country, a newborn sibling, a career change that requires one parent to travel more, etc. Throughout the year, you might communicate with the teacher to ask if it’s okay to share traditions and culture. 

There is both more planning and communication required on your part for younger children, but this is the type of support that gives an opportunity for children to share about themselves. When students get older, it’s common for international school students to discuss music, food, politics, events that are happening in their own home culture. This bridging support for the kids to experience home-school connection builds confidence and identity.

Allow your children to bring their home to school. 

Putting together a holiday photo album could be a great end-of-break family activity that blends home and school experiences. Sharing something from home might mean the teacher can pull your child’s home learning into the classroom. That trip your family took to see the pyramids could be what makes the next history lesson come alive for the whole class!

Be an active adult learner in the kids’ classroom.

Allow your child to bring their school back home. I’m not talking about assignments, instruments, or sports equipment. Some kids come home and naturally start talking about the most impressionable parts of their school day. But more often than not, you feel like you’re prying information out of them. Maybe even with a snack as a bribe!

By taking an interest and triggering conversations about lessons, projects, school events, or friend updates, you open up the home for extended learning. I’m not suggesting setting up a science lab in the kitchen or having them read a book all evening, but rather start the conversations that help you get to know your whole child.

This exercise to get your child to talk about their day is more like a muscle — take advantage of the cheat sheet from your teacher about what’s being covered in lessons this week! If you don’t receive a weekly overview, look closely at what your child is bringing home in their folders or backpacks. 

In the beginning, you will have to drop hints to trigger their memory. Being playful with it helps — maybe going for a nature walk to explore living and non-living things. Or listening to an episode of Planet Money with your teenager. You’d be surprised to learn how much your kiddo can teach you! By bringing school learning home, you can support him make meaning out of what he’s learning at school. In addition, being able to share quick remarks on what you learned from your child about last week’s lesson will make the teacher’s heart smile. And that’s a winning bond your child will see on a daily basis. 

Befriend specialists and bring them on, too.

For a child with special needs, it’s even more vital for their teaching & support team to communicate effectively. It’s most important to identify your points of contact at school. This may be the homeroom teacher and learning support coordinator or both. The closer the team is, the better the support continues seamlessly. The smoother the transition, the quicker the child can get on with familiarizing himself with new school routines and social circles. 

Read more about Teletherapy in International Schools for how mobile therapists can support you in building your partnership with the teacher. 

Risks of growing up in 2 separate worlds.

When children see their trusted adults working together, it reassures their security and safety. Even when there’s instability in one world, the other could continue providing that safe place for them. But with a gap in their worlds, it’s confusing to make sense of how to belong. And with a widening gap, the misunderstanding and mistrust could be the beginning of your child going from thriving to learning to just surviving. Strong family-teacher partnerships build a solid foundation for kids to freely and playfully learn. A weak partnership leaves gaps for kids to fall through and an unreliable net. 

For globally mobile children, it’s especially important that there is trust built between the adults they spend time with. In a lifestyle where their physical environment is constantly changing, these children aren’t exposed to regularly observing and experiencing positive family relationships and friendships as they might be living in one location. There is an expectation for the international school community to provide some of the security that would come with having extended family around. 

So, it’s our duty as adults in the globally mobile communities to provide children the psychological, emotional, and intellectual security to flourish. Otherwise, we risk presenting our world full of mistrust and insecurities. And in that kind of world, there is no learning or thriving happening. 

Reset every year with a new teaching team.

Your child is not going to be blessed with that amazing teacher they found comfort in every year. It’s just unrealistic. But in the spirit of education, there’s always this question:  What can you learn from this? I learn heaps about different sides of kids that they don’t show at school from parents every year, throughout the year. Family traditions that I’d love to take home. And quite frankly, a lot about myself. 

Every year, you must reset to build and strive for that growing relationship. It takes mutual respect, the ability to listen, collaboration, and curiosity from families and teachers to learn about the whole child. 

Schedule check-in and follow-up conversations before the school year starts.

First, check the school calendar and communication guidelines for opportunities to connect with the school. This could be conferences, events, open houses, and/or home visits, or folders of school work, email, app messengers, and newsletters. Note anything that the school has weaved into their calendar and make sure you and your partner both do your absolute best to show up for your kids.

Then decide when it’s most beneficial to check in with the teacher. Is it 2-3 weeks after returning from long school breaks? Or mid-term? There’s always a sweet sense of care that teachers appreciate when parents check-in to see how their child is settling back into a routine, especially after the summer. If there’s a gap between your child’s performance and class expectations, it’s nice to put in extra support from home with reminders to set the tone for the year. Let them know that you can put in more home effort at the beginning and then wean off. Set the child up for success because it takes longer to turn it around after failure.

Regular appointments are key but teachers also appreciate random acts of kindness. Who doesn’t?! Maybe your child came home talking about a cool science fact and wants to read a book about it so you buy it for them. Or at school, they shared that they started reading a new book which also happened to be their mother/father’s favorite book when they were younger. There’s no need for a long lengthy note of gratitude. But a short sweet reminder that their students are continuing their learning at home and that their lessons are affecting their home life too is music to a teacher’s ears. There is nothing more delightful knowing that students are taking home lessons. 

It’s these little reminders of home-school connection that bring trusted adults together for a child to feel that much more secure.

How’s your relationship with your child’s teacher?

What can you do differently to begin embracing your whole child?

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