Here’s a question for all school administrators to consider as the school year begins: Does your school shout “Welcome?” Every principal wants their school to be a warm and welcoming place, offering an attractive setting for learning and for community. After all, as Scott McLain says in All Business is Show Business, the real “business of education is that of creating relationships and emotional connections with people – students, staff, parents, and the diverse members of the community.”
In a past issue of Education World, Gary Hopkins shares some great and affordable ideas for creating a welcoming school environment. Many of these suggestions could easily be adapted for use in parishes and their religious education programs. The list below offers a sampling of suggestions from schools throughout the country that have placed a priority on customer service. Their commitment to welcoming and serving others reflects the true core values of the school.
- The principal and staff start each day with a handshake. Everyone who enters is greeted with a handshake and a “So glad you’re here today,” or “Have a great day!” Students love this ritual.
- The principal and assistant principal are outside before and after school to open car doors and greet students and parents. Teachers greet all their students by name each morning to ensure they know they are wanted and welcomed.
- The school provides in-service training for teachers on how to speak effectively with parents.
- Welcoming signs on the front door say “Hello” and “Welcome” in many different languages, reflecting the diverse make-up of the student population. The reverse of those signs on the way out read, “Good-bye,” “Thanks for coming,” or “See you soon.”
- A table in the lobby is decorated seasonally and displays school pamphlets, flyers, newsletters, bumper stickers, etc.
- A large screen TV in the lobby displays a slideshow of students and parents in action throughout the school year. Each month it also features a different continent from which the students come, along with music native to that land.
- The lobby of one school features an info board with school news, as well as a coffee shop complete with soothing music. It’s a very popular convenience for busy parents.
- Office staff know that they are the number-one public relations people and make sure they make a good first impression with warm welcomes, smiles, and useful information.
- The student safety patrol members greet visitors during the morning rush.
- The principal asks her friends or neighbors to visit or call the school, then gathers feedback on how they were treated.
- Signs are written with a more welcoming tone. Instead of “All Visitors Must Report to the Office,” how about saying, “We Look Forward to Greeting All Guests in the Main Office” or “Visitors are Welcomed in the Main Office.”
- Curb appeal outside of the school is important: mowed lawns, trimmed bushes, flowers, seasonal displays, all make visitors want to enter.
- Entryways should leave a great first impression – it’s always a good investment to spruce them up, including adding soft classical music. One school reminds us, “Don’t let your parent reception area also be the area where students who are in trouble wait to see the principal.”
- One school posts a “Parent Ambassadors List” in the lobby, listing the contact info of parents who are willing to be called by those parents with questions. The lists are categorized by special interests or home neighborhoods, making it easier for parents to select an ambassador. Parents at the school love the lists.
- Family Night activities are offered, complete with student performances (which assures attendance).
- A Parent Liaison has a desk in the entryway to greet visitors. This person serves as a connection between the school and non-English speaking parents. Why not consider having a parent volunteer fill this role in exchange for a reduction in tuition?
- Teachers make random phone calls or send notes to parents offering positive comments about their children.
- A “Wall of Fame” featuring parent/guardian volunteers who have done something special for the school appears in the entryway.
- A school Advisory Council, including teachers, parents, local business people and Church representatives looks at problems in the school and community, then creates ways to solve them. Activities include coat drives, holiday gift collections for the disadvantaged, hosting community events, and tutoring. What a great way to show the community the value of the school.
A warm and welcoming community will always be attractive to new participants, just as it can be viewed as a “home” to its current, highly valued “family” members. These are just a few tactics schools and parishes alike can employ to encourage enrollment and support retention in their families.