5 steps to build a rich Sister School Relationship

Five steps to build and maintain a rich engaging and authentic sister school relationship Title PicAre you a teacher? Do you have a Sister School in another country? Want to know how to create a rich, engaging and authentic sister school relationship? Read on! {If you answered ‘No’, then please read on anyway – there are other goodies in here to share!}

So today I am writing to the Indonesian teachers out there that have a Sister School Relationship with a school in Indonesia {or vice-versa; with a school in Australia} or even for other Languages teachers who have a sister school relationship with a school in another country…this is relevant for all of you too!

If you know me, then you know that I strongly believe in building international relationships between students, teachers and schools in Australia and Indonesia, particularly as our closest neighbour. Back in the day, when I was teaching in a school; I spent many years co-ordinating a Friendship School/Sister School Relationship and in my role as Indonesian Language Adviser; I also spent many years assisting schools in Victoria and Indonesia to connect and advising on the process to build a strong, sustainable sister school relationship. I also helped coordinate educational travel for kids. I believe that these international relationships and global education are the key to enhancing all components of your language and culture program, and also our nation’s dilemma of a monolingual nation… {Don’t let me get started on that!}

I know that there are a lot of schools out there that have a sister school relationship {whether it’s through the Asia Education Foundation’s {AEF} BRIDGE Project, through various states’ Department of Education or even a personal connection to a teacher and/or school that developed into a sister school relationship}, and I also know that there are a lot of teachers out there that are accomplishing great ideas and projects in relation to their sister school relationship. But, {yep, there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there?!} I also know that a lot of sister school relationships hit a point where the relationship breaks down and becomes non-existent…schools move on and form new relationships with other schools that might be eager to start a new friendship and the cycle moves on.

I’m here to tell you that if you have a sister school relationship and have made a commitment to that school and program, then you should persist, be patient, as all the hard work, time and energy that you put into the program WILL be rewarded with endless, invaluable educational opportunities along the way. {I’m here to cheer you on guys! Don’t give up!} It’s not only beneficial for your students in their language learning and gaining greater cultural understandings, but it’s also beneficial for you! Believe it or not, I’m sure you will learn something new out of the process. And don’t think that the benefits of a sister school relationship will just benefit you and your Indonesian students, the benefits will leak through the whole school and even the wider school community.

So, let’s get to the heart of the matter and look at some strategies to build close bonds with our closest neighbour.

Upon thinking about the value of sister school relationships between Australia-Indonesia, I came up with:

The 5 C’s – Connect – Collaborate – Create – Capture – Cultivate

{Five steps to build and maintain a rich, engaging and authentic sister school relationship}

1. CONNECT

The most important of the five steps and where it all begins – connecting.

Apologies for starting off with a negative, however, as mentioned above, I do believe that a lot of sister school relationships break down due to a pure lack of connection, just as a real-life friendship would. If you don’t connect with a friend, it is quite likely for that friendship to fade and become non-existent. To ensure this doesn’t happen; I suggest connecting and consistent communication with your sister school on all levels; student to student, teacher to teacher, school to school and through various modes; both formally and informally. By this I mean, you should already have scheduled regular on-line planning meetings on School management softwares in India and set student collaborative tasks {as part of your curriculum and Language program} but aside from that, also introducing some informal connection, which will enivitably enhance your language and cultural understandings and increase your knowledge on all levels.

I’m sure you do lots of the formal type of communication, but how about the informal connections with your Indonesian friends?

Have you considered using social media to connect with your sister school/teachers/students? Remember, that Indonesia has one of the highest numbers of social media users, in the world. Check out what they are sharing and talking about on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Images shared on Instagram may ignite that creative inspiration you’ve been looking for. An article on Facebook might be that perfect source of realia that you need for an upcoming topic. Why not start creating some new “collaborative” boards on Pinterest where you and your sister school counterpart can build-up your resources on a particular topic or theme of interest. We all know that all social media platforms are a great way to share and connect with others, anywhere in the world. It doesn’t have to be hard … it should be fun, inspiring and motivating!

Aside from connecting with your sister school via online tools, have you considered connecting face-to-face?

Mutual School Exchange Programs and Study Tours/Sojourns are highly important for both schools to take part in, not just for students but also for Indonesian teachers, other {non-language} teaching staff, Leadership Teams and Principals too {maybe even parents!}. The benefits are invaluable and will provide greater language skills and fluency as well as greater cultural understandings in relation to both countries. It’s important to engage other staff members, Leadership Teams, Principals and parents for support and to ensure sustainability of the program. You should not be expected to do it all alone, it’s definitely a team responsibility.

Consider the importance of engaging specialist teachers, particularly as their content areas generally cross-cultures well, such as; Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Music, Cooking/Home Eco and Physical Education. All areas, which could integrate content knowledge for activities that take place outside the Indonesian language classroom. This extends the hours of the Language program and broadens the students’ learning outcomes through integrating with other content areas and programs.

Insights and experiences in an Indonesian home, local neighbourhood and an Indonesian school can open one’s eyes to a wide variety of language entwined with cultural experiences {lessons}. It’s those every day experiences that are the most authentic and the ones that students {and teachers} will learn the most from and will remember for a very long time afterwards. These are the things that you can’t learn from a text book.

