I had one day to prepare my new parent orientation.
Daunting and unexpected are feelings that went through me as I put my head down on the conference table. However, positive news quickly followed. My task would be made easier, as I was provided with a sequence of talking points, printed in a small pamphlet. I took a quick glance and I was relieved. I essentially had a script to follow that hit every major point of the orientation.
Yes sir, easy button!
Still, I had to read through it and I had less than 20 hours. I spent the entire night reading, then pacing around my living room and reading the document aloud, imagining I was standing in front of the parents. Then, I went cerebral. I used my Mac to record myself reading the script, then transferred the audio file to my phone. I put in my head phones and went to bed, listening to myself read the orientation script.
Why put so much effort into a parent orientation? I mean, hey, I had a script. If I wanted too, I could read the whole orientation to the parents and families.
Well, I took all of these measures – extreme measures – because first impressions are important, especially for those parents who are new to the preschool world. During orientation, I want to share about the program in a conversational way, little jokes here and there while making the time fun and informational. More eye-contact and less looking down at my script. How would you feel if the preschool principal was telling you about the entire program while reading from a script? You might be okay, but questions about the principal’s competency would creep into your mind. And those concerns may lead you to question the teacher’s competency, then the overall quality of the program.
You don’t want a room of new and uneasy parents upon the first meeting. It’s not the message a preschool professional should convey. In fact, despite all of the talking points I had, there are three messages parents want to hear. Hit these three and you’ll start off on the right foot – earning the parent’s and families’ respect and trust.
Parents want to know that the preschool staff is understanding; understanding of their family’s culture, child-rearing practices, customs, beliefs, and traditions. Here in San Francisco, there are so many races and languages and family setups, it’s a mistake to use the term “family” to mean an English speaking two-parent household with two or three children. You may not know everything – I sure don’t. However, at the very least, you need to communicate to families that, when they walk into the preschool, they feel welcomed and won’t be judged.
If a parent is going to leave you with their child, then you better show that parent that you know your child development. Share about your years of experience and any college degrees you’ve acquired. Talk with families about how their child will learn and grow in your classroom. Don’t scare them off with all those acronyms we preschool professionals throw around, but definitely use language that shows you know your early childhood stuff.
The is one of the biggest. No one likes a liar or someone who tries to pretend they know something when they obviously don’t. Relationships and trust are built on honesty. You need to convey with every tone and intonation of your voice that their child will be safe and protected in your care. Don’t lie. Speak the truth.
This last one is easy for me… I speak from the heart. I say to parents that your child will learn and grow in this preschool. That the teachers at this school have years of experience, have obtained advanced degrees, and have been trained in the latest research-based practices. That the teachers are delighted to see the children learn new songs, develop social skills, and make friends. And, at the end of the day, children and teachers are eager to share all of the fun and learning with the parents. That our preschool is a high-quality program and a safe place to explore, learn and grow.
Yeh, I said that during orientation… from the heart… unscripted.