If Parents Are Shopping for a School, Make Faculty a Key Feature

Today’s parents search for a school like they search for a car. They go online to learn about its features and accumulate quantitative measures to put in a list of pros and cons. They read reviews and ask their friends' and family's opinions. They compare prices, and they pay a visit to kick the tires, sit in the driver's seat, and take a test drive. What kind of warranty comes with it, they want to know.

Directors of admission know this all too well. And they’re ready for any question a parent can ask. Bring it on.

What’s shocking to me is how few parents ask about the teachers—in depth. Yes, they look at the “faculty with advanced degrees” statistic because it's a number and thus easy to compare. But how many ask about other qualifications (emphasis on "qual," rather than "quant")?

What previous experience do faculty have? Did the history teacher work at a think tank before choosing to teach here? Are most of the foreign language teachers native speakers, with a first-hand understanding of the cultures they teach about?

What current experiences do teachers bring to the classroom? Are some doing research, and publishing, in their field? Are there practicing artists and musicians in those departments?

How do teachers feel about the school? Have many been with you for years, or is there a lot of turnover? How many are alumnae/i who couldn't wait to come back? How many have children enrolled at the school?

Finally, what are faculty really like? What do they do in their spare time that makes them good role models? Do they make themselves accessible to students? Are they good and interesting teachers? Are they good and interesting people?

Chances are that your faculty members are among your school's top features. Promote them. Your pride in them will make parents take notice. Some ideas:

  • On your website, display not only departments and emails, but also photos, engaging and compelling bios, and perhaps a few student testimonials describing teacher impact and classroom experiences. Don’t bury this under three click-throughs.
  • Do the same for a few faculty in your viewbook. You’re worried that they might leave during its shelf life? Don’t be. Other things change in that time: Students get older (and may themselves leave), the campus has renovations, you no longer offer fencing, etc. The main point of the viewbook is to describe the school’s brand, what it stands for. That is timeless. And faculty are a big part of it.
  • In each edition of your parent e-news, profile a faculty member. Just re-purpose what’s on the web. Lower School parents may not yet know a profiled Upper School teacher, but her bio may reinforce their desire to stay through graduation. Upper School parents may never have known a profiled Lower School teacher, but his bio confirms why they chose the school in the first place and may lead them to recommend the Lower School to friends.
  • In school assemblies, allow a few minutes for teachers to introduce themselves and talk about something important to them. Students love seeing their teachers on stage, become interested in teachers they have yet to have, and feel part of a community whose members know one another.

I'm sure you can think of other ways, too. The takeaway: Instead of burying faculty like the "fine print" mumbled at the end of a car ad, shine a spotlight on them. They should be a key piece of parents' research and a major reason to choose a school.