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 “in” with a school will not be the person who makes the decisions about hosting exchange students. Your “in” may be a teacher that taught one of your children, a fellow church member, a little league coach, your hairdresser’s sister, etc. Connect with those individuals first and let them introduce you to the decision-maker in the building. Even if these are elementary teachers, AFS still has ideas to support them in their schools and classrooms. They can probably connect you to some people at the high school. 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 organization.
- 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. Get to know their policies for hosting exchange students and sharing outbound program information. Offer to meet with key decision makers within schools, request permission to have an AFS representative give a presentation to a class, an after-school club, the school board, etc. This is the meeting 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.
- Prepare: Know your audience, provide hand-outs, and have a presentation prepared. Some sample presentations can be found in the Promote AFS section of Help & Learning.
- Visit: 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.
- Present: Provide an integrated view of AFS by including information on Hosting, Sending, Volunteering, and Educator Resources. Never promise something you can't deliver.
- Follow-up: Send Thank You notes to the school principal, and all other parties involved in your presentation. Contact attendees as soon as possible after the presentation with important links and materials. Creating a cheat sheet to capture this information for future conversations will help you build a relationship and shows you care about more than just making a placement.
Note that random acts of kindness do pay off (donuts, popcorn, tea/coffee, fruit basket, card), but words and recognition are sometimes more highly valued by educators. Consider having your hosted students write notes of appreciation at their Mid-Year Orientation that you can deliver to the school. 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
You can also share 10 Easy Questions Schools Should Ask, which is a document put together by the Idaho Department of Education as a guide for schools when selecting exchange programs with which to work.
If your state’s Department of Education doesn’t have a similar document, feel free to help them create one for access on their website. This can serve quite well for many states who routinely rely on their Department of Education for guidance.
Another great resource here, highlights the difference between foreign students on F1 visas and exchange students on J1 visas (like our AFSers).
Focus on Schools Webinar
Click here for a video on connecting and building relationships with schools. This webinar from April 2019, presented by Sarah Yancey, AFS-USA Board Member, and Jeff Burtner, Sr. Manager of External Partnerships & Advocacy, gives an in-depth look on making and maintaining connections with schools and educators.