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Refining Your School Tour: Being Different is About Being Memorable!

When early childhood leaders commit to school improvements, and the intentional hard work it takes for them and their staff to adopt innovative practices, they sometimes lose site that those changes won’t mean a thing if they aren’t simultaneously recruiting new families for their school.  To help you find your marketing voice and identify ways to translate all the goodness that’s happening IN your school with prospective parents, we turn to Chanie Wilschanski, founder of DiscoverEd Consulting. Also, to see other previous posts related to “marketing your school” click here

Chanie Wilschanski

Do you ever wonder why some schools fill their slots months and sometimes even years in advance?!  Why can some directors engage with parents and have them sign up on the spot, while some struggle to get even 3-4 parents to register?

While some of these results can be due to living in an overpopulated area of young families, there are also some key steps that you can take to fill your slots, max out your registration and build meaningful relationships with your parent body.

I believe that being different is about being memorable.

Do parents remember your school after the tour? Or was your school just another one of the very many schools they visited?

Do you want the parents to be talking about the tour well after it’s over?

  • Like at the dinner table
  • Or even the following week at a dinner party with family or with friends?

Or does the tour they went on become a faded memory, like what they wore to their friend’s wedding 6 months ago? (who remembers that?)

How can this even happen?

Do things that no other director would even think of doing and you will be memorable!

Here is the fact! People are busy!

The very act of needing to choose a school for their child can be a very daunting task.

They have so many options and they simple don’t know what will be the best place for their child.

As a leader – your job is to show the parents WHY your school is the best option for their child. You need to show them what your school offers that nobody else does. Why your school will be the best place for their child to thrive.

But here’s the secret – you need a team to do this.

Your staff need to help you create this in your school.

In this series, I will show you

  1. How your teachers can create their USP – unique selling proposition for their class.
  2. How to be a super connector and stand out.

PART 1: HOW TO CREATE YOUR USP

What is a USP?

Every business and company has a USP. It’s what sets this company apart from everyone else.

FedEx- Same day delivery

Costco – Bulk and save

Apple – Innovation

Zappos- Free shipping both ways

You get the idea. Each of these companies has something about them that is unique and special.

That’s why you know them and REMEMBER!

I’m going to venture a guess, that every single person reading this guide knows each of these companies! So crafting your USP is about thinking why I’m different? Remember, that high school phase- when all we wanted was to fit in and be like everyone else? We all needed the same hairstyle and shoes and clothes and oh my, if we didn’t have the same bag as everyone else!

Well now, you want to be different and stand out.

Your teachers need to know how to market their class in 2 minutes or less and position it to the parents in a way that has their jaw dropping!

You want parents to walk out of each class saying “Oh my gosh!” “Wow!”

I NEED my child in this school. This is an amazing place.

Here’s another piece.

If you are reading this guide, you are a committed director and leader for your school. You take the time to invest in yourself and you want to learn more. You probably have great teachers you do incredible things in your school. And here is where you wish things were different.

Many directors have shared with me.

“I feel like we are slice of heaven that nobody knows about.”

“Our program is amazing, why don’t we have full slots”

“My staff are so creative, and they do amazing things, but we are still not full”

Teachers are educators. They know how to connect with the children. They know how to create engaging provocations that invite the children to learn and explore.

They aren’t marketers or salespeople. And they don’t need to be.

What you want them to be able to do is position what they do in the classroom in a way that highlights to the parents the tremendous values of the school. So parents know this is the place to be!

Every educator should start by thinking through these three steps below.

Step 1

What age do they teach?

Step 2

What are some of the skills that the children are learning right now that are developmentally appropriate?

Step 3

What is happening in the class? What unit, projects, or investigations are the children currently immersed in?

Let me share a sample so you can get the idea

“At this time of year, our children are 21/2 years old. We are focusing a lot of social skill building and independence. Some of the way that we facilitate this learning is through our center play.

In the block center you can see that the children are still in the parallel play stage – which means they play alongside each other. Our goals is to offer experiences that allow the children to play interactively and build their social skills.

If you take a look in our art center, we have individualized trays. This helps the children understand personal space and also assists with cleaning up independently.  

These are some of the experiences that we offer to the children so they can process concepts, information and make meaningful connections.”

Now let me break this down for you.

“At this time of year, our children are 21/2 years old. We are focusing a lot of social skill building and independence.”

