Friday, December 4, 2009

Marcia Brady's hot tips for touring parents and parent-pleasing tours

At the risk of over-posting, I can now offer a couple of hints that might help the tour process be less grueling for all parties concerned.

For parents:

1) If you are truly concerned about test scores, consider not looking at immersion schools. There are any number of good reasons why these schools show lower test scores and still do a good job educating children. I won't go into them here, but it is a drag to have tours taken over by passive-aggressive (or even aggressive-aggressive) parents with this bone to pick.

2) Leave a ton of time to find parking if you drive, because you never know how a given block or neighborhood is. You'll need to park for about 1.5 hours, as tours rarely "dismiss" on time.

3) Dress warmly as you will be spending considerable amounts of time in drafty breezeways or outside (earlier in the year, I would have said apply sunscreen as you may stand on blazing asphalt for quite a while!)

4) Keep it down in the classrooms. I am amazed that the teachers can teach through all the distractions people on tour introduce into the classrooms.

5) Take notes, as it all becomes a blur after a while. Consider sharing your thoughts in comments if a school is reviewed. It really helps balance out the reviewers' inevitable biases or blind spots.

For schools with tours:

1) Do whatever you can to have the principal present. It makes a huge difference. It signals a commitment to incoming families, and lets us see your vision for the school.

2) Make sure parent tour guides are really well-versed, and yet also able to defer questions to the principal (another reason it is good to have him/her there). Most have been wonderful, but occasionally a tour guide can really throw things: the best ones convey information succinctly, do not override things with their own issues, and have notes on the facts in their hands.

3) Please oh please make sure that whoever is answering the phone has all the relevant information: what tours are language-specific, the correct start time, and whether or not you need to pre-register. People are taking clocked time off work here, and aren't happy if they show up and find out they are there on the wrong date, at the wrong time, or not on the list.

4) Please know that we are deeply grateful for comforts and welcoming elements like music (yay, McKinley!), coffee (go, Marshall!), expressions of sympathy about this strange process (hats off to many of you), and offers to let us e-mail you (ditto).

And that is all from me. Really.




22 comments:

  1. First of all, there is NO SUCH THING as over-posting where you are concerned, Marcia. Post on!

    As a current parent, tour guide and full-time employee, I ask for a generosity of spirit from prospective parents. Our schools offer many tours, we are busy with helping in the class, fund raising, and now the holidays. Please each school some slack if your guide is less than stellar.

    Look deeper.

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  2. I would add for the parents list, *please* leave your small children at home. There is NOTHING more distracting (and irritating) than a 2 year old screaming "mama mama mama" when you are trying to figure out one school from another.

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  3. Oh, Anon 8:17, I hope I didn't offend. The staff, parent tour guides, and principals are mostly great. Really.

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  4. Hi Marcia,

    8:17 here.

    No offense taken! There will be guides that seem clueless or uninformed. I just want to encourge
    parents who unfortunately land in one of those tours to not write of the school JUST because of the guide.
    Keep up the good work!

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  5. Another biggie for touring parents: Watch the weekly street-cleaning zones!

    Re giving out good information -- I don't know if Lakeshore still uses a version of this, but when my kids were there ('96-'05) we made a thorough FAQ handout for touring parents. That was after it became apparent that parent tour guides had a tendency to give out inaccurate information, and it's really hard to correct volunteers without giving the feeling that you're slapping them down. So the FAQ resolved that problem.

    For parents who are helping organize tours, here are issues we needed to address in that regard:

    Tour guides tended to believe inaccurately, that various attributes were unique to Lakeshore, and even though that may have looked like good PR for Lakeshore, it didn't seem valuable in the long run to give out that kind of misinformation. Among those areas were parent involvement (one parent kept saying that was what made Lakeshore an alternative school -- inaccurate on multiple levels), the PTA-funded arts/enrichment program, the school lunch program and the district-provided instrumental music instruction for grades 4-5.

    (Just to be clear, the distinction between "alternative" and "neighborhood" school is minimal, and has nothing to do with parent involvement; parent involvement is high at many schools. All SFUSD schools have arts programs funded by Prop. H, and many have further programs funded by PTAs, grants etc. All SFUSD schools have a school lunch program run by the district and district-provided instrumental music instruction for all 4th and 5th graders who choose it, in violin, clarinet, flute or trumpet.)

    SO those are the kinds of things we needed to address on the FAQ. Another was special education, and another was how the before- and after-school programs operated.

    And one parent volunteer tour guide who had gone through the enrollment process the same year my family did had NO idea that it had changed over the years, and was firmly giving outdated info based on her experience. Our FAQ referred parents to PPS for information on the enrollment process.

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  6. Randy - New TraditionsDecember 5, 2009 at 12:20 PM

    I've got to disagree with the no kids thing. I've never been disturbed by them. Generally they've been well behaved, and the burden on the parents to do the tour thing is already way too much. Add the expense and time to arrange childcare for 10 tours and the tours will have even less diversity.

    If your child gets noisy just step outside for a minute. It's a school not a synphony.

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  7. I do hope you'll check in again after your assignment/decision. I imagine your advice might be a bit different in hindsight.

