Establishing a sister school partnership is a challenging task.

Just by itself, it is a significant cross cultural encounter and a learning experience in its own right. As these teachers and principals indicate things can be difficult or go wrong.

Video with Standard Audio:

The key challenges associated with building and sustaining sister school partnerships.

Video with Audio Description:

The key challenges associated with building and sustaining sister school partnerships.

Here is some advice about how to manage common problems.

I’m not getting any replies to my efforts at communication.

Review the methods you are using and try an alternative. SMS might be good, particularly if you write short, sharp messages that include a specific request. Time-bounded requests might be helpful eg ‘Could you get back to me by Friday 6th about …?’ You could also check if it is a holiday period.

I don’t think my partner understands what I’m trying to arrange or do.

You are in the middle of an intercultural exchange. Don’t expect it to be as straightforward as it might be (sometimes!) with a person who shares your cultural background. Certainly be polite and sensitive, but being direct and clear is likely to be valued by your partner. Avoid colloquial language.

I’m having trouble with the internet connection/ I’m not sure if they have ICTs equipment which allows them to communicate with me.

This should be an early matter to investigate before you confirm your partnership. If there are particular media you want to use for your work, make sure there is capacity at the other end to connect and communicate effectively.

Every time I try to contact them I run into time differences, timetable issues, holidays or exams

These are inevitable problems of working internationally. It will be easier if you exchange plans of your respective school years and discuss when good times for contact are. If you’re having these problems it is likely that your partner will be too.

I would like more support from the school administration

Get advice and support from other members of staff, perhaps more senior, who are able to interest and influence members of the school administration. Use the policy documents referenced in the School Partnerships in the Asian Century section to support your case.

You might explain that in the hierarchical structures of Chinese society, negotiations which are effective, and which stick, take place between people of the same (senior) rank.

Encouraging members of your executive team to have conversations with other principals of schools with partnerships can also be usefully influential.

Finally nothing garners support more effectively than activities which take place successfully in the public eye and which enhance the reputation of the school.

I would like more support from other staff or sections of the school.

Historically, partnerships have often been generated and maintained by one or more teachers. This is a very burdensome task for one person acting on their own and support is essential.

If you are on your own without any help you should think carefully about proceeding without additional support. When you put the idea to the school administration, sharing the task should be included in the requirements for entering the partnership. Beyond that it is common to find enthusiasts from other faculties or classes who are interested in broader perspectives or who can see how their own teaching might be improved by the sorts of new resources or ideas they might draw from a partnership. Some schools have had wonderful success from including sports teams, bands or orchestras in the partnership process.

I’m leaving the school. There is no one else to take the partnership on.

Turnover of personnel is a fact of school life and is one reason why a single person should not take on the whole responsibility for the partnership. This applies to your sister school as well as your own. A small team (in a big school) or a pair (in a small school) can share the knowledge and, especially, the relationships. It is most valuable to have a new person introduced in-country by the primary person from your school who is known to the sister school.

I can’t get our sister school interested in anything we want to do.

This problem may arise because of not being specific enough in the first place about what you want from the partnership, and not being purposeful enough in your own thinking about what the partnership is for. That said, there are many other reasons why the choice of a school to partner might not have been a good one. It may simply be beyond the capacities of the school at the other end to maintain a partnership. Enthusiasts may leave. The school’s circumstances may change. There is nothing wrong with honourable failure. This is a challenging task. After exerting all the effort and persistence you think appropriate, thank them and move on. Apply what you have learnt to a new partnership.

They want things we just can’t manage.

‘Sixty students will arrive next Wednesday week for a three-week homestay program.’ And you can’t possible organise that. This Guide regularly mentions the importance of sorting out your expectations and requirements regularly throughout the span of the relationship.

We could do so much more if we had more funds.

Funding can be an important component of maintaining a sister school partnership (and, as such, should be considered in school budgetary processes). Funding rarely goes away as an issue, but many schools have had the experience of being successful in finding alternative avenues of funding. Known contributors include community and service organisations, philanthropic organisations and even a bank. Willingness to contribute is influenced by community perspectives about the value of the partnership.