I've given many tours over the five years l've been a director, and today someone asked me to describe our philosophy of education. I was stumped - not because I don't know what our philosophy is, but because l use I didn't know how to describe it on the spot. I was confused as to how I could describe it in a simple way, so that a family would understand what it means for their child."
"What is your philosophy of education?" Do you ever hear this question and wonder how to respond? Even experienced administrators should be able to share their program philosophy simply, quickly, and easily.
Parents often hear that they should ask about the school's philosophy when they are looking for a high-quality program for their children. But even after the philosophy has been communicated to them, it can still be difficult to understand precisely how it impacts the program's environment, staff training, curriculum, communications, and what will be their own involvement.
How do you communicate all this to parents in a way that is simple, easy, and direct? Parents' involvement in the program is largely based on their understanding of what you do and why it is good for their child. When they understand the program philosophy, they can better understand the reasons for your policies and practices, as well as the curriculum you create and the training you plan for staff.
Your Philosophy Informs Your Program
Your philosophy of education helps you articulate your program goals and how your program functions. It helps establish a positive working relationship with families and helps them understand why you do the things you do. For example, it may be the case that you have adopted a "play-based" philosophy. When parents ask why their children don't bring home worksheets each day, you can describe how play-based choices are made by teachers for each age level.
Create a Philosophy Statement
Can you describe your philosophy in 25 words or less? Do you have one sentence or phrase that captures what you believe? If not, create one-you'll be amazed at how often you use it.
Every day, we see successful examples of mottoes and catch-phrases that identify a product or company-think of "Just Do It" and "You Deserve a Break Today." Why not your program? Many programs use a simple one-line phrase to summarize their beliefs:
- "Doing the right things for children."
- "Keeping the focus on play and development."
- "Balance is the heart of our program."
- "We help families work."
Ask staff to brainstorm to help you condense your program's mission statement into something concise and easy to remember Once complete, everyone will feel invested in the words.
Ask Your Parent Support Group for Ideas.
Involving parents in the formulation of your statement can provide you with fresh insights into how best to communicate your philosophy. Parents have their own impression of what you do and who you are, and their perspective can lead to many creative ways to describe your philosophy clearly and simply to families. You might consider making this request an ongoing one. It is never too late to implement a good idea.
Get the Word Out.
Here are some ideas for communicating your philosophy to families:
Share your philosophy as part of your program tour. As you tour parents, talk about the ways your philosophy guides how you arrange classrooms and plan curriculum. "Because we believe curriculum is a combination of teacher planning and children's interests, we create curriculum by using what we know about children's developmental needs and what we observe they like to do."
Include your statement on printed materials. In addition to your letterhead, your philosophy statement should be printed on your brochures, parent-teacher conference forms, lesson plan forms, enrollment forms invitations, thank-you notes, business cards, and announcements of parent/family events.
Create classroom-specific illustrations. Work with staff in each classroom to create a few descriptive sentences that relate specifically to the age level they teach: "Our philosophy states that infants and toddlers should not be kept on one schedule or in large groups; therefore, our day is structured to offer many options." Or: "We believe that 4-year-olds need to learn to make their own choices, so we have a long period each day for learning center choice activities."
Include staff in your description. A short statement about staff training can be helpful to parents: "Staff members are trained in how to talk to children by using open-ended questions because our focus is helping children learn to think creatively and independently." When families understand your training, they will be more open to teachers sharing their knowledge, their experience, and their suggestions.
Ask guest speakers to help reinforce your philosophy. If a speaker is making a presentation to parents about kindergarten readiness, for example, share with him experiences you routinely offer children in the classroom that promote kindergarten readiness and ask him to include these in his talk.
Consistency Is the Key
Whatever method or group of strategies you use to communicate your school's philosophy, use them over and over again. Soon, your program's philosophy will easily roll off your tongue, without any struggle or accompanying anxiety.