Recruiting students is a highly important and critical aspect of planning student travel. Without students, there is no student travel. Most group leaders use their classrooms and their teaching experience to help them recruit students. They build strong relationships with their students. They share their own passion for language, culture, and travel. They create a family-like atmosphere (a brother or sisterhood) with former travelers and allow them to share their photos, videos, and experiences with future prospects. In all honesty, after the first trip or two, it isn’t that difficult to recruit students. Much like recruiting for major college athletic programs, success speaks for itself and its draws attention, interest, and participation from others.
Recruiting, however, involves more than just the students. That’s only half the battle. The next step is to get the parents on board, which typically means holding a parent informational meeting. Regarding these meetings, a friend and colleague of mine, Lindsay Pierce, who teaches Spanish and leads tours thru EF at Chesaning Union High School in Chesaning, Michigan tells her students, “just get your parents in the door. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Once the parents enter the door, it’s important to understand that the old cliché about first impressions is true. You never get a second chance at a first impression. The good news, however, is that you’ve probably already made somewhat of a good first impression simply by gaining the respect and trust of their child that is excited about the possibility of traveling with you. So maybe this is actually a second impression. I don’t know if there are any clichés about second impressions, but let’s just say that it’s critically important you make sure that the parents leave with a favorable opinion of both you and your program. If they don’t, you won’t be hearing from them again.
I’ve held dozens of my own parent meetings. I’ve attended a few more while assisting other group leaders as a Global Educational Ambassador thru EF. I’ve talked to parents after these meetings and have learned a lot about what it takes to gain their respect, support, and trust.
Here are the most important things I’ve learned.
1. Be prepared and organized.
First of all, make sure to inform parents of the meeting well in advance. Give them plenty time to schedule other activities so that they don’t interfere. Send home a detailed agenda for the meeting that lists every topic that will be covered. It will serve as evidence that you are indeed organized and prepared. It will also encourage the family to begin thinking about the trip and allow them to prepare questions in advance. In the event that parents are unable to attend, give them an opportunity to schedule an individual meeting with you at another time. Remember that a successful group leader demonstrates flexibility and problem-solving skills whenever necessary.
2. Be knowledgeable and prepared.
Oops. I already mentioned it was important to be prepared. Must be pretty important then, right? Not only are you trying to convince parents to allow their children to travel with you, you are also educating them about what is involved in the entire experience. Make sure you are thorough and provide everything they need to make an informed decision. Do your homework well in advance and have all the information that is available at the time. Present the information in a clear and organized format. Follow your agenda so that you don’t accidentally leave out important information. It will also allow parents to take notes and follow the presentation easily and comfortably.
3. Be honest and dependable.
If you don’t know the answer to a question presented to you, say so. Be sure, however, to get answers and contact the parents in a timely manner to share the information. The worst thing you can do is to pretend you know something when you don’t and risk losing your credibility. Furthermore, if you realize that you don’t know the answers to numerous questions, then maybe you weren’t knowledgeable enough to begin with. Admit to your mistakes and don’t let it happen again. Jot down notes and update your agenda for the same parent meeting for your next trip.
4. Make your passion obvious.
Parents should leave your meeting wishing that they were the ones going on your trip. Maybe some of them will sign up even though they weren’t intending to. Make your presentation exciting and inspirational. Show photos and videos, share quotes from past travelers or even invite some in to speak. Let them know how much you love what you do and how excited you are to share this experience with such a special group of students. Don’t just assume they know. Tell them. Show them. And then deliver.
5. Have some fun.
Show your personality. Crack a few jokes. This is supposed to be fun, right? Show that you know how to be serious when necessary, but you are also able to enjoy yourself. Who would sign up for an experience like this and not expect any enjoyment? Explain to the group that the experience will be a lot of fun. Additionally, point out that there will also be times when it will be important to pay close attention, listen to instructions, and follow safety measures in order to ensure that trip is both safe and fun. After all, isn’t that what parents want most?
6. Sell the entire experience, not the trip.
The trip itself is just a part of the overall experience. What are the short and long-term benefits? What will students learn? How will they grow socially, emotionally, academically, and intellectually? Help them understand this is an investment that will continue to pay off well into the future.
7. Keep your cool.
Never get defensive when responding to a repeatedly negative parent. Don’t take concerns or hesitations personally. They usually aren’t about you anyway. Respond with facts and information. If you show anger and frustration, you might be sending a message about how you would respond to adverse situations while abroad, which ultimately could turn away other students and parents as well. Instead, acknowledge their concerns. Show empathy and understanding and try to gain their trust. Some parents find it very difficult and scary to send their most prized possessions, their children, away with you abroad. Reacting the wrong way will simply give them the reason they are looking for to say no. In my opinion, this is one of the most important suggestions. To be totally honest, it took me a long time to truly understand the source of the negativity and understand how to respond appropriately.
Keep in mind that by demonstrating the aforementioned skills throughout your meeting, parents are seeing first hand what they should expect from you as a group leader on tour. If they like what they see, you are likely to gain their approval.
Your students will do their part by bringing their parents to your informational meeting. Make sure you do yours by following these tips to “take care of the rest.”
Scott is a high school Spanish teacher and basketball coach. He began traveling with EF Tours in 2001 and has led 8 student tours to various Spanish-speaking countries. Scott strongly believes that student travel builds self-confidence and inspires students to develop and work towards long-term goals.