You’ve done the hard work of marketing your school and telling your story, and you’ve attracted a fantastic group of new families to join your school community. Congratulations!
Now begins the work of helping those families know they made the right decision by filling them with confidence and excitement about the years to come. One of your first, best chances to start off on the right foot is your new parent orientation meetings.
Remember that your retention efforts need to begin as soon as the student/parent signs their enrollment paperwork, and there’s no better time to start than the orientation meeting in your school.
Here are some important topics for parent orientation, and some effective ideas for how to make your parent orientation event a success.
Having a child start at a new school can be a time of high stress for parents. They are trusting you with their child and want to feel confident that they made the right choice. You should build this confidence from the beginning by making them feel welcome.
Start with bright, visible welcome signage for parents when they arrive at parent orientation. There’s nothing more unsettling than pulling into a school parking lot and not being sure where to go. A nice extra touch, depending on the size and layout of your parking situation, is to have parents from your parent ambassador program or school board/school commission members out in the lot greeting people and helping them get where they need to be.
As the school leader, you should be at the door to welcome everyone with a warm smile and personal greeting letting them know they are in the right place and you’re glad to see them. To the extent possible, being able to greet everyone by name can make familes feel like you and the school really care about them.
Inside the school, a welcome board with the name of each family clearly visible not only shows them that they are part of a larger community of new families, but also that they are valued. It also gives families a place to stop and maybe chat with other new parents.
Also, remember to thank all your new parents in your welcome speech for your new parent orientation program. Not only did they take time out of their busy schedules to visit your school, but you can never thank your new families enough.
Parents who are new to your school come to your orientation with a lot of questions. Even if you’ve sent them a link to a parent orientation video on your website, many families will still have questions that are so basic and fundamental to the way your school works it’s easy to forget that new people don’t know them already.
After all, what is parent orientation if not the opportunity to answer the most basic questions about your school?
Your new parent orientation should be filled with the answers to these basic questions. It’s much more important that parents leave understanding the nuts and bolts of how the school day works than knowing your philosophy of education. That is important, but you will cover it during curriculum night.
However, while you want to provide all this information, avoid sending parents home with a stack of papers that will get crumpled in the back seat, forgotten in a drawer, or immediately recycled.
There are probably more questions that are particular to your school, but it’s answers to these practical questions that will make parents feel more relaxed as the school year approaches. It is also advisable that you place all this information in a section of your website under a “New Parents Guide”. Chances are that a lot of “old parents” will reference this information as well!
New parent orientation isn’t a one off event. It’s the beginning of a constant stream of two-way conversations with your parents. Give them some time to ask questions during the event, but more importantly, let them know who to ask when they have questions going forward, and show them how to ask.
Introduce them to their main point of contact in the office for each thing they’re likely to need. Names and smiling faces will create the personal connection you want parents to have with everyone who works in the school.
This is also a good opportunity to show them your website, where basic information lives, and how to find it.
No matter how many questions you answer during parent orientation, some parents are going to discover they have more that went unanswered. They may not come up with these questions for hours, days, or weeks, but they will have questions. Empower them with the ability to get those questions answered when that time comes.
Depending on the size and makeup of your incoming students, it might be a good idea to hold two different parent orientation events: one for parents of new students and one for parents of transfer students. These two groups will likely have different grade level students and different grade level questions. If your group of transfer students is large enough or concentrated at a certain grade level (e.g. an influx of new students at the 6th grade for your excellent Jr. High program) providing them with a slightly different, targeted program can be very helpful.
A situation that arises from time to time that might require special sensitivity or a different approach and can directly impact your new student enrollment is the closing of another school. In the event that you are seeing a large number of transfers from a school that is closing, keep in mind that those students and parents are even more nervous and emotional than other transfers.
School closings create a great sense of loss for the students and families. They have been displaced and lost an important community, a home. They can also be nervous about it happening again here. Use your parent orientation, and every other opportunity you have, to make them feel safe and welcome. Let them know you understand their situation and are there to answer any questions they have. They likely will require more hand-holding and reassuring than other parents.
Your new parent orientation is the start of the new year, a chance to capture the excitement and energy of a new group of school families. The energy and enthusiasm you bring to this event can spark the same in them and help carry you through the entire school year.
Nick LeRoy, MBA, is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides enrollment and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ student enrollment, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 317-361-5255.
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