No matter the school, the goal is to ensure students know and feel that they are welcomed, valued and that the staff appreciates students attending every day. It is important that this feeling extends to parents as well. Essentially, parents and students serve as customers to those working in schools. Recently I attended a professional development workshop focused on school climate and culture. Our warm-up engaged participants to explore their preferred big-box shopping destination, like Kroger, Walmart, Target, etc. Participants sectioned off in groups and explored why this was their preferred shopping destination. The central theme among groups was a positive customer experience. Allow me to illustrate this context, with a few questions to reflect on customer service. Imagine your favorite convenience store. Why do you shop there? How do you feel when you walk in. How’s the environment? Is the staff friendly and welcoming? Do you receive a good value? Lastly, do you drive past other vendors to shop at your favorite store? Whatever your reason, you have a preferred shopping destination. These concepts could apply to schools and how they serve students and parents. Could a customer service approach halt students leaving schools? A lifelong phrase of mine is, “In order to get things done, people have to buy what you’re selling.” If schools want to increase student retention, they must have student and parental buy-in. The answer, I believe, is obtainable. Fortunately, it does not require change in federal policy or extra funding, but it requires an internal shift in how schools view students and parents. Remember, we must set up a system to influence people to buy what we’re selling.
Schools must implement a customer-oriented approach. When students and parents walk into school, often, the office is the first place entered and potentially sets the tone for visits. Office staff should aim to engage with parents and students positively and address any questions or concerns parents may have in a timely manner. This is a customer-first approach utilized by many companies serving the public.
Environment plays a crucial role. The building must be clean and presented at its best. Remember, parents are looking around every time they visit. School staff should aspire to greet and welcome parents, entering at the beginning of the day, during school hours and at dismissal. This positive energy demonstrates to students and parents that educators see them and their presence is welcome. Similar to what corporations do, schools should place greeters at each entrance and throughout the building.
Deliver a good value. It's important to deliver the best education possible, in the best environment possible. Parents are looking for educators to highly engage their students. One could argue, the biggest factor for parents determining if their child is in the right school is teacher-student relationships. Parents know if their child's teacher attempts to create meaningful bonds with their students. When teachers promote a friendly, caring, helpful atmosphere, it is likely that students will develop positive teacher-student relationships and thrive at school. It is critically important to place teachers that have a distinct passion and patience working with children to achieve these goals. Incorporating these elements may increase student retention and increase school student population. Parents often drive past local schools because of perceived perceptions associated with that school, or parents take their children out of district because a lack of relationships built in the school. A customer-first approach may encourage parents to allow their children to remain enrolled, and lessen their desire to find another school seeking better relationships. Changing these small things may encourage students to remain enrolled and allow parents to remain committed to your school’s vision. After all, they are choosing to send their kids to your school.
Brandon Gleaton works as a Program Manager with City Year Detroit, managing a diverse team of Americorps members providing academic support to students in the Detroit Public School Community District. He is also an American Express Leadership Academy Fellow at the Campaign for Black Male Achievement.