Choosing the school that fits best

Your spouse comes home from work with a big grin and proudly announces that they have received a promotion but that there is a catch. The family will have to relocate to a foreign country. Questions rush through your brain at a mile a minute, but one keeps reverberating: “What are we going to do about schooling for the kids?”

After a quick Google search you breathe a sigh of relief, “Aaahhh there are schools in our new home area”. But then, on closer look, a new fear begins to take hold, “Oh my…there are so many to choose from, how will I ever figure out which one is best for my child?”

At this point, it is important to acknowledge that much like the fact that we might not all want to be married to the same person, no school is going to be the best for everyone. The process is not really about finding the best school but rather the school which is the best fit for your child and family. One family may value location, another have a preferential math program, another might need a strong learning support or music program, and another might need a strong English as an additional language program. No two families are alike and neither are their needs.

So the question is, really, how do I find the school which is the best fit for my child?

The most important piece of advice I can give is to call and make an appointment to visit the schools you are interested in. But, just like planning a vacation, it is important to plan for your visit. Before you go it is a good idea to look at things like the school website, Facebook pages, teacher’s blogs and community announcements. By looking carefully at both informational and social media, you should be able to read about the curriculum, get a ‘feel’ for the school and its’ community, and start to generate questions based on what is important to you.

It is important to go to the school to see it with your own eyes.

Look around the exterior of the campus. How do the facilities look? Are the buildings and grounds being maintained? Does the school provide a safe place for your child to play and learn? Look inside the classrooms. Are the students engaged? How are the teachers talking to the students? How are the students interacting with each other? Take a moment to meet a few teachers and ask them about what happens in their classrooms.

Get the contact details of the parent organisation or other parents from the school that might be able to answer your questions. People have very strong opinions about the schools they choose for their children and are usually very happy to share their reasons for choosing their school with you. If possible, ask friends and colleagues what they have heard about the school. If there is something that you hear that worries you, ask the school directly. Sometimes going to the source can help clear up any misconceptions.

Do not be embarrassed to make notes, ask a million questions or send follow-up questions after the visit. After all, once you have decided to accept the position overseas, choosing the school that is the best fit for your child is the most important decision you can make.

Katie Rigney-Zimmermann holds an MBA in International Business and a Masters in Secondary Education. She is the Director of Admissions and Marketing at Saigon South International School. Her five children have attended international schools in three countries.