This class is a 2 year old class and chose to share with the parents 2 skills they are working on now. Your staff can choose any skills. But it should be 2. This keeps it short and specific and easier to remember.

“Some of the way that we facilitate this learning is through our center play.”

You want to highlight to the parents that play is a valuable part of the learning process in your school.

In this next part – I chose 2 centers.

You can pick any 2 centers that you want to speak about. But again, pick 2. This will help you stay focused when a parent comes in and you want to share with them in under 2 minutes what’s happening in the class.

“In the block center you can see that the children are still in the parallel play stage – which means they play alongside each other. Our goal is to offer experiences that allow the children to play interactively and build their social skills.”

Notice how I subtly added what parallel play is- this SHOWS the parent that you are educated. Telling them you have a Master’s degree doesn’t really mean anything to the parent.

“If you take a look in our art center, we have individualized trays. This helps the children understand personal space and also assists with cleaning up independently.”  

To sum up: here are the guidelines for you and your staff.

  1. Remember the age you teach and what skills you are working on at the time of the tour.
  2. Pick 2 centers that you will highlight to the parents during the tour.
  3. Close off with a short sentence about how these experiences are beneficial for the child.

In the next post, I will share some simple strategies for a school tour and how to follow up as a super connector!

To download the “Market your school” Cheat Sheet – click here

photo-of-chanieChanie Wilschanski M.S.Ed is an early childhood strategist and leadership coach – founder of DiscoverED Consulting a RESULTS driven company designed for early childhood progressive directors who want top talent teachers, maxed out registration, parents who value their work and more strategies and time with less overwhelm!

With a decade of experience and extensive training in the Reggio Approach she has had the privilege of training thousands of educators spanning 6 continents and 16 countries.

She is also the author of the DiscoverED curriculum series – The Ultimate Idea Generator which guides early childhood centers to bringing in more progressive materials and provocations into all the centers for many different units of study and the Jewish Holidays.

In addition, Chanie currently directs the early childhood program at the Beis Rivkah Seminary in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY where she lives with her husband and 3 children.

Note: To view other posts related to “marketing your school”, click here.

 

What’s In Store for Early Childhood & Family Engagement This Year

rosh-hashanah

A New Year’s Message from the Early Childhood & Family Engagement Team

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Judaism teaches us to believe in and embrace the power of change. The Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) provide us with support and opportunity to be introspective and reflect on our lives so that we can recognize how we need to change, and gather the courage to change. It takes reflection and courage to understand and see things in new ways and to challenge our assumptions about ourselves and others.

In her new book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dwek, a renowned developmental psychologist, makes the case that a growth mindset is essential for change:

Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.

Judaism also recognizes that growth takes mutual support and that support is found in the power of Jewish community. That is why it is very important that we as an educational community come together to support growth mindsets for ourselves and our young children.

One of the essential tools for growth for young children and adults is play – especially self-directed, open-ended play – and experimentation that leads to discovery. This year we have many exciting opportunities for you to play with new ideas that will support your growth mindset: Experience new early childhood approaches in action through site visits; connect with colleagues through networks; contribute to our In-site-ful Journey blogs; attend conferences; and immerse in new ideas through webinars. All are planned to stretch your mind and practice.

We are very excited for you to join us this March for a very special experience as we dedicate our spring conference to the power of play. The conference will be led by the “play mavens,” and authors of From Play to Practice, Marcia L. Nell and Walter F. Drew, who teach that “play is for keeps and central to human growth and development at all stages of the life process.”

This year let us take another lesson from Carol S. Dwek and remember that “becoming is better than being.” Let us dedicate ourselves to developing a growth mindset by taking cues from our children and each find new ways to play, create and innovate!

Wishing you a Shana Tova u’Metukah,

Shellie, Sue, Shariee, Yael and Rachel
The Early Childhood & Family Engagement Team

Seeing the Impact of Change and Collaboration at Brotherhood Synagogue Nursery School

Susan Remick Topek

Seeing change happen

I feel privileged to have been an observer of Brotherhood Synagogue Nursery School, Gramercy Park, NYC, for the past several years. I have come in to see the teachers, speak with them on issues of professional development and watch how they have grown and journeyed towards a Reggio-inspired vision.

