Communicating with schools
International schools aim to involve parents as much as possible in their child’s education. We look at how technology and effective communication can strengthen your ties with the school community.
Fortunately for families, it’s easier than ever to be involved in all aspects of your child’s schooling; there have never been more ways of communicating with a school than there are now. Gone are the days when an important letter could only make it home via the ‘pupil post’, with the result that notices arrived battered and shredded, if at all. And the logistics of arranging a face-to-face meeting have become simpler to arrange, and therefore are a much more frequent occurrence. Studies have shown that parental involvement is crucial to children's success at school and schools are making it their business to foster this involvement in every way possible.
Technology has increasingly played a key role in bridging the gap between parents and students in the past few years. Schools have relished the opportunity to open up effective channels of communication, and the flexibility of such technology is particularly relevant in an international setting.
"...studies have shown that parental involvement is crucial to children's success at school..."
Whether your child is a day pupil or a boarder, you will feel better informed about what your child has been up to at school, and what events are on the horizon, than previous generations of parents. The most frequent method used by schools to keep families up to date is a weekly e-shot or e-newsletter. This usually arrives in both parents’ inboxes in a digestible, straightforward format which highlights students’ achievements and lets parents know if there are any changes in routine for the coming week.
And for parents who wish to get in touch with a school, email makes the process more accurate (you can be sure your enquiry is reaching the right person), rapid (schools usually pride themselves on providing a quick response) and unobtrusive (you can feel sure your message will be read as soon as possible but won’t disrupt the school day).
At schools like the British International School, Phuket (BISP), administrators don’t miss a single opportunity to reach out to parents and open channels of communication. Naturally, there’s the school website which contains up-to-date information, and BISP has a social media presence in the form of a blog, a Facebook page which has attracted 17,000 followers, and an Instagram account where photos of life at the school can be enjoyed. But BISP has really embraced the twenty-first century with its own app which was launched this academic year. The app can be downloaded onto Apple or android devices and quickly connects parents to the intranet, calendar or email contacts.
BISP’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Simon Ostheimer, explains: “Having launched with simple functionality, such as links to the blog and Facebook pages, we've continued to improve the app, which now includes an 'Absent Note' that allows parents to notify the school instantly if their child will be absent from school.
"...we are always looking for ways we can utilise technology to improve not only our communication with parents, but their overall relationship with the school..."
"Over the next year we are planning to add many new functions to the BISP app, but what's more important is that we are always looking for ways we can utilise technology to improve not only our communication with parents, but their overall relationship with the school, and feeling that we are all part of one, tight-knit, familial community."
Like many schools, BISP also has a YouTube channel for broadcasting short films shot, produced and directed in-house. For prospective parents, the opportunity to see such films can give an invaluable insight into how a school is run. When a child joins a new school, both the child and their parents are usually introduced to the school’s intranet. Parents will find important resources about the school and its policies, as well as reports for their children, and students themselves are increasingly using the intranet to keep track of, complete, and submit their homework.
Logging on and joining in
Working to make the most of technology, BISP also has what it calls an ‘i Learn’ portal which supports ‘parenting in a digital age’, guiding parents in helping their children use technology and social media safely and responsibly. As we increasingly live our lives online, acknowledging that parents and schools need to work together to help young people navigate digital opportunities and pitfalls is crucial.
Schools and parents embracing social media is regarded as the best way to provide a model of students on how to use it, as well as ensuring that parents understand the technology which their children use so fluently. Rapid improvements in our ability to communicate have been successfully harnessed by many schools, bringing parents, staff and students closer together.
Effective communication with a school...
1. Get to know who’s who
Finding out early on who to speak to about academic matters, and who to consult on pastoral or practical matters can save time when you need to share or receive information quickly. Building up good communication early on and understanding where to find the people that you need can mean issues are resolved more efficiently when you do have a problem to raise.
2. Talk to key staff
When your child first joins a school, the staff will be interested to learn about your child’s personality, likes, interests and learning style, beyond the information they might receive from a previous school’s report.
3. Stay in touch
Particularly with younger children, use the methods of communicating suggested by your child’s teacher to touch base regularly. This might be in person at the beginning or end of the school day, by email, intranet, or through a home-school diary. Keep staff informed of any issues your child may be having either with school work or at home, before a small problem becomes a big one.
4. Always stay constructive
The relationship between home and school is much more likely to be balanced, positive and effective when all parties are constructive, even if you don’t always agree with the approach a school is taking. Try to work from the assumption that they are aiming to support your child.
5. Get involved in school events
As well as parent-teacher conferences, there may be opportunities to attend open mornings and meetings where teachers will run through the curriculum they’re teaching. Some schools run Maths and English sessions to give parents an insight into the most up-to-date ways these key subjects are taught, allowing you to work better with your children when it comes to doing homework.
6. Give feedback
When something is working well for your child, or you’re particularly impressed with a school, let them know!
All images: British International School, Phuket