When Two Elephants Fight, The Grass Suffers

Improving Social Inclusion & Communication Between Parents and Teachers

International schools face a unique challenge in that the vast majority of students are generally not from the same nation or culture as the curricula we teach. Consequently, the way school is “done” – the subjects, the pedagogical methodology, the beliefs about what children do and do not need, is inherently foreign to the majority of parents of international school children. Myriad research tells us that students who have parents who are involved in the school perform better academically, have more positive relationships with their teachers, and reduced likelihood of anti-social behavior. However, many international school parents are not actively involved in school life. The challenge before us, therefore, is how do we increase parental involvement in our schools?

Soliman (1995) asserts that there are 6 levels of interaction between schools and parents:

  • Parents support schools at home
  • Communication between the school and home
  • Schools support parents
  • Parents and community support schools
  • School and community links
  • Partnerships in decision-making

A well-rounded parent inclusion strategy will include all of the above levels to ensure that parents have maximum opportunities to engage and interact with the school and stakeholders.

Why don’t parents get more involved in school?

Parents bring a unique range of experiences and perspectives to the school and enriches learning for all students. Furthermore, it increases the school's ability to respond to the needs of the community. However, as different cultures have different beliefs regarding the roles of teachers and parents, some parents may think that it is solely the job of the school to provide academic instruction – the “that’s what we pay you for” mindset. Alternatively, many parents may be intimidated by school because they don’t understand the ways international schools work, particularly in Russia where many parents were educated in traditional Soviet schools which were very different to British-style education. Consequently, parents may believe they have very little to offer the school in terms of knowledge or experience. Lastly, long working hours and language barriers also limit parental ability to be involved in school life.

How can schools encourage parental involvement?

The degree to which parents are welcomed to the school sets the school culture and helps to clarify the expected role of parents. A school that is open and welcoming, and encourages communication about big and small issues helps to put parents at ease. Too often, school communication with parents is focused on negative issues such as poor behavior and low grades, and is delivered through impersonal methods such as learning management systems. As a result, parents are put on the defensive and the foundation is set for adversarial relationships rather than collaborative solution-oriented discourse between school and home.

Goal: make parents feel welcome and build positive relationships between staff and parents.

  • Providing staff training on improving communication with parents.
  • Increasing school understanding of different cultures
  • Reaching out to cultural and community leaders to help parents feel welcome in the school.
  • Creating a welcome kit for new parents
  • Increasing opportunities for parents and staff to interact in informal settings such as school BBQs and using these opportunities to build relationships.
  • Establishing regular meetings with new families

Goal: encourage parental involvement

  • Develop curricula that includes opportunities for parents to become involved
  • Flexible schedules for school events to allow parents who work the opportunity to attend.
  • Create a flyer that lists all the ways parents can be involved in the school.
  • Find out about the interests and knowledge of parents and ask parents to help out
  • Start an English class for parents to help address communication barriers and promote socialising
  • Provide opportunities to develop family participation skills

The core business of schooling is educating children so that they can be successful in both school and society. Parents choose to send their children to international schools because they believe that they are providing their children with the best opportunity to succeed. However, “doing school” requires a specific set of knowledge and skills, and in order for us as educators to be able to effectively “do” our core business, we need parents to not only understand the way things are done in an international setting, but to be actively supportive in this process.

Jessie Richardson
B.Bus, Grad. Dip. Ed., M. Ed. Leadership,
Head of School, Moscow Campus
Chief Academic Officer CIS

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