Sunday, April 19, 2015

Taking the Opportunity

"Take advantage of every opportunity to 
practice your communication skills
so that when important occasions arise,
you will have the gift,
the style,
the sharpness, 
the clarity, 
and the emotions 
to affect other people."
- Jim Rohn

Can you feel it?  The excitement is in the air.  So many of our families are preparing for the next school year.  Yes, we still have approximately forty days of school, but we also have kindergarten round-up and the window has opened for families to request for the 2015-2016 school year.

Just last week at our Parent Information Meeting I was stopped by a few parents.  The couple was very pleasant and inquisitive.  They introduced themselves and then asked me which elementary building in the Western District was the best.  I chuckled, told them that was a loaded question and then proceeded to explain that all three elementary schools are truly fantastic.  I shared our district top teacher numbers, our common programs and the tremendous partnership that we have between buildings and in the community.  

And then they asked it...

The couple then asked the question that opened a Pandora's box!  They asked where they could go online and compare the schools' test data.

(Here was my opportunity, and I was going to take it!)

I respectfully began with a bit of information and shared our district website.  I then spoke to them as a parent and an educator.  I let them know that standardized test data is an extremely small piece of information.  Testing typically lasts just a few days.  Then I shared a handful of points that parents could/should look at when looking at schools.  

1)  Location.  Is the school in a safe area?  Will transportation be manageable for your family?  Schools and Real Estate are different, but in both Location does matter.  The hope is that you are close enough to be involved in activities that take place at your child's school.  Ultimately, you want the school to be safe and secure.

2)  Focus on your child.  Does your child have specific needs?  Does your child need extra support?  I often get asked about accelerated programs and about programs designed for the individual.  The best advice I can give is for families to take a tour and check out the school with their own eyes.  Talk to teachers and administrators about learning programs and philosophies.  

3)  Communication.  Parents should look at the schools website.  Has the site been updated?  Is it easy to navigate?  Parents should also inquire about a School Facebook page, School Twitter account, Professional Blogs for parents to read, frequency of parent/teacher conferences and ways that teachers communicate with parents.  

4)  Approach to Learning.  In the year 2015 it is time for schools to not only tell, but also show parents ways students are learning.  Are schools using technology?  Is the curriculum a canned product?  Do teachers provide choice in daily learning?  Do students learn by play, by doing and through experiences?  Learning looks different than it did ten or twenty years ago.  Has the school moved forward over time?  These are important questions for parents to ask.

5)  Facilities.  In this day and age is wireless access provided?  Do you consider the school to be clean?  Upon entering, what is the procedure for entering the school?  Over the years I have discovered that some parents care a great deal about facilities and to others it is secondary.  I have had parents comment on the playground and gym and others focus more on the library.  It's always an eye opener to hear the multitude of questions parents may ask.

6)  Culture.  Have you talked to other parents that have children attending the school?  What do they have to say about the school?  The staff?  The intangibles?  Does the school have extracurricular activities?  Clubs?  Sports?  Student-Led programs?  How does the school "feel" when you enter? Does the school feel student-centered?  When talking to the teachers or principal, can they share student-centered projects or activities?  

To be fair, I shared these points quickly with the parents.  I didn't monopolize their time, but I did want to make sure they understood that a school is much more than a test score.  As we began to finish up, the same parents asked for a packet of homework to work on with their incoming kindergarten student.  I smiled and told them to focus on three things:  1)  Does your child know their phone number and address?  2)  Read to your child and practice the ABC's.  3)  Be Present!  Give your child experiences.  Take them fishing.  Go for a bike ride. Plan a zoo trip.  Your child will benefit greatly by participating in as many experiences as possible.

I share this story for a specific reason.  

Be Ready!

Be ready to have conversations with parents.  Be ready to share what makes your school special.  

Never miss the opportunity to share something great about your school.  You never know what the impact may be.

This Week's Big Question:  What would you add or subtract from my above list?


Monday, April 20th:  3:45pm String Team
Monday, April 20th:  4pm  Boy/Girl Quest
Tuesday, April 21st:  TEAM Meeting 9am
Wednesday, April 22nd:  Caleb (Principal for the Day)
Wednesday, April 22nd:  Grades 3-5 Assembly at 8:45am (Young American Visit)
Wednesday, April 22nd:  Middle School Transition Meetings
Wednesday, April 22nd:  Fire Drill PM
Wednesday, April 22nd:  3:45pm String Team
Thursday, April 23rd:  2nd Grade to Air Zoo
Thursday, April 23rd:  CP Federal Credit Union 2pm
Thursday, April 23rd:  4pm Boy/Girl Quest
Friday, April 23rd:  8am Staff Meeting in Mrs. Kline's classroom

Articles Worth Reading:

From "I Don't Know" to... @Joesanfelippofc

Fix? @Jonharper70bd

Videos Worth Watching:

Goosebumps... (2 min)

Teacher gets a BIG surprise... (4 min)

Forget What You Know (18 min)

Hillary spoof on SNL (5 min)


  1. Ben, this post should go out to parents of students everywhere! Great summation of things to look for and ask about to know if their child will be attending a quality school that provides success at many more indicators than test scores. There's more to students than their score, and there's more to a school than a test score.

    Well said! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ben - I have to agree with Jennifer, what a great resource for parents. Makes me think back to my days when I selected my home, and therefore my kids school many years ago. Test scores are just a small piece of the big picture. FInd a school that has a climate and culture that meets our needs and success is bound to follow!
    I too thank you for sharing!

  3. Great list and great advice!! I also tell parents the best way to find the perfect fit is to visit! Ask for a tour. Are students and staff smiling?? Are students engaged and active in the classrooms? Do people say hi? Test scores are a snapshot in time, culture is what makes a school a good fit (or not) for students.