Two facts about school enrollment:
- Administrators and marketing may attract families to enroll, but teachers, coaches, and staff are the reason they will stay (return or re-enroll).
- Enrollment season for next school year started on the first day of this school year.
If you want to maximize enrollment,
go above and beyond to serve your families
Going the extra mile is exhibited in my recent visit to the Hertz rental car facility at O'hare Airport in Chicago. It was late in the evening after returning from a Board Bootcamp training session that I had led at the end of an exhausting week. I was headed to a local hotel for a few hours sleep before boarding a 7:00 AM flight the next morning. After parking in the car return lane, I was headed to the Hertz bus back to the terminal in order to take a shuttle bus to the hotel. A Hertz courtesy driver approached--probably because of my worn out look--and offered to drive me to my hotel. He opened the door on a Mercedes Benz inviting me to put my things in the back and we we're off. What a blessing! I wasn't a loyal customer before, but guess which rental car company I'll be using?
Going the "extra mile" to create RAVING FANS is a powerful habit to cultivate and model with your faculty and staff. Here are a few ideas for building relationships with school families.
1. Get to Know Them
School families want to feel like they are a valued part of the school community. Greet them at drop-off and pick up, connect with parents on LinkedIn, learn what's important to them via messages they're sharing on social media, hang out with them, get to know them. Introduce parents with similar interests to each other via personal meetings, phone, or email. Learn students' and parents' names, correctly spell and pronounce their names.
2. Engage in Conversation
In order for your families to feel connected and engaged, schedule regular times for open office hours where parents can visit without an appointment, host webinars with small groups on GotoMeeting or a Google Hangout, and/or call ten randomly selected families each week to inquire about their experience with the school. (I don't recommend "town hall" meetings with parents for several reasons)
3. Anticipate Objections
When families have concerns about the school, they will generally fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Finances: Amount of tuition/fees, how money is spent, salaries, benefits
- Admission: Student body qualities and quality
- Discipline: Consistency, fairness, speed, appropriateness
- Personnel: Quality, decision-making, influence, accountability
- Fundraising: Centralization, frequency of asks, how money is invested
Share with faculty and families in advance how and why decisions are made in these important aspects of the school's leadership, building trust and confidence so that you sometimes receive the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes even support, when other parents bring up these issues. Give your grapevine some concrete ways to answer objections.
4. Collaboratively Negotiate
A few parents have ridiculous expectations, but most are trying to do the best for their children and are predictably biased. Getting to Yes is a good book for learning how to negotiate based on principle rather than position. Avoid defaulting to a defensive attitude by acknowledging the concerns expressed and identifying the related principles and policies that are involved. Your goal is to move beside the parents in a collaborative position walking with them toward a shared vision rather than drawing a line for combat that only produces winners and losers.
The bottom line is that you need passionate leaders in your school: board members, administrators, faculty, staff, and coaches. All need to fully commit themselves to building relationships with each other and with school families in such a way to produce raving fans.