Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Courtesy, the Most Valuable Parent Involvement Strategy

We went to the dentist this morning and naturally, my daughters were anxious and nervous about seeing the dentist.  I mean, who isn't nervous or apprehensive about going to the dentist?

As we walked in the front door, my girls and I were blanketed with 'Good Morning', 'How are You', small talk and lots of smiles. It wasn't just for us. Every patient received the same courtesy. As we moved to the back for our cleanings, the courtesy continued with politeness and the tactful way that the staff made recommendations for better tooth care. There was plenty of evidence that a plan for systematic courtesy was ingrained in this office.

What's your plan for systematic courtesy? Does your organization have a vision for courtesy or is it left to chance? If you truly desire for your parents to be involved with your campus, you must make a commitment to articulate your vision for making every visitor welcome.

courtesy[ kur-tuh-see, kurt-see ]
1. excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior.
2. a courteous, respectful, or considerate act or expression.

Courtesy Plan
It is critical that the leader lead the staff in devising a plan to treat guests with courtesy. Identify where all staff members come into contact with guests and work with them to make a courtesy plan to make every guest feel welcome or appreciated. Key areas include car drop off and pick up, cafeteria, front office waiting area, parent conferences and the telephone.  Don't forget to discuss how to communicate with courtesy in emails.  Have staff members develop norms to make guests feel welcome. Identify the language, tone, and body language that must be in place to communicate courtesy. Tone and body language make up 90% of your communication.

Organizational Efficiency leads to Respect
If your systems are unorganized, you will not have time to focus on the people walking through the front door. Excessive waiting and lack of organizational procedures communicates that visitors are not a top priority. With specificity, clarify and communicate staff roles and responsibilities at duty spots, so they can positively interact with visitors. Most importantly, every employee must make eye contact and welcome every guest to the building. This small act of courtesy pays huge dividends.

Understand the Intimidation of School
To some, the school is more intimidating than the dentist's office because many people had negative or unsuccessful experiences at school. Your staff must recognize this reality so that they do not make fatal mistakes in their communication toward visitors to the school.  Failing to understand why people have reservations about school can lead to poor interactions with guests. Again, positively addressing every guest breaks down barriers and makes them think that your school is different from the school they attended. 

Recognize & Respond to Uncomfortable Guests
Visitors come to school for different reasons. One of those is to address a problem or question that they are having. Many times they are uncomfortable or even irritable as a result. Your staff must have a plan to recognize and welcome uncomfortable guests. Setting norms for handling upset or frustrated visitors with courtesy is paramount. If your staff is prepared for situations like this, they are capable of maintaining positive rapport between the visitor and the school. Ultimately these planned acts will be of great value when the visitor makes it to the person that can address their problem. Responding appropriately to uncomfortable guests reduces tension which makes way for building rapport.

Thank You are 2 Powerful Words
How much do we thank our guests for taking time to get involved? 

Thank your guests for:
  • Coming to the school,
  • Eating lunch with their child,
  • Bringing necessary paperwork,
  • Returning a phone call,
  • Bringing a problem to your attention,
  • Asking a question,
  • Supporting the school's discipline plan,
  • Helping their child with homework,
  • Etc. 
Each one of the items listed above is very important in the education of their child.  We must show our appreciation for their support.  If a guest receives thanks for the things that they do for their child, there's a strong likelihood that they will trust us more and be more involved with the school.

Enthusiasm is Exponential
If you're not excited about your job, your visitors aren't excited about being there either. Enthusiasm communicates to others that your school is a positive place, you believe in what the school is striving to do for kids, and you enjoy being a part of the organization. Greet guests with a smile, a genuine and cheerful tone, and open body language that demonstrates transparency. Enthusiasm builds bridges and makes your building feel more like a home.  More importantly, when more people show their enthusiasm at the school, your positive culture factor increases exponentially.

Sorry Communicates your Visitors' Importance
Do you communicate that you are sorry?  When we inconvenience visitors, they must hear that we are sorry. When we make a mistake, we must show that we acknowledge our faults and want to correct them. When our guests are having a bad day, we can communicate empathy. The two words, I'm sorry, are a very considerate act, show your openness and have high leverage in fostering parent involvement. 

You're Welcome, the Overlooked Courtesy
We are often so busy that we forget why we're here, to serve others. "You're Welcome" is a reflective statement. It is your opportunity to share with your visitor how important it was to serve them. Take the extra five seconds and invest them in telling your visitor how much of a pleasure it was to help them. These two words will be your down payment on the next time that your visitor returns to your school. If you do a poor job or worse, no job of saying you're welcome, you may have to start all over to build a relationship the next time your visitor returns to school.

Communication is important to solicit parent involvement, but without courtesy, the potential of communication is minimized. Courtesy or how your organization's actions value visitors complements communication and results in higher parental involvement.

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