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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

Prospective Families: Jobs to Be Taught

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

Good enrollment professionals are good teachers. Prospective parents enter the admission process with foreseeable expectations depending on the age of their child. In terms of a popular marketing framework, prospective parents are looking for the school to accomplish certain jobs for them. For the parents of early elementary age children, those jobs are physical and emotional safety, and out there on a distant horizon, academic success. Most parents will use the relative happiness of the children they see on a tour as their proxy for the first two, but they won't really know what academic success should look like for 3 - 5 year olds. Your Director of Enrollment must teach them what developmentally appropriate academic activity looks like for young children, how your teachers are experts in this work, and how these activities lead directly to the more discernable outcomes for your graduates. Without a good teacher in the admission process, prospective parents will not know what defines a great early childhood program, and your school will be on a level playing field with more affordable options for early childhood education, schools where the children are safe and happy, where the teachers seem nurturing, and where the activities appear to be purposeful, somehow, probably. NB: The delta between how your school defines excellence and what parents are anticipating also exists for middle and high school applicants, and those families also need a strong teacher, but the distance is narrower, and for the purposes of this article, I'll focus on the process for families of young children.

Take a look at the 3 minute video below. Imagine that you are the Director of Enrollment for this PreK - 8 independent school, and were fortunate enough to encounter this scene as you toured a prospective family of a current 3 year old. How you would illuminate this experience for them? Spoiler alert: this is an example of masterful early childhood teaching practice.

There's so much good stuff happening here that a knowledgeable Director of Enrollment would risk pedantry, and indeed, this would be a good moment for the DE to provide context and then ask one of the teachers to give more detail. But, for our purposes here: first, it's important to note a general truth--great early childhood activities are messy. No-muss, no-fuss, make-it-take-it activities for young children, the kind one encounters at a street fair or a museum or in craft kits, are underwhelming because there's little engaging beyond completion. In this scene, conversely, the teachers have built an open-ended, physically and cognitively stimulating activity by making kids the central agents of discovery, and by making careful choices that advance multiple goals essential to school success--all while courageously putting squirty bottles of cooking oil and water, bowls of glitter and sand, and blobs of shaving cream in the hands of 3-4 year olds. The goals?

  • Social/Emotional: Note that the table and the materials belong to the children. The teachers work on the periphery, assisting only by supplying additional materials and spotting the kids on the sink step up stool. The teachers take advantage of please and thank you reminder moments, clearly lessons they've worked on earlier. The teachers have limited some materials so that kids have the opportunity to practice sharing. This is a lesson in the many elements of confidence.

  • Physical: The teachers have chosen small tools like squeezy bottles, syringes and spoons to help the kids build fine motor skills and base hand strength. A child without hand strength and dexterity cannot develop a proper pencil grip, will struggle to grasp sound/letter relationship.

  • Language: The teachers are careful to name the materials the children are using including stretch vocabulary like "cylinder" and "liquid." Most teacher language is pragmatic, applying words to non-verbal behaviors from kids--Would you like some more water? Pull up on the plunger--or eliciting language from the more verbal kids--Would you like gold or silver? The teachers' language is otherwise open ended--What's happening? Why did it sink?--and relatively sparse. One of the most difficult things for teachers to do at all levels is to stop filling up space with their own language.

  • Spatial Reasoning: The lesson is an early exploration of density and observation through comparison, lessons that will grow in detail throughout the children's education. Spatial reasoning and relational thinking are critical underpinnings of mathematical and scientific thinking, and written and oral language.

With these kinds of elucidations, perhaps spread across several visits, a knowledgeable enrollment professional would shift the prospective parents' level of discernment, thereby distancing your school from other options that might have seemed realistic alternatives before. Even better, your Director of Enrollment would have given those parents a tool to use as they explore other opportunities, a simple question--"Ask the teachers: what were your goals in that lesson?"--and a framework for understanding how dissatisfied they'll be with dissembling answers like: the kids love this unit and the parents think the projects are adorable, or we follow a proven curriculum, and the kids are really ready for these challenges, or I just want the kids to be happy.

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