5 Tips for Dealing with Your School's Negatives

Updated: Feb 27

We all have them...

These students are very impressed with your explaining why their large class size is not so bad.

You know the phrase, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade?" Of course if you can take your public school's negatives (we all have them!) and make them into bona fide positives, that is wonderful. However, sometimes, no matter how creative you are, you just can't. And in that situation, you need a plan, which might involve distracting from the lemons, getting rid of the lemons, or at least not pointing them out....

Five Tips for Handling Your School's Negatives

1.  Make a Chart. List your school's negatives and next to them, list down the silver linings and/or how you can re-frame them to be not-so-negative. These will come up from time to time. Don't get caught off guard. Preparing will keep you from sounding defensive.

Share this list with anyone who may help with school tours and marketing efforts. It's helpful for as many as possible to know the positive spin because so many parents can influence prospective families, whether it's via word-of-mouth, at an open house or on social media.

2.  Change What You Can Change. Make sure you have tried to actually make any negatives into positives. This can take some effort, time and creativity... and sometimes financial assistance from the PTO. Even with all that, accept that it's not always possible.

3.  Take Yourself off Auto-Pilot. Sometimes we have been doing the school tours so long, we may not fully realize all the points we are making. Make sure to review your tour spiel and that what you are saying is intentional. And don't feel you have to fill silence. Sometimes it's nice for parents to look around and just ponder.

Example: I once toured a school where the principal brought to our attention the empty buildings on the campus. I never would have even noticed (no one goes in every building on a tour), but he just offered it up while we were walking by, telling parents it used to be a booming school with lots more classes per grade level. I could see all of us start wondering things like, "Oh, I never thought of this neighborhood as on the decline" and "I wonder why all the students left and where they went." While his honesty was appealing, his overall approach needed some improvement.

4.  Know When to Bite Your Tongue. I know this sounds very obvious but sometimes it can be hard, especially when times are frustrating. A tour leader or open house host might want to point out, "We used to have a librarian but the school district got rid of those" or "Unfortunately because the override didn't pass, we can't repair the SMART boards." This urge is totally understandable, just not the right forum.

One caveat: there might be a time when you may want to address the elephant in the room (of course with a positive spin) instead of letting parents assume the worst. For example, if the SMART board is obviously broken and unusable in a classroom, you should address it. You might say, "You can see this SMART board doesn't work. We'll be getting it repaired. We all know technology can be fickle. Fortunately our classrooms still have dry erase boards and Mrs. Smith is so creative she has found so many neat ways to teach math.

5.  Find a Good Middle Ground. It can be easy to adopt a sales-oriented attitude and want to only discuss rainbows and unicorns with regard to your school whenever you are talking with prospective families. (I used to do this.) Enthusiasm is great but be wary of sounding phony as parents will not trust you. Bottom line is you should still be authentic.

Here's two examples applying the tips above:

Example 1:  Your facilities are old--and look it--and you have been waiting for a bond to pass to update them for over a decade. A parent says, "Gosh, looks like these buildings are old." Your response might be, "Yes, our buildings date back to 1965. While they could use a facelift, we are lucky to have such big classrooms. The newer schools seem to have smaller rooms and many don't have gyms, which is a great spot for students to do PE in the heat."

Example 2:  Your class size is high, especially compared to nearby charter schools. A parent says, "Yikes, how many students are in that class? It looks like so many." Your response might be, "Our kindergarten classrooms have 31 students. Luckily our PTO provides aides for each room and we have experienced teachers who are great at managing the students. We also have very active parent volunteers who lead reading groups throughout each day. The children get a lot of individual attention."

Good luck making your lemonade. And by the way, don't forget to be intentional in pointing out the positives! You also might tour other schools to see how they deal with similar situations.