My past interactions with them made our recent In-Site-Ful Journey visit to the school on December 2, 2016 a very meaningful experience for me.  I was able to see beautiful rooms in what they contained and how much was displayed.  I was able to notice what had been added, what was eliminated and how the staff as a whole had become a new and deeply connected community. I give Merril Feinstein, the school’s Director, much credit for putting her faith in the leadership and vision of her faculty. She included them in every step along the change-path.  She believed in the direction of the school, but also understood that she could not make important changes without the buy-in and ownership of her staff. The result is a true community of practice among the staff with a focus on collaboration and connection to values, both constructivist and Jewish.

Principles of learning

During our visit Merril mentioned an influential book in her journey, Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky.  The book outlines seven essential life skills for children’s learning:

  1. Focus and Self Control
  2. Perspective Taking
  3. Communicating
  4. Making Connections
  5. Critical Thinking
  6. Taking on Challenges
  7. Self-Directed, Engaged Learning

After visiting Merril’s school and seeing the teachers and children at play and in classroom experiences and activities, the seven skills are not only visible in the learning of the children, but in the interaction and intentionality of the educators.

Others are inspired to take their own first steps

A few days after our visit, I received an email from Zoey Saacks, Director, Chai Center Preschool, Dix Hills, NY. She returned to her school and said:

“I have spent the last two days simplifying our environment after our wonderful visit on Wednesday.  The reaction in the morning from many of the students was “we are bored!!” By the afternoon they were busier and more engaged than ever before!!

Less is more and what I see from this is another lesson in believing in the child. With minimal items they have created a whole world. They are engaging with materials that have been in their classroom the entire year but were not that inviting compared to the easier manipulatives, etc. that take less brain power as the toy creator did most of the thinking for them!”

Change doesn’t happen in a bubble. Therefore, after our Insiteful Journey visits we ask educators to share their impressions and reflections with colleagues and with the parents of their students. To the parents we encourage educators to say something like, I was absent today because I was visiting a school for my professional development and this is what I am able to now bring to your children because of it. Geula Zamist, Director, Congregation Agudath Israel, Highland Park, NJ, who sent teachers from her school to the Brotherhood visit, sent me an email after the visit saying, “…I wanted to share the beautiful enthusiastic response my teacher Jane Gladstein had to the Insiteful Journey visit to Brotherhood. She was so impressed that she shared this letter with the parents in her class!”:

picture of janeOne of the perks of being on the staff at CAI Nursery School is we are encouraged to visit other Nursery Schools to view best practice. Last Wednesday I visited the Brotherhood Synagogue in Gramercy Park, a community housed in a protected, historic Quaker meeting house right on the park. The school is in the basement of this very old building, but it is beautiful.  There are old brickwork arches and a feeling of history. The school itself is Reggio inspired. Our school has been on a journey visiting, reading and learning about this philosophy of pre-school education, and this school is a wonderful example. 

Reggio inspired means the classrooms are filled with lots of natural materials and lots of child-driven learning. The classrooms themselves were minimally equipped; most of the “teaching tools” were housed outside of the classrooms in a communal cabinet, available to teachers and children when they chose. In the classroom the children were wonderfully busy imagining and learning. One class was involved in a study of a very New York topic….skyscrapers. There were models and drawings and stories. Another class was rolling sugar cookies and cutting them into Chanukah shapes. Everyone was spinning dreidels and graphing the results.  Classes had minimal toys to encourage imagination and investigation and to focus the children’s attention. On a rainy day, everyone including the twos went out to play. There was a lot of splashing and joy.

What did I take away from this visit? I learned less is truly more. With less distraction the children are able to explore what they are interested in more deeply. This empowers them and builds their confidence as explorers and learners.  What greater gift can we give them? Of course, I am not throwing out all our toys, although that was my first thought! We will start with little steps.  We will try to take one area of the room and simplify it, and take it from there.

Jane

I am gratified that the visit has motivated others. Merril reminded the participating educators to ask themselves three questions upon setting up learning experiences: What are you teaching? What is it good for? How do you know? Merril and her faculty at Brotherhood Synagogue shared the story of their journey and provoked others to take steps along that path – with their school as strong and inspiring model to look to as they continue on.

Click here to see a collection of recommended books and articles and to see pictures of this inspiring school visit.

