This article contains:
- Steps for building relationships with schools
- Resources to share with educators
Steps for building relationships with schools
When building relationships with your local schools, follow these 7 steps:
- Find your Connection: Many times, your initial connection at a school will not be the person who makes the decisions about hosting exchange students. Your initial connection may be a teacher that taught one of your children, a club advisor, a school coach, an administrative assistant, etc. Foster relationships with those individuals first and let them introduce you to the decision-maker in the building. Sometimes school counselors and administrators will be open to unsolicited meetings, but many times those meetings come from a relationship or introduction from someone within the school. Consider expanding your outreach to the elementary and middle schools in your district, as AFS has several intercultural learning resources and lesson plans as well as a newsletter, The Global Educator, to share with teachers at all grade levels. Elementary and middle school families may also be able to host an AFS high school exchange student!
- Offer to Assist: Schools can always use help! How can you or your fellow volunteers help them? For example, you could be a guest speaker for an event they're having or sell tickets at an upcoming sports game. These things build trust and may allow you to showcase AFS in the process. For example, if you are going to sell tickets at the sporting event, ask if you can bring an exchange student and brochures about AFS.
- Expand your Relationship: Ask questions and learn about the school’s goals for graduating global-ready students. Ask what the school needs to help them move to the next level of intercultural understanding and global readiness as AFS may be able to help. By asking school leaders what their goals are, you can begin to tailor what you share to their needs and everyone wins. Get to know their policies for hosting exchange students and for sharing information on study abroad opportunities. Be sure to share all the great study abroad scholarships that are available at AFS! Offer to meet with key decision makers within schools, request permission to have an AFS representative give a presentation to a class, meet with an after-school club, speak with the school board, etc. These opportunities are where you can showcase all that AFS can truly do to move a school farther along the pathway to global readiness. Learn more about how to start a dialogue with schools.
- Visit: If your schedule permits, offer to meet with teachers and administrators to discuss all the great ways that AFS can help their school meet their global learning goals. Be on time for appointments, be professional, and be genuine and friendly. Record all names and contact information, make sure to ask questions, and listen carefully (listen more than you talk!). Refer to some sample questions found at the end of this article.
- Call/Email: If you are unable to schedule a visit, offer to schedule a brief phone call to check in with a school or send an email with resources to teachers. Every type of contact is helpful!
- Present: Ask teachers if you can schedule a classroom presentation during the school day. Be sure to share different options of presentations to ensure that they get what they need out of the class time that they are giving you. If you are unavailable during the school day, ask club advisors if you can have 15 minutes to talk to their after-school group. Invite currently hosted exchange students to join you!
- Follow-up: After building those initial relationships, make sure that your school contact records are accurate and updated. Be sure to routinely check in with existing contacts by sharing news and information that is in line with their goals. This will show that you were indeed listening to them and taking their needs into account which will help to build deeper relationships.
Note that random acts of kindness do help (donuts, popcorn, tea/coffee, fruit basket, card), but providing intercultural learning activities are often more highly valued by educators if they are in line with their needs/goals. Share AFS intercultural learning lesson plans with teachers, consider organizing intercultural festivals with hosted students, or offer to help a club advisor with after school activities. And be sure to collect feedback from your school contacts (principals/counselors) annually. They will appreciate that you care about their input and experiences.
Resources to share with educators
In addition to AFS resources, you can also share 10 Easy Questions Schools Should Ask, which is a document that was put together by the Idaho Department of Education as a guide for schools when selecting exchange programs with which to work.
Many schools will seek guidance from their Department of Education when they are unsure how to handle a variety of student exchange situations. It might be helpful to see what your state’s Department of Education shares with regard to student exchange.
Another helpful resource, found here, highlights the difference between foreign students on F1 student visas and exchange students on J1 cultural exchange visas (like our AFSers). This can be the source of questions from schools that are not accustomed to accepting exchange students or who have previously only accepted students with F1 students visas (like private schools).
Welcome to School Relationships Webinar
Click here for a video on connecting and building relationships with schools. This webinar from January 2020, gives an in-depth look on making and maintaining connections with schools and educators and introduces you to the other video content available to help you get ready to truly connect with schools.