Parents looking for a high-quality education for their children at an international school can find it a grueling task. Sometimes there are no shortage of options and other times there are very limited options. Once you have made your choice of school the first week of school can feel overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help you get through those first few days.
Do your ultimate best for your children to start on the first day of school. There are so many things that are planned by the school and teachers for the first days, and also many things that happen organically between students.
Make sure you attend orientation at schools, even if you have just arrived and do not have transport sorted. Book a taxi or driver. It is key to have an opportunity to look around and become familiar with the school grounds and meet teachers, administrators, security guards and other parents. It also provides the children with some time to familiarize themselves with the new school. Many international schools these days operate a buddy system whereby another student will assist a new student in getting used to the school environment and answer any questions (If a school doesn’t offer this, ask for it). It is also recommended to attend orientation even if you are an ongoing student to remind you of what to expect when school reopens and that essential routines are understood and followed. Orientation day should also give you time to figure out the cafeteria system and how it works and what is on offer. Go with a list of questions and an open mind.
Dealing with stress
Starting a new school can be very stressful for children of all ages (and for parents), especially if you have just moved to a new country. Parents should try and reinforce confidence in their children and let them know you are there for them. For younger children try to ask social and play questions (Who do you sit next to? Who do you have lunch with? What do you do at break / recess?) For older students ask about what happens during the break, what students do after school, what happens in the cafeteria. Focus on the social and emotional needs of your children.
The learning will fall into place. If problems do arise i.e. your child refuses to go to school or pretends they are sick, you may seek advice from their teacher or counsellor on how best to deal with these issues. Do not hesitate to reach out to the school counsellor, this is their job. As a parent ask questions if you are confused or worried.
Don’t be late
For at least the first few days try and opt to pick up and drop off your child at school, it is important that you are aware of the unpredictable traffic and plan accordingly. Make sure your child has your contact details and you have saved the school contact details in your phone if you face with some unexpected delay.
Don’t Ignore your Children if they are Upset
If something or someone at school upsets your child, talk to the teacher or counselor about it. Dismissing the child’s complaints as trivial could turn it into something bigger later on.
Face to Face Contact with Teachers
Just because the digital world has opened up more channels of communications does not mean it has completely replaced the importance of face-to-face contact at school. Effective communication is essential for building school-family partnerships and sometimes face to face contact is the better alternative to electronic where messages may be misconstrued. This is especially important if your first language isn’t that of the school. With face to face communication you are less likely to have misunderstandings and have things lost in translation.
School Communication Channels
Most schools invest in different communication systems to communicate with parents. Find out what these are, familiarise yourself with them, and use them. Some examples are Tapestry, Seesaw and Class Dojo. Class teachers will use these for parent communication, posting of student work, student portfolios and reporting. Schools following the International Baccalaureate will often use a program called ManageBac for communication with both students and parents.
Most International schools have a parents organization so families can assist with in-house events, fundraisers, activities and programs. Parents can volunteer to be room parents to assist with class parties or field trips, and teachers often welcome in class parent help. Making the effort to get involved will help you make new friends and feel you belong to a community. Also your child will most likely appreciate seeing you during school hours.
At the end of the first week, touch base with your child’s teacher to see how they got on and if you need to make any changes with anything. Starting at a new school in a new country is a huge adjustment in a child’s life, and a big change for parents too, being well prepared will help to make it a positive and exciting experience for all.
Sarah Challinor spent part of her childhood as an expat in the UK and the US and as an adult lived in Qatar for 8 years.