Pre-tour communication and planning makes all the difference
Deciding Whether To Invite Parents & Families
by Lance Harvey
“To invite or not to invite parents?”
That is the question you will likely face when launching your new tour program. For some the question may already be answered. Many tours are run by parents or PTA sponsors. Schools in close-knit communities with high parent-teacher interaction will likely embrace this as a family invitation. Some trips are organized by parent volunteers or PTA sponsors.
When teachers have been polled, approximately half (50%) will hesitate inviting parents. There are definitely potential issues or expectations that may arise when unfamiliar adults join the tour. On the other hand, the most successful tour programs- those with the greatest traditions in their school and the largest numbers year after year, almost always invite parents and families. Weigh some pros and cons.
The pros of inviting parents:
- Strengthens your rapport with students once they see their parent and teacher as a cohesive unit.
- Provides you with extra chaperone support on the tour.
- Increases your numbers and the likelihood of having your own tour bus.
- Becomes the cornerstone of support before your administration.
- Provides a family with a life-changing, bonding opportunity at an economic value they couldn’t receive going alone.
The cons of inviting parents
- The pace of the tour is brisk and involves a lot of walking and timed appointments.
- The restaurants are generally chosen to accommodate kids and maximize tour time.
- They may be disruptive to the “classroom environment.”
- The itinerary is flexible and unforeseen events can always alter your plans and tour times at a particular site.
- Adults may expect to be able to drink and socialize at will.
In my own experience, the pros of inviting parents clearly outweighs the cons if you proactively address potential issues and come to some basic understandings before the tour. I have witnessed some of the best tour directors run 15 or more flawless trips by following some of the following guidelines.
Following these best practices can eliminate the Cons.
- Set the Stage EARLY and OFTEN - Let the parents know from the first meeting this is a tour for students and they are being invited to share that experience.
- Hold a pre-tour ‘Adult Meeting’ – Most of the cons listed above, can be eliminated with communication and managing expectations ahead of time. During the tour you need all adults working in harmony. A pre-tour, adults-only meeting or conference call permits you to address potential problem areas before the tour.
- Set Tour Rules for Communicating “Issues” - Nothing will create an issue faster than an adult who openly complains in front of the group. Establish a clear and unambiguous rule- If you have a problem with the tour or the chaperones, communicate that issue in private outside the presence of the group.
- Set Rules for Adults - Are they expected to follow the rules of your school or PTA? Does your school require background checks on parents involved in school field trips? Can your parents leave the tour at any time? Can they go out or drink alcohol upon the groups return? Will they stay with their children and/or other children?
- Get It In Writing - Have the parents sign a behavior contract just like their students expressly stating they understand and agree to rules established including the rules of proper communication and cooperation.
- Plan Adult Free Time - If you have enough adults, consider an adults night out. Perhaps one night the adults can attend a nicer restaurant, while the students do another fun activity. I’ve had groups in DC plan a parent dinner while the kids did a ‘ghost tour’
- Plan Family Friendly Night Activity - Consider a night where the families can interact and “let down”, such as a ball game, cruise, or a picnic.
What do you think?
I’d love to hear from our tour directors! Please offer your advice on the topic, including planning tips and good suggestions for touring with families. If you have any special forms you have created and wouldn’t mind sharing we will post those in the Tour Director Resource Library.