I’m hoping to follow suit with my dream

An educator reflects on a recent visit to a Reggio-inspired preschool

By Carol Garber

Carol Garber offers the following refection after visiting the Chai Center Preschool in Dix Hills on November 3, 2014. This was the first In-site-ful Journey visit for the 2014-2015 school year. Each year schools are selected as examples of innovation in Jewish early childhood settings. Zoey Saccks, Early Childhood Director, led the participating educators on a tour of the school and their outdoor nature play space. (SC)

I was totally impressed by the Chai Center.  As soon as you walked into the building you felt the warmth, love and inspiration.

As I observed their outdoor space, I was taken back to my own experiences, of going under the sprinklers in the summer and just playing outside. I was able as to experience playing in mud and just being a child in the great outdoors.

The vegetable garden brought me back to the time when my youngest daughter and I would go every spring to Hicks Nursery and buy vegetables.  We would pick out our plants with care, and plant them in our garden. After my husband got tired of pulling the weeds, we went to container gardening, where it was easier for us to get to the weeds.

To see the love and inspiration that Zoey created in her school was so totally impressive. I applaud her for following through on her vision and dream and I hope that I will be able to follow suit on a very small scale with my dream.

Click here to see photos from that visit.

Click here to see a short video clip of Zoey sharing where she gets her materials from and the importance of setting up the environment in a way that helps share out the school’s values.

Click here to see a 1 minute video documentation of children in the garden which showcases the importance of unstructured outdoor play.

Carol Garber is the Nursery School Director at East Meadow Jewish Center on Long Island.

 

Why selling “Play” is so hard: The Challenges and Concerns Voiced by Jewish EC Professionals on Implementing a Play Based Curriculum

Shariee Calderone

You know you are on the right path moving the needle in your field forward when towards the end of your time spent with colleagues the questions and push back begin!

LI Professional Day 2014 044

For me it feels like you might have hit a nerve – sparked some thinking – and made the day relevant and inspiring all at the same time. For the educators who attended the conferences my colleagues Susan Golab Poltarak and Susan Remick Topek designed, it was probably the beginning and ending sessions that made the most impact on the participants.

The beginning because the keynote was delivered by a very experienced and engaging educator from Bankstreet College, Rick Ellis, who just makes you feel like he gets it. All of it. The kids in your classroom, you as the professional, the environment you work in, and parents who care deeply about their children. Not to mention the topic at hand; the importance of play and that it’s not an ‘add on’ but an essential component to the development of children and your role in fostering that play the classroom. He articulates this with such insight, compassion and humor, and yet never sways from the importance of the message. It was like God’s voice saying, “Let Your Children Play!”

LI Professional Day 2014 033

And then the ending because it was designed in the style of an informal forum with Ellis mirroring back to the participants the issues he heard raised while visiting the individual breakout rooms that were sandwiched in the middle of the day. Ellis validated and addressed all of their concerns which helped scaffold and deepen the learning even more for the participants. He showed empathy for where they’re at and reiterated the message without sounding like a broken record. He made the educators believe there’s the possibility of making the very changes that might have seemed impossible just an hour or two before. Not that it would be easy, but that it’s important enough to make it possible and that they are the only ones who can make it happen.

Here are the concerns elevated by the group about adopting a play based curriculum in an environment that appears to be putting up every obstacle possible:

– There’s too much focus on the project-of-the-day. This is the go to activity for educators which is often coupled with the expectation by parents to have art projects sent home on a regular basis. It was interesting that the educators were very aware of their own contribution to this behavior.

Rick suggests three things to combat this. One: Refocus the communications to parents so the emphasis is on the process and not on the end result. Two: Share windows into the learning through creative documentation so that that now becomes the “take-home”. And Three: invite parents into the classroom to see projects in the making often so they see it as a place for creation not only completion.

– Kids get bored too easily.

ME-PLAY
Ricks suggestion here is to let them “learn to be bored”. It may sound like a hard-line reaction, and it is, but he feels there are positive things that educators can do to keep the environment especially interesting. He says children are just beginning to make sense of their world and want to naturally figure things out. If you lay it all out there for them it becomes very uninviting. He also suggests an abundance of materials that are completely open-ended. Meaning that they don’t have any obviously prescribed use for it. These items he says encourages much more creativity and verbal exchanges with other children; the very things that help combat that sense of boredom.

– Knowing when to enter or not enter the play.

