Years ago, I naively assumed everyone who made an admission enquiry at my former school did so because they wanted Montessori education for their children. And I believed they were planning on staying until the end of the program for twelve years if their child was a toddler!
But over time, I came to understand that families considered our school for many reasons. Some wanted more robust academics to give their child a leg up in the world, or others wanted to ensure their child was protected in a safer community, particularly if they paid for it. Then some enquired because they heard good things about our school, but had no idea why.
Understanding who is applying to your programs and why is essential to determining what they need to ensure support of your Montessori program.
Many people likely enquire with a variety of assumptions as well about what Montessori is and is not?
Start with examining and then ensuring your process communicates what Montessori education is. Secondly, be clear of who you are as a Montessori school. Within the Montessori world, there are many different types of Montessori schools. Public or private? What levels do you serve? Are you accredited? Do you have a religious affiliation? Do you offer before and after school programs or care? And how do you differentiate yourself from conventional education so that parents understand? These are just some of the questions your communication and admissions process need to answer to be sure parents know what they can expect from your School.
It is also essential to make clear with parents what you expect from them. Articulating expectations is important before any contracts are signed, or financial commitment is made, so that policies about withdrawals, code of ethics, forms of communication, holidays etc. are provided.
I always approached admissions believing everyone had the best of intentions, and we could meet every family and child’s needs. Still, over time some parents had different ideas about what they believed their child needed. I learned the importance of planning for what might go wrong with an enrolment. A parent might want to withdraw mid-program and want all of their money back or start to harass other members of your community like your staff. If you have clear policies indicating next steps you and your team can lean on these, sometimes when emotions are elevated.
Pam Dunbar, at the Montessori Academy of Arlington, provides families with an extensive School/Parent Partnership Agreement that she or one of her team reviews with a family before enrolling so that everyone knows in advance their commitment.
Time spent upfront in the admissions process can lead to a family having a better understanding of who you are as a school, and also potentially making a much longer commitment, which in the end benefits everyone.
At my former school, I estimated the enrollment process, outside of what a parent researched on their own, required at least four or five hours of our time as a school, and more for elementary or middle school students. The process involved:
- An engaging information session in small groups (often 6 or 7 people), which included who Dr Montessori was, what are the principles of Montessori education, who are we as a Montessori school and why is Montessori one of the best ways to prepare children for the 21st century
- A schoolwide tour and observation
- (For elementary children) a several-day visit
Note: Many schools have modified these processes to create virtual tours, online information sessions, and even online family interviews, to manage today’s realities. Some may choose to keep some of these elements in the future but, when possible at least one in-person meeting is ideal.
Families also completed an application process with documentation stating their own beliefs and aspirations about school and when appropriate submission of any previous records of their children’s previous learning experiences. They also paid an application fee, which indicated their seriousness with the process and their application.
This enrollment process may seem long, tedious and might even put people off. But a family’s enrolment in your school may be the most extended educational commitment they will ever make. If you simply offer toddler and preschool and a family stays with you for four years or on the other end of the spectrum you may have families that come and stay with you for 10, 15 even 20 years, because you offer numerous levels and they have several children. Your commitment to the process conveys to parents that school choice for their children can have a substantial impact on their future. I regularly mentioned to parents, “this may be one of the most important decisions you make for your child, so it is essential you have the necessary information and time to make sure we are the right fit for you, and you are the right fit for us.” (The term “fit” refers to their commitment to the principles of Montessori.)
Years ago, we had a family whose four children went all the way through our school from preschool to the end of our middle school. Their time with the school became a twenty-year plus commitment which all started with the initial enrolment process. Not only was the upfront time in the process worth it for this family but also the school, and these processes continue to be fruitful to this day, as grandchildren are starting to emerge and be potential students. The cost both pedagogically and practically of filling the space of a child who left your school mid-program is worth avoiding.
So, ask yourself, your admissions team, your faculty, regularly is your admissions process successfully conveying who you are as a Montessori school in a way that is relatable and relevant, while true to your principles? If you do this process right, Families enrolled in your school will know you value their child and understand the benefits you offer them.
Margaret Whitley, BA, AMI, MFA, is a speaker, writer, consultant and lifelong learner. After completing teacher training in Italy, she spent more than 35 years in Montessori education, including teaching all levels of elementary and establishing the first Montessori middle school in Canada in 1988. She embraced many other roles in Montessori leadership including head of school, teacher trainer and the Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators Director of School Accreditation. Guided by her belief that all humans have incredible potential, she continues highlighting education that supports and celebrates each community and individual’s uniqueness. Margaret is working on an upcoming book, A World of Difference: How Montessori Influenced My Life.For more on Margaret Whitley, including contact information, other articles and links check out her website, www.margaretwhitley.com