I've been doing school tours lately, A LOT of school tours, and I've got quite a bit of information to share with you all. I am hoping to do that soon, a lot of the posts are even already written! (YAY me!) BUT I cannot share them until we are registered with a school. I want to make sure to share with you everything of which I made note. I didn't see any huge red flags in any program I toured but there were a few things that could be perceived as not-so-positive. Frankly, I don't want to give any school a reason not to accept my kid so I'm keeping my mouth shut for a while. I will say, I would be happy to send my 14 year old to any of the schools I've seen on this group of school tours. I cannot say the same about the tours I took when we were looking for a middle school.
In the meantime, there is some thoughts I would like to share with you all about touring schools. Here are some basic etiquette reminders if you are considering doing some tours in the future:
Be on time As much as humanly possible, make sure you are on time. Better yet, 10 minutes early as there might be some paperwork you will need to fill out. Of course there are things outside of your control like traffic and weather but try your best to take all of that into consideration when planning your trip to a new school. I recommend apps like Waze and local traffic and weather reports to help you plan your trip.
Park in visitor parking If no visitor parking is available then park as far away in the lot as you can. This is common courtesy to those who work within the building. You are a guest, you will be there only a little while whereas the teachers and staff may be in and out of the building all day. Let them have the best parking spots, look for visitor parking or suck it up and walk a few extra feet for common courtesy. (Seriously, I saw someone I toured with park behind other cars blocking them in when there were other spots available just further way. Why would you do that??)
Be nice Please be courteous to the front desk, any security personnel, be flexible if they are running behind and understand that this may not be a private tour and other parents will be present. They are just as concerned about their kid as you are.
Dress appropriately You are in a special needs school that has kids with a lot of different abilities and needs. DO NOT wear strong perfume! DO NOT wear high heels that *click*click*click* on floors (same goes for flip flops that slap on feet!) DO NOT wear revealing clothing or shirts with crude messages written on them! Remember you are touring classrooms, you are not performing on stage. The goal of a tour is to slip in and out with MINIMAL DISRUPTION to the students! (Can you tell that this one really really bugged me at a recent tour?)
Be quiet (part 1) There are two parts to this, first be quiet during the informational session by administration especially if this is a group tour. Other parents are not there to hear your child's issues and there will be time to ask specific questions one-on-one later on OR they will usually always provide you with an email address so you can contact them directly.
Be quiet (part 2) Do NOT engage the kids while on the tour of the classrooms UNLESS they reach out to you and even then only when they aren't supposed to be doing anything else. Don't walk into a class and try and strike up a conversation with a student trying to pay attention in class or even in the hallways while they are trying to get to class. Don't be rude, of course, but "staying on task" applies to both them and you.
Be respectful of the school and classrooms You absolutely want to look at the learning environment and thats great! Administration and teachers are proud of their rooms and they have worked hard to make a great space, if given the chance I like to tell them that their space is calm, peaceful, well organized or well thought out which you can typically assess visually. DO NOT touch displays, student work, bulletin boards, desks, chairs, equipment! Also (and I cannot even believe I have to point this out) DO NOT TAKE PICTURES of classrooms where a child's work, name or information might be displayed. HUGE HIPAA violations there! Don't put the teacher or administration in the position of having to tell you this, just don't do it. Why don't we just say...
Don't take pictures. At all You might inadvertently get a picture of a student or staff member or some kind of protected information so it's best to just to just not do it.
Use your manners A school tour is a great opportunity to see what is available for your child. It takes time away from school personnel's day-to-day duties and it is important to thank them for their time. This one totally seems common sense but on more than one occasion I have been on a tour with a parent who, for whatever reason, treated everyone like their own personal employee. They made demands and were flat out rude to everyone except the Principal of the school.
Remember that the tour is about the program and school, not your child These tours would take all day long if we went over the needs of each child. Ask questions but make them general and about the program. "Do you have a sensory room?" "How is lunch handled?"Most of the time the people giving tours have other things scheduled for the day and cannot speak about specific issues but they almost always give out their contact information for follow up questions. Use it.
I really could go on and on, I've seen some weird things on school tours. Name dropping seems to come up again and again but I didn't think it warranted it's own number. It's not really etiquette faux pas, more so just annoying to everyone. Besides, usually no one knows who they are talking about anyway. I'm an Autism Mom, I haven't seen a movie or watched TV with any regularity in a decade!
Lastly, ignore this information if the school states otherwise. If your appointment confirmation says, "don't forget to wear your newest pair of heels and bring your camera!" by all means do so. Generally speaking, I don't think this is going to happen.
I'd like to follow this up with some tips that might prove helpful in your quest for a school that meets the needs of your child. Keep an eye out for that in the next few days!!