Wednesday, January 9, 2019

School Choice - You Are Not Everyone's Cup of Tea

You are not everyone's cup of tea - and this is ok! 

Today when I was scrolling my social media feeds, I came across a meme called ‘you’re not everyone’s cup of tea’ and I started to think about how this applied to school choice and that it is ok if your school is not everyone’s cup of tea! 

For the purposes of this post I am not talking about those families that were always going to come to your school, or those who are looking at schools because they are new to the area – instead I am referring to the families that have preconceived notions about schooling, your school and those schools around you. Many make these decisions based on outdated information, hearsay and oftentimes, will rule out a school without even venturing across the threshold.

Sometimes they have had a fall out with their current school and they are looking for a new place. We all get them - those families that rock up to your office wanting to ‘have a quick look around’ in the search for that indefinable something that only they are privy too, in a school. They are usually already enrolled at a school locally but have decided, for one reason or another, that their current school no longer fits their brief, or meets their needs. So they go on a shopping expedition with a long list of questions and quite often, a longer list of wrongs they want their new school to fix. 

 Much like the process of buying a car, they want to come and ‘kick your tyres’. 

 I understand, I’m a parent as well and I too have done my due diligence and ‘kicked the tyres’ of any potential school. I know what kind of driving and passenger experience I am looking for my child. 

Earlier in my career as a principal I used to feel a bit disappointed if a family came to ‘kick my schools tyres’ and left without enrolling. I’m a little more pragmatic about it now, because I am a firm believer that it is ok if your school does not fit the family or if you are not their ‘cup of tea’. 

Here’s what I’ve learnt/noticed from many years of parent visits:  

Finding the right school will look different for each family:

Context matters. For some families they want their child to go to school with their friends, or they want them to be able to walk, for some they want a particular cultural or socio mix, and for others, it is all about how it feels when they visit. At my current school, many of our schools community have had a long association with the school, and for others it is about the sense of community the school fosters. The reasons people have chosen our school, or not as the case may be, are varied. Asking ‘what are you looking for in a school’ can help both sides find common ground. 

It is ok if we do not offer what a family is searching for: 

Trying to be everything for everyone is a recipe for disaster. I have learnt to embrace what it is that makes our school unique, and if a family is after a different socio or cultural mix to what our school embodies, then that is ok. It is likely that the school down the road will have what they are searching for. I can usually tell if our school is not going to meet expectations when I am asked questions like ‘What decile are you?’ promptly followed up with ‘ohhh’, or from comments like ‘ I notice a lot of (insert culture/stereotype) at your school..hmmm’. 

 A bad experience is two sided: 

I am a bit more wary of those tyre kickers who have already been to many schools, or who are so negative about their current school, but have never spoken to their current principal about their concerns. When I have a family wanting to enrol because of the ‘other school is so bad’ I usually contact the principal to find out what the other side of the story is. Sometimes if a family has been unhappy at a number of schools, they are likely to be as unhappy at yours! 

It is ok if a family ‘tried on’ the school but the school didn’t fit:

Our school culture, and yours, is what it is. It’s often a reflection of your current community, your staff and who is at the helm (both from a Governance and a Leadership perspective). It is shaped from what has happened in the past, what the focus is for the present and what the dreams for the future are. Sometimes this resonates with a family and they add to your particular flavour, and sometimes it’s never going to be a smooth mix. Oil and water comes to mind! 

It is far better they find their best fit rather than stay at your school and cause issues within the community because their discontentment will only end up making things difficult. If this happens I now see it for what it is – an opportunity for the family to find their ‘tribe’ and an experience worthy of reflection should it occur again. 

 Obviously I am writing about the odd family, not a mass walk out – in that situation there are much deeper forces at play and a different strategy would need to be enacted. 

Remember that this goes both ways: 

 Sometimes a family comes to you and you become their ‘tribe’, because they did not fit at their last school. 

Be honest, transparent and true to your community. 

If you present your school as it is, highlighting the things that make your school unique, and speak from your heart, families will either resonate with this or they will not. And this is ok. We had a family some months back come and visit – in fact they came back twice. They had looked at three other schools prior to visiting ours, and when talking with me, proceeded to tell me what was wrong with all of them, including the one they were with currently. They were looking for a utopia and a promise that as a school, we would not embark on a particular educational journey. I was unable to promise this, reiterated what our school was about and noticing that this was not enough, thanked them for their time and wished them well on their journey. You see, I knew we were not ever going to measure up enough, and I will not promise what is not in my power to promise. And this is ok. We may not have been the right fit for them, but I knew in my heart that they were not the right fit for us either. 

If they are not the right fit for you then it will not matter what you do, you will never be their cup of tea:

 There are many stories of schools that have bent over backwards trying to be everything for someone, but alas, it will never be good enough. No matter what you do, how you do it or no matter what you try it will be in vain. If you are a leader, you know what I am talking about. These people will never be your people. Instead, focus your energy on those who appreciate and love you because they are your people. Don’t neglect or alienate them in the pursuit of trying to be something for someone who does not want it. 


I think every school has something to offer most families but there will always be the outliers who may not fit one place, but might be the perfect fit for another. This is ok. 

 For those families that do not have the ability to ‘choose’ then it is important that all of us offer a high quality education because, for them, you are it. 

 For those that can choose, my message is to not be disheartened by that – it is ok. You cannot be everything to everyone, because then you are not being true to your context. 

 Remember that it is ok if you are not everyone’s cup of tea!

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