Part of our Summer Series: Jewish Early Childhood Marketing Tips
Shariee Calderone and Susan Remick Topek
Do not underestimate the influence of your staff when potential parents come to visit. Last week we discussed making a good first impression and put ourselves in the role of a visitor. We asked ourselves, “what does the visitor see, hear and smell, and what are they able to touch and taste?” All their physical senses come into play on this first visit. Digging in a little deeper into the emotional experience for this family it is important to realize that they are there to learn about your school and to meet with their child’s potential teacher. For this reason, every teacher needs to be an ambassador for your school! They need to look happy and confident and be aware that they are being “seen” as families observe the entire environment of the school!
Personal case in point:
My daughter invited me to visit potential schools for my grandchild. In one instance we were walked through in a very impersonal manner by the director. She answered our questions but in a very condescending way. And although there were very few other children present at the moment, NO ONE including the director talked to or looked at my grandchild who was with us. But, at another school, we were given a tour and this time, despite being a busy time on a special event day, EVERY teacher stopped to smile, ask my grandchild’s name and say welcome. Guess where this child is now a happy student with happy parents? My daughter liked the school’s environment, philosophy, curriculum, and the director – but the personal touch and involvement of the teachers and their enthusiasm for the school was really the tipping point. And this is not only for visitors… every time since then, when I have walked in, every teacher smiles and says good morning to my grandchild.
One of the most difficult moments for an educator can be when a potential parent and child enter their classroom to see or visit. Some teachers can smoothly move from an ongoing activity to welcome the parent and spend some time with them while others are just not as comfortable doing this or find that the timing is poor to exit from an activity with students. Establishing ground rules among the faculty can relieve this anxiety and help plan for a smooth visit for everyone.
The Classroom Visit
Not all visits can be scheduled ahead of time but directors should try to give educators a 10 minute (at least) head- up if a parent is coming to their room. Because of this short notice teachers should ALWAYS be ready for a visit. A teacher should know that they are representing the school, and they need to be able to answer questions about the classroom schedule and activities, curriculum, Jewish learning and experiences. Teachers are usually looked on as experts in child development, and should be able to speak in a professional style using professional vocabulary with parents. They should OWN that information and the language and feel connected to it.
A Team Approach
The director should not just “drop off” a parent, but rather go in the classroom and cover for the teacher who is speaking with the family. In this way, a team approach is taken and observed by the potential family. It also helps to ensure that the family is escorted out by the director after a reasonable amount of time. This should also be determined in advance by faculty when ground rules are established so everyone knows what to expect.
Practice Makes Perfect
Some schools practice with staff as to what to say and how to act with families that are visiting. I think this is a wonderful idea. Not everyone is a “natural with parents” although they might be the most outstanding teacher with small children. Try ROLE PLAYING at a staff meeting. All teachers have had many interactions with visiting families. Together a staff can develop a shared vocabulary and positive strategies that will work when potential parents visit based on those experiences. It can also be a wonderful team builder to share this learning with each other. It is also important to establish consistency in what teachers say about the school. If a parent visiting a three-year old class hears that there is one kind of outdoor activity time policy, and a friend with a child in the four-year old is told something else, the school appears to be in conflict. This goes for all areas of learning and classroom regulations.
Being Part of the Larger Institution
I have talked to many teachers in Jewish schools who do not feel that they are part of the greater institution – be it a JCC or synagogue or temple. They love the early childhood center but might not know anything about the institution they are in! How can they be an effective ambassador without this knowledge? This can be a disconnect and a missed opportunity to support not only the families with young children, but also for the early childhood educators who connect the family to their first Jewish school experiences. All educators within a building should be part of the team that cares about the families and their Jewish journey. It should be common knowledge when there are synagogue or JCC events and teachers should be invited to attend events on site. All teachers should know the history of the building, the names of the clergy and board executives and other lead educators. Clergy and board should be invited and included in early childhood events so they become recognizable faces to the teachers and families in the early childhood center. Potential families will benefit from the welcome and genuine warmth of the “family atmosphere” of the educators and institution that they visit.
When directors help staff own the experiences of parent/child visits – through shared language and protocols set up in advance – they become confident ambassadors for your school! Marketing your school to potential parents may begin with great advertising and empowering current families, but your teachers can quickly become the deciding factor in a family’s decision to choose a school!
*We gratefully acknowledge being inspired by Childcare Marketing Tips: 10 Must-Do Marketing Tips to Grow the Enrollment of Your Early Childhood Program (July 2012) published by Memberhub. The e-book was coauthored by Matt Harrell and Kris Murray, President and Founder of Child Care Marketing Solutions.