I don’t recall Rick’s suggestions here but I do remember him saying that during teacher observations he knows something’s wrong when every student is surrounding the teacher. He says that it indicates to him one of two things. One: that the students current activities are developmentally beyond their capabilities and therefore require much more support and input by the teacher than would be preferable. Or two: that the teacher may have become too much the focus of attention. Like the entertainer rather than the facilitator.preschool teacher with kidsteacher with play

 

 

 

– Adopting a less-is-more approach to the display of materials.

Rick is a strong proponent for having fewer materials out on display and available to the children but much more with regards to quantity. Unfortunately educators are getting conflicting messages from visiting quality stars inspectors who tell them that ALL of their materials, like puzzles, need to be out all the time. Rick’s belief is rooted in the idea that open ended materials encourage more investigation, pretend play, and team work between and among children. I like to think of it as either a rotating assortment of materials or the growing of materials based on the interests of the children themselves. Either way having everything out all the time is just not conducive to the best learning and therefore is not recommended.

– Parents asking for more technology in the classroom.

Rick follows the research here, especially for the 2’s and 3’s, which suggests that too much screen time for young children doesn’t allow for that hands on tactical investigation of real things. I’m remembering a story about children using iPad screens to see how trees might sway in the wind or how they feel in general, when ideally the children would be given opportunities to do these things in real life in a natural environment. It also reminds me of my colleague Susan Remick Topek who strongly suggests giving children real items rather than representations of those items is the way to go. Things like shofars and candles and flowers and hammers. Real is the deal here!

Hearing, elevating and honoring the concerns of educators enables us to begin to map out a course of action that can move the needle in their practice. In some cases it’s a matter of better advocacy, in some cases it’s a greater understanding or skill-building, and in other cases it’s the way educators communicate the importance of what they do and why they are doing it. It’s fascinating work that we do and I respect all those who are engaged in the practice of being part of a child’s and a family’s learning and journey.

Click here for the LI photo album from this day, and the Westchester photo album.

Three ideas that inspired me most: Reflections on my visit to the 14th Street Y

Samantha Hornstock

I had a wonderful morning at the 14th street Y Early Childhood Program learning more about their practices as well as engaging with other teachers in the field. It allowed me reflect on the ideas that work well in my own classroom, what could use improvement as well as ways to implement ideas that were discussed as a group. I was inspired by the their respect for each other as co workers and teammates, students and their families. I have narrowed down the three ideas that inspired me the most leaving the workshop:

1. Teacher Support

The 14th street Y team of “ teacher trainers” seems to be an extremely beneficial part of their program. Having a team of teachers that are able to train educators with less experience is crucial to staff development. Through experience, they have seen that less “formal” meetings and more hands-on approach is a more successful way to tackle issues such as student behavior, classroom management and curriculum. I loved their ideas for working as a team. The entire staff supports an issue that a particular teacher is having in their classroom. Providing teachers with a comfortable way to seek help or find out additional information seems to create consistency among the entire school and allow teachers to have a sense of support and unity.

2. Incorporation of Family Into The Classroom

The early childhood theme this year is a focus on “families”. The study of art is developed using imagery, which incorporates the student’s ideas and feelings through a variety of different art forms. The pictures of student’s portraits of members of their family were amazing to see. It encourages further thinking about where they come from and what makes them unique. From an early age, it shows children the importance of the family-school connection, which is key to a successful learning experience.

family portoriat

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the documentation outside the classroom on the process of art projects which allows parents to have more of an idea on exactly what their children are doing at school and how to talk to them about it. I appreciated their “no stress” approach to documentation and remembering to “stay in the moment” and not worry about constantly updating the bulletins. However, their picture of the day accompanied with an explanation I found to be the most inspiring. It is often a dilemma for me to find a way an efficient yet detail orientated way to express to the parents in my classroom what is taking place. Sending a picture home accompanied with a short description daily is a great way to encourage child and parent conversations about school and keep parents involved at the same time. 

3. Respect for Child Space and Individuality

While walking around the different classrooms,
I was impressed with each student’s areas to keep their belongings. It is important for children to have a space that they can store their art and work created throughout the day and also encourages accountability. I also loved its technique of writing each child’s name on a block while using the voting system. It has social-emotional and cognitive benefits as well as ensures that each child’s voice is heard. Each classroom had a home-like feeling to it while also allowing children to have their own space.

stacked blocks

Samantha Hornstock is a teacher at Temple Shaaray Tefila Nursery School in NYC.