Pick-Up Lane Gossip: The Private School’s Water Cooler

Vol. 14 No. 3

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Any place that parents gather is a place where gossip and information spreads like wildfire—like your school’s parking lot during drop-off and pick-up periods. While waiting for their children, parents like to talk about what’s going on in their lives, which often includes their perspectives on school life. Such conversations should be expected, monitored, and maintained as a microcosm of your school’s broader marketing effort.

As School Head, you’re in a unique position to discover which way the wind blows early—and to communicate in ways to change the direction of the conversation.

Keeping in the Know

Being in places where there are lots of parents commonly congregating can help you keep a handle on what’s being said around your school community. After all, as School Head, you want to show a public, personal investment of time and energy in helping your school run efficiently, which means helping with things like afternoon carpool lanes.

So by doing this, you kill two birds with one stone. Not only do you show a public involvement with the down-to-earth details of your school, but also get the chance to simply listen to what’s being said around you. That’s not to say you should start lurking at corners or consider planting the hallway with listening devices. Merely by being present and around the community, you’ll be able to hear things and sense “disturbances in the Force,” as it were, before they become a problem.

We want to emphasize here that you should do this yourself, rather than sending someone else in your stead to report on what’s being said. That someone else won’t know what you need to hear to effectively run your school and keep morale and programs on the up-and-up. They might misinterpret or cast interactions in a light that warps the information. It’s better for this to be done yourself, and as regularly as your schedule can allow.

Two Ways to Guide Gossip

Any new information on what others think of your school is great, but it’ll be worth nothing if you don’t take advantage of it in some form or fashion. While ISM offers several training courses that can walk you through how to leverage these opportunities in greater detail and personalized to your unique situation, we can offer you two surefire ways in which you can start to leverage your word-of-mouth information today.

  1. Write a Head’s column in your school’s internal newsletter. If parents are worried about a particular program, a quick blurb in your Head’s column can explain the intricacies that have confused them—without pinpointing the source.
  2. Make hot subjects a topic during monthly Head meetings with parents. Doing this will show parents that you’re paying attention to their worries and their desires, while offering the school’s perspective on a situation. It also allows for open conversation to occur where people can get their problems directly addressed by the “person in charge” and offer them tidbits to take back to the rest of the community who didn’t attend the meeting.

That’s just the start of how you can find out about and use word-of-mouth marketing to your advantage. Besides raising internal awareness of school programs, you can also use the scuttlebutt to take an objective look at programs you’re already running and see if they merit a change or revision. You’ll learn a lot by making yourself available to your constituents—even on parking lot duty.

If you’re worried you haven’t heard everything your parents want to tell you about your school—parking lot gossip aside—they might be more forthcoming to a third party with whom their anonymity can be guaranteed while you get the information you need to move your school on and upward. ISM offers a full suite of surveys that we can distribute on your behalf to parents, faculty, and students to ensure you have the complete picture from which to make decisions that best benefit your community.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for School Heads Vol. 11 No. 7 Survey Tips for Obtaining Reliable Data to Guide Your Decision Making
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 13 No. 8 Newsletters: Important for Prospective, Current, and Past Parents

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 39 No. 13 Capitalizing on Word-of-Mouth Marketing
I&P Vol. 34 No. 3 The Link Between Internal Marketing and Demand in Excess of Supply

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