“They always say it is the first impression that counts. How can you make sure a positive first impression is confirmed by the student’s first days in school? Catalina shares her top 10 tips.”
1. Remember to you they are the 100th family but to them you are the only school
One of the most challenging aspects of our work is what I call “the museum guide danger”. If we don’t pay enough attention to the people in front of us and are solely geared to providing “the tour” or “the information” we may hit a rut that is hard to come out of. It is important that you are always present with the family in front of you. Space out interviews / discussions more if you need to, take less families in a day, delegate other things to your staff (if you have any, that is!) but be present 100% with the people in front of you. While you know every nook and cranny in your school, they are there in their first year, and for them there is only one school and one experience. Keep this perspective in mind at all times and make the experience unique for every family.
2. Communicate during the summer break
Yes, I know, summer equals vacation. But let’s be honest, not for us in admissions offices of international schools. The first 90 days of school will be much, much easier if you do some communication over the summer. Some suggestions:
- have a special section on your website for new students and their families
- use pop-up messages on your website for very important messages
- send a letter to all families about important things to keep in mind during the first week
- consider using social media to get your messages across
Using these methods, parents and students will come to school prepared and the transition into a new school year will be smoother.
3. A good orientation sets the right tone
For years we have been experimenting, trying to find the best New Student and Parent Orientation Day possible. The answer is that there is none. The population of students, parents and faculty we deal with is so diverse and fluid that it is hard to find a shoe that fits all. And, to be honest, it would be quite boring. Every year, step in the shoes of a new person entering the school and tour it like you knew nothing about where you are going. Perspective is everything! Don’t forget to:
- have checklists for parents and students visiting for Orientation
- post signs in the hallways guiding people to where they need to be
- gather together all needed services and groups – easier access to all coal in the first 90!
- consider the ages of the children when organizing activities
- have some food and coffee ready
- be ready to troubleshoot
- involve everyone in Orientation – it is good for the school image to have faculty and staff working as a team
- produce badges for all faculty and staff – this way it is easier for the parents and students to understand
who they are talking to and potentially put faces with names they already know Some families are late coming in and in order to make their transition a successful one, invite them for just a visit and don’t rush the kids into the classroom. Tour them around, talk to them, push them to be honest about what makes them nervous and try to help as much as you can.
4. Your parent organization is so important, especially the newcomers’ committee
The importance of parent support cannot be overstated. While parents are glad to receive information from school representatives, the importance of a parent-to-parent chat is huge. Encourage your parent organization to create a smaller group of parents to help newcomers, and organize special coffee mornings. Have this group present on Orientation Day and in the first weeks have them come, lend a helping hand and share their experience. A word of advice, however: choose these parents wisely. You are definitely looking for people who tell the truth but you are also looking for people who can remain as objective as possible. At AISB, we also use “community liaisons.” These are parents who agree to contact others of the same nationality and offer their support, in the native language Remember you are dealing with families who arrive at your school from all corners of the world and a friendly word in their own language can go a long way.
5. Organize supplies and uniforms
Regardless of how well your first days of classes are going, how amazing the hallways look and how great the food is in the cafeteria, parents will always remember that they waited in line for an hour to buy a T-shirt for their son / daughter. Make sure there is a clear process and share with parents ahead of time
6. Be visible
The Director is the head of school and the Business Manager handles finances and the Facilities Manager takes care of the campus and … and … and … . Since these first days are so important, meet all and ask for everyone’s help. There is nothing more important than making sure our students and parents feel welcome, cared for and engaged and we all need to be involved. Provide them with phrases they can use in case questions come from areas they are not familiar with and don’t forget to thank everyone in the end.
7. Key contact card and fridge magnet
A few months ago, during one of our admissions conferences in Bucharest, the Istanbul International Community School (IICS) presented a key contact card and fridge magnet as instruments of keeping parents informed. Thank you, IICS! These are simple to produce and easy-to-use tools that parents love. It helps them be able to contact the appropriate office with their specific needs, especially since during the first 90 days they don’t really know where to address their queries.
8. Be available for questions and organize small group training
Families transferring to and from international schools around the world are the bravest people I know. As soon as they get to know a system, a bunch of people, an area, they are uprooted and sent on to start again. They need to learn the school’s e-platform, calendar, and student info system. Organize small group, hands-on training in several sessions (morning and evening) during the first weeks. This will enable parents to try out things you show, to ask questions, and report if they have trouble. Follow up with a push for questions.
9. Ask for help
This is not easy – it is so comfortable and tempting to hide in an office far down the hallway and just take care of emails and meetings. The reality, however, is that you need to be very visible. Position your office in the middle of the main hallway, by the Reception if possible; make it a point to be out and about at drop off and dismissal. This will enable parents to have a good and friendly first point of contact and will offer you the possibility to really get to know the community.
10. Take it easy – you are in for the long haul
There is a certain rhythm to the school year, with peaks and valleys of activity. This makes it easier to plan and pace. At the same time, when working with children and their parents, you are bound to never be bored. You will need to reinvent yourself many times. Learn to prioritize, to stand up from your desk and walk around, to look out the window, to listen to your favorite songs, to play and breathe. There is only one of you and at least 180 days of the school year. Don’t burn all the coal in the first 90!