Finding the ideal school takes time. The best place to start that process is a school tour! Whether looking at public, parochial, or independent schools, here are 5 strategies to get the most out of your visit.
1. What Are You Solving For?
It’s important to know why you are exploring schools for your child. Are you leaving preschool and looking at elementary schools where you will likely spend the next 6 to 9 years as a family? Is your child currently in 4th grade and not experiencing the academic rigor you were hoping for? Or perhaps it’s now clear that the size and approach of your current school does not fit your child as well as it once did. Consider in advance the top 5 reasons you are seeking a new school environment for your child. Write them down. If you’re touring the school with a partner, make your own lists separately and compare them before you tour.
2. Leave Your Assumption at the Door
It’s hard not to be influenced by what you may have heard about a school, but you’ll have a much better chance of seeing a place for what it really is if you walk in with an open mind. Remind yourself that the most reliable form of developing a connection to a place is through your own experience. Before the tour, write down any preconceived notions that you might have - positive or negative! This process also allows you to be more open minded when stepping on campus. Review them after you’ve had a chance to spend time at the school. How true are they now?
3. Honor the Heart and the Head
The tour is your best opportunity to get a feel for a school. People who are “Heart types” have an advantage since they more quickly experience gut reactions to campuses, faculty, and staff. If this sounds like you, remind yourself to look further into the details after leaving campus. By contrast, if you’re a person that tends to connect by understanding first – the “Head type” – it’s ideal to answer some of your questions by an initial website investigation first, leaving more of an opportunity for “feel” when you get on campus. Use a school’s Q&A time to ask any questions that remain unanswered.
4. What am I Looking For?
It’s as simple as answering the question: Can I imagine my child being happy here? The truth is, you’ll know if the environment feels like a place where your child will be happy. Next, you’ll want to illuminate the reasons why you think this is true. Is it the faculty approach? Is it the kind of learning you see in the classrooms? Is it the size of the learning environment? The campus, peers, and community, or other factors? When you leave the tour, write down at least 5 things you liked about the place and any things that concern you.
5. Rinse and Repeat
If considering multiple schools, apply the same process to each school visit. Remember what you’re solving for, leave your assumptions aside, try to tour with an open mind, and record 5 things you liked about each place, along with anything that concerned you. When you’ve completed your tours, compare your notes and you’ll have a roadmap to your ideal school.
ABOUT AMY PEARSON
Amy Pearson has led over 2,000 tours and still gets excited when showing prospective families around her school’s campus. One of her favorite things to do is attend another school’s tour as a parent and try to follow her own advice. Last year she went through the high school application process with her fourteen year old and the outcome was wildly different than she expected. She has a daughter in preschool at Marin Horizon School, a son in middle school at Mount Tamalpais School, and a daughter at Tamalpais High School.