5 Tips for Dealing with the Negatives

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

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 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....

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 where and why all the students went." While his honesty was appealing, his overall approach needed some improvement. This got me thinking about some ideas for managing the not-so-great aspects of our schools....

Five Tips for Handling Your School's Negatives

1.  Make a chart. Write down your school's negatives and next to them, write down the silver linings and/or how you can re-frame them to be not-so-negative. Even if you don't bring them up yourself, some inevitably will come up. 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.

2.  Review your list. 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.

4.  Do not proactively point out negatives. I know this sounds very obvious bust sometimes it can be hard, especially when times are frustrating. A tour leader 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....

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. (I used to do this.) Enthusiasm is great but be wary of sounding phony. 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."

And let's not forget to intentionally point out the positives. Send me your examples if you have come up with some good silver linings. Whatever your negative, you probably are not the only school dealing with it. And if you think you have a unique negative, share that too...maybe we can help! And check out my post on fight songs which can help with school marketing (!) You also might tour other schools to see how they deal with similar situations.


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