Travel Quote Pic

2. COLLABORATE

Collaboration should not be a new idea to a school. A good school will have collaborative furniture for the students and projects where students are able to work together to solve a problem. But the idea of collaborating can be used to benefit your sister scheme. Students should be engaged in various collaborative learning experiences, including; relevant, rich and authentic tasks and projects that students in Australia and Indonesia can mutually work on together. A good way to start integrating and implementing collaborative learning experiences is through small collaborative tasks and then lead up to collaborative learning sequences that can build up to bigger and better {meaning; rich and authentic} collaborative projects.

Earlier this year I did some work for the Asia Education Foundation {AEF} where I was engaged to develop two Collaborative Learning Sequences; specifically designed to enhance Australian-Indonesian Sister School Relationships through the BRIDGE Project.

The two Collaborative Learning Sequences I developed and wrote are; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Compost {check it out here!} and Exploring MasterChef Indonesia {check it out here!}.

The philosophy and methodology behind these learning sequences are based on the Inquiry Approach {I spent a lot of time reading Kath Murdoch‘s materials!} and other Inquiry Approach based websites and resources. I enjoyed the recap on this methodology as I am a strong believer in tuning into the phases of inquiry as a distinct way for learners to learn and the importance and integration of key questions.

“The question acts as a large ‘funnel’ into which experience, thinking and understanding are gradually shifted.” – Kath Murdoch

If you haven’t quite got to the point in your program where you have integrated and implemented a collaborative learning sequence before, I suggest you start off with one of the sequences I have developed {links as above} and see how you go with it. If you are at the stage where you have already involved your students in various collaborative learning sequences with their sister school counterparts, the sequences above could be used as a guide to create your own authentic learning sequence developed specifically for your students’ needs, skill levels and interests, and also aligned with the learning objectives and learning outcomes as outlined in your school’s Languages curriculum.

Collaboration Ed Quote Pic

3. CREATE

Create opportunities for ‘creativity’ – with today’s technology and the vast array of apps available, let’s allow our students to get creative; using a variety of apps for various purposes and outcomes. I don’t mean your regular communication apps such as; Skype, Edmodo, blah-blah…I’m talking about some super cool apps that your students could use to create, communicate and share stories, ideas and information integrated with visual images. There’s no better way to share a piece of information than through a story and a story can be told in endless creative ways.

Creativity Quote Pic

A few of my favourite story telling apps:

Create pages for your own digital story books – use your own photos and add text and/or record audio too.

Create and share stories – create collages, arrange photos or get creative with videos, text, audio and more.

Create custom-designed postcards using your own photos plus add text or dictate an audio message on the back.

Create comic and scrap books using your own photos – choose page layouts, apply photo filters, add captions, add text to speech/thought bubbles and share your creation as a multi-page document or high definition video.

{I absolutely LOVE this app! So much fun! I bet your students will love getting creative with it too!}

It’s like making a mini music-video-slide-show created by your choice of photos and music.

*TIP: Students could add text to images before uploading images to the app so that the text tells the story. Or if you have really creative students, they could record their own song/music to be uploaded to the app to accompany the photo slide show. {Ohhh…so many creative ideas flowing right now!}

Half Tone 2 App Pic Example

4. CAPTURE

As they say; a picture paints a thousand words. Literally capture the moments through photographs and/or video recordings. This is a great way for you to share and promote your sister school relationship to the wider school community and beyond through your preferred platform such as; your sister school blog, school website or on display in a prominent position in your school. For students; online platforms such as; blogs and wikis, provide direct access to publishing opportunities both collaboratively and cooperatively. Students can access and contribute to documents on a shared wiki space and remembering that a blog doesn’t have to be an individual journaling tool, but can also be used by a group within the class, or even outside of the classroom.

Taking the opportunity of capturing those incidental learning opportunities, those that are indirect or rather random (or perhaps unplanned) is a great way to integrate authentic learning into the Languages classroom. For example; focus on a particular event or celebration that may be occurring at either school or country, such as; Indonesian Independence Day or Harmony Day.

It’s also important to note that students should also be capturing their developmental understandings and learnings through student generated digital portfolios and reflective journals with the inclusion of written text and also visual images. Student generated portfolios and reflective journals are both valuable assessment tools, which encourage reflective and self-directed learning. Teachers are able to track student development throughout a course, evaluate the course curriculum and evaluate and monitor student progress.

So, you and your students should all be capturing all the wonderful moments that are unfolding in your Languages classroom and with your sister school relationship.

Capturing the Moments Quote Pic

5. CULTIVATE

Just like any thing {a flower, a crop of fruit or even a friendship} that you want to grow, strengthen and enrich…you will need to be patient and committed to cultivating a deep relationship over many years. To ensure your sister school relationship continues to thrive and to ensure it’s sustainability, you will need to nurture your relationship. A few points to consider:

– mutual help and support

– foster common goals

– encourage the 5 C’s

– promote the benefits of the relationship {and what it stands for!}

Cultivating Friendship Quote Pic

And that brings us to the end of the 5 C’s – I hope I sparked one of those ‘Ah-ha’ moments in you, or at the very least perhaps a new strategy to implement into your sister school relationship program to ensure that it continues to grow and flourish through – Connecting – Collaborating – Creating – Capturing – and Cultivating.

Does your school have a Sister School Relationship?

What strategies do you use to build and maintain a greater collaborative relationship?

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