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  8. 6:31, please share that hindsight. I only have the sight I have right now. Rather than insinuating that it's not very good, please offer the alternative advice you might give, for the sake of other readers who are touring.

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  9. I agree with Randy.
    I always feel sympathy for parents who have no other choice but to bring their babies/toddlers on the tour. It's enough of a hardship trying to schedule the morning tours, let alone trying to find a sitter who's willing to work for only 2 hours one morning, etc.

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  10. Another note: for those parents who arrive late, just listen once you arrive. I've been on so many tours that are taken over by late arriving parents asking questions about all the things we've already gone over. Rude and annoyoing. Better yet, don't be late!

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  11. I love these condescending platitudes, preachings and quick judgements.

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  12. "If you are truly concerned about test scores, consider not looking at immersion schools. There are any number of good reasons why these schools show lower test scores and still do a good job educating children. I won't go into them here, but it is a drag to have tours taken over by passive-aggressive (or even aggressive-aggressive) parents with this bone to pick."

    Maybe the Indians are just aggressive-aggressive types, but it seems that they gave Newsless an earful about our lack of focus on math and science teaching during his latest great-escape- taxpayer-paid vacation. I guess Bangalore doesn't really want us as a 'sister city.' Maybe we could settle for 'cousin city.'

    See:
    "Newsom has 'wake-up call' in India"

    http://www.sfexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/under-the-dome/
    Newsom-has-wake-up-call-in-India-78164657.html

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  13. And I wonder what percentage of the kids in Bangalore are actually even GETTING an education compared to SF (or any other US city)?

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  14. Good post, Marcia.

    While it IS difficult to find childcare, I traded with another parent so that our toddlers would not only be a distraction to parents, but more importantly to the students in class.

    No a tour is not a symphony, but it should be taken as seriously by parents and visitors. When it's your child being distracted by visitors, you really do see things a bit differently.

    I have been amazed by how inconsiderate some parents are - I recall giving a tour once in a kindergarten. The teacher had a stationary bike there for kids for when they needed to burn off some energy. A parent actually went in and got on it and started pedaling. When I asked her to get off, she said 'I'm being quiet!" Of course, being a complete visual distraction apparently didn't count for her!

    Most parents are wonderful and considerate - but that ONE parent can really ruin it for the others.

    We now do not have parents enter classrooms because of that and other similar experiences.

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  15. I have to disagree with 8:13am. Just because I bring my toddler with me on some tours (not all) does not mean that I don't take the tours seriously. If I'm touring 20 schools, there are only so many favors I can call in and money available for childcare. My toddler, while extremely cute and distracting in his adorableness ;-) does not yell or disturb classes and I keep him on me in an Ergo. I think a better platitude (if you're making one) would be "all ye rude people, please stay away." adults (as 8:13 points out) are sometimes more distracting than toddlers.

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  16. As a veteran parent volunteer tour leader, I can attest that there are times when some people on the tour inspire you to start conniving to find ways to convince them that this is NOT the school for their kids. It's amazing how some parents don't get that their behavior can be seriously harmful to their own kids.

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  17. I suggest parents use the SFUSD web site and individual school web sites to gather as much information as possible before touring, so you can focus on getting a feel for the individual school and what differentiates it from other schools.

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  18. It occurred to me, after standing through many 1.5-2 hour tours, that it would be incredibly helpful if each school created a handout with FAQs and fast facts about the school. It just seems like a lot of time is wasted answering the same questions over and over again, like 'How do you handle drop off and pick up?' I think the tours could be much less time consuming overall. What a commitment!

    Also, it would be helpful to have a handout, or information online (perhaps this does exist) explaining what things are common among all elementary schools so that we don't come away thinking that one school offers something unique when in reality they all offer it. Just two cents from a worn out rookie.

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  19. "It occurred to me, after standing through many 1.5-2 hour tours, that it would be incredibly helpful if each school created a handout with FAQs and fast facts about the school. It just seems like a lot of time is wasted answering the same questions over and over again, like 'How do you handle drop off and pick up?' I think the tours could be much less time consuming overall. What a commitment!"

    Unfortunately, in my experience on 20+ tours, a fair fraction of parents are too clueless to even read a handout or do their homework before the tour. So you get the same questions again and again.

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  20. True, but the tour leader could politely tell the person who asked the question that the answer is on the handout, thus saving everyone time as you move on for the actual tour. I just don't think every tour needs to be an hour and a half long (or more). It's crazy!!

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  21. I lead tours at my school (Clarendon) and we show 1 class for each program for each grade (so 2 K classes, 2 1st grade, etc). I've had more than a few parents get annoyed/dissapointed that they were not able to see all 5 of the K classes.
    Parents: please realize that these tours happen every week and so we try and minimize how many distractions each class has.
    Also, remember, K is only ONE grade in elementary school. It's just as important to see what happens in the upper grades.

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  22. As I posted earlier, creating a FAQ to hand out for tours IS what we did at Lakeshore some years ago. Yes, the tour leader was able to say "the answer is on the handout," which not only sped things up but also helped head off the possibility that one of the various volunteer tour leaders would answer the question inaccurately.

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