In the last few months, we have had lots of adventures adapting to three different educational settings. We have been welcomed everywhere and found our way around these systems. I am writing some key points here to raise awareness about global families entering completely new educational settings.
What to bear in mind?
- Culture, language, previous experiences can be completely different to those adopted in the educational setting.
- Families may have limited furniture, may be sleeping on camping mats.
- Families may have limited toys and outdoor equipment, such as bikes.
- Families may not have access to phones, computers, television. There may be a delay until phones are purchased.
- Families may have difficulties sorting out some things in the house. For example, we have been asked to print so many documents, but we were waiting for our printer in the container, but we have now found out that the ink cannot be replaced here. Families may not have in the house all of the commodities one would consider as essential or ‘normal’.
- Families may miss their previous life or not. Families may have to deal with some emotional goodbyes, difficult or positive experiences in the home country.
- Children may want to be there. Children may be reluctant to be in a new country.
- Families may have to communicate with their friends and families abroad late in the evening or early in the morning.
- Families may not know what to do for special events, may not know if it is open to parents, grandparents, toddlers.
- Families may not be aware of the school calendar typical activities such as reporting systems. Parents may have experienced completely different educational systems themselves so they may not know the natural occurrences of term dates, reporting systems, meet the parent evenings, seasonal activities, holidays, etc.
- Families may need to learn about seasonal activities being different from the country of origin.
- Families may be cautious, anxious or scared of being in the country or visiting the educational setting. Families may be excited, keen, eager for children to start school.
- Families may not know informal and unwritten rules present in the school system.
- Families may not have all necessary paperwork with them. It may be in a container, lost or in the previous country.
- Families are sorting out a huge amount of paperwork all at the same time. They may not have all of the information required for standard forms.
- Families will most often enter a new cultural and educational system at a different time from all other families.
- Families may not speak the majority language at home or may have difficulties in communicating verbally.
It is evident from all of these points that families are experiencing a significant transition…
Transitions as a rite of passage and mutual accomodation
It may be particularly important to remember that entering a new system can be quite daunting, full of the unknown with potential challenges and opportunities. Many authors explore the definition of transitions. I chose the following two for their meanings in relation to our experiences.
Transition is defined as a ‘rite of passage’ which is a celebration of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. From the French language, it also refers to all the attitudes, rituals, routines, that the newcomer to the new group has to adopt to become part of the group. It implies that the newcomer will become part of the group when he becomes ‘competent’ with knowing rules, routines, attitudes in the group. There a number of ceremonies celebrated in many cultures and groups to welcome a newcomer who has passed its ‘probation’, to name a few, a scouting promise, certificate in assembly as a welcoming gesture, a graduation, a probation. More and more, it has been acknowledged that it is not just the newcomer, in this case, a child starting a new school, but all the family that enters this new system. All the family has to learn about new rituals, routines, timetables as all of these have an impact on the family life.
Indeed, a child alone cannot be the full responsible for a positive adaptation to an educational setting. Bronfenbrenner (1979) writes ‘an ecological transition occurs whenever a person’s position in the ecological environment is altered as the result of a change in a role, setting, or both’ (p.26). He later explains that transitions represent great examples of the process of mutual accomodation between the person and the environment. In other words, Bronfenbrenner refers to the child at the centre of the new educational setting as in full interaction with the new environment, as well as its own family, siblings, home culture, and considers a transition as an accomodation process where a child and the environment will interact and get to know each other, as well as taking into consideration all of the family and siblings supporting the child in another environment, the family.
I think these two definitions give lots of food for thoughts to educational settings when welcoming global families. Practical ideas to support this significant transition are outlined below. There may be a number of ways to support global families. I write key points below based on our experiences.
What can educational settings do to help?
- Allocate a member of staff who will welcome the family, listen to their story and welcome them in the setting. Be curious, learn about their journey/story, accept the differences, embrace this cultural diversity. It may be completely different to your own. Take the time to learn about a new family entering the system.
- Ensure that the family is handed a handbook explaining routines, rituals, and rules in the system. Be curious, routines may be different at home, routines may have been completely different in the previous educational setting. Be clear about routines, visits, entry points.
- Ensure that you explain policies, financial matters and compulsory key points very clearly with written support, such as payment policies, bus fares, attendance and holidays policies, etc. Allow the families to pay for fees over a period of time as they may experience an influx of bills all at once.
- Allow the family on their first or second visit to complete all enrolment documents, printed by the educational setting. It can take a long time to complete all documents. Provide a comfortable space, offer a drink.
- Ensure that rules with uniform and stationary are clear so that families purchase the right clothes/equipment. A written list is a must to avoid any difficulties with language barriers. Allow the families to purchase the necessary uniform items quickly and buying remaining items at a later date to avoid huge costs all at once.
- Ensure that educational and social calendars are shared with the family. If special activities are planned such as a camp, a day out, etc., ensure families are given plenty of notice as they may not have all of the equipment needed and may need to borrow or purchase.
- Keep the communication open by different means of contact, preferred ones to the family.
- Ensure that all unwritten and informal rules are openly discussed and shared. Unwritten and informal rules can be obvious to people who experience the system every day, but very confusing for new families, especially when they have experienced completely different educational systems.
- Encourage a culture which promotes socialisation and support for the children and the parents such as a buddy system, classroom parent representative. A named person the family can ask questions to when in doubt can also be a good way to feel that ‘no questions are stupid’.
- Ensure that the family is given details of any social media sites or websites that the school has and share information there.
- Ensure that social events are well advertised so that families feel included and can participate. When advertising special activities, ensure that clear guidelines are given to families: use this entrance, so and so welcome, etc. If there is a special event organised where extended family members are invited, treat this sensitively with children of global families as family members will not be close by. Children of global families could be invited to contribute in a different way: bringing a picture, an object representing the family member, bring a quick video.
- Ensure that the system embraces cultural diversity, not just by having some ‘welcome’ signs in different languages in the entrance, but by people being able to share this cultural diversity, staff being curious about different cultural stories and aware of cultural diversity. An international day/special events where parents are invited to bring a dish from their country or talk to children about their culture/country can encourage this exchange. Promote discussions about cultural diversity with the children. Other ways to promote cultural diversity could be by having different maps on walls, clocks indicating the time in different countries, flags of countries represented by children, parents and staff.
- It may be helpful to write a transition policy for global families so that all of the above is rigorously followed, particularly as global families may start at the educational setting at a different point in the academic year.
- Be kind, helpful, empathic and considerate; assume the families don’t know anything about the system.
Families are having to sort out a lot all at the same time, give the families time to adapt to new system by being supportive, amicable and positive! It will make such a difference!
Bronfenbrenner (1979). The Ecology of Human Development. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA & London, UK.
Van Gennep, Arnold (1909). Les rites de passage (in French). Paris: Émile Nourry.