I Highly Recommend it!
Tour the schools competing with you for students. There. I said it. I am all in on this one. Some people to whom I suggest this think I am being scandalous. I promise: this is not a scandalous proposition. Rather, it is totally above-board and enlightening and very much worth the time and effort if you have the volunteers willing to do it. Before you divvy up the nearby schools and tour, do consider these points:
1. Don’t rely on a past tour. When you are checking out schools for your own children, you are looking at certain things and blind to others. You tend to be more concerned about the content than the delivery of the message. And, as right you should, you are looking out for the things most important to your child and family situation. Attending a tour now, without so much on the line, will be with totally fresh eyes. Plus, things might have changed since you last went.
2. Be courteous. Just a reminder to treat the people you encounter at this school with respect. Even if, in your mind, anyway, they are employing dishonest tactics to get students or even spreading misinformation about your school, this is not the time to fight that fight.
3. Be genuine. People often ask me if they should use a fake name (!) when touring a nearby school. I wouldn’t. Use your real name (and I always use my children’s real ages.). Remember that you are allowed to tour other schools. Besides, sometimes you have to present your drivers license and wouldn’t that be awkward?
4. Don’t go it alone. As you know, offering tours takes time and resources so be sure to schedule, if at all possible, when other families are already touring, so the school does not roll out the red carpet just for you. This is easiest to accomplish when schools use signup genius or similar tools. Otherwise, I might say, “I’m almost certain I can make this tour, but if something comes up, I’d feel better knowing there are others on the tour so it can go on without me. Will there be others coming, too?”
5. Keep your eyes peeled. Observe everything—no detail is too small to be helpful. I always take notes, too. Look out for large things, like who is leading the tour, what they talk about, what they show you, overall length and content. But also notice the small things such as their frequency of tours, method of RSVPing for tours, how they handle their negatives (check out my post on managing the negatives) and what role the principal plays.
6. You never know…Sometimes your best takeaway is not marketing related. I would say a third of the great things I learn on tours have nothing to do with marketing! Such things include ideas for fundraisers; field trips; school behavior management; teacher staffing; uses for PTO funds and more.
7. You won’t regret it. You will always learn something. Your time is precious and I don’t want you to waste a morning. You won’t.
After you have toured, don’t just let your thoughts and or notes sit there. Jot down any remaining thoughts including anything your school could benefit from adopting. Share this information through the appropriate channels, which might include your PTO Board, PTO or principal.
Do share your experiences touring nearby schools. Have you seen something neat (or awful) on a school tour? And speaking of tours, how is yours? Make sure you label your school's programs and know your school's brand.