Successful Community Outreach in a Waldorf School
Reaching Our Goals by Looking Beyond Our Garden Gates
By Diane Kastner
Starting and running a Waldorf School can be a daunting task. Any of us that have lived through the pioneering phase in a Waldorf School can attest to that. Through all of this,in the end, what we do best is to educate children. As a direct result of doing such a good job at that, and in our struggles to arrive, as a school, we are often guilty of being quite insular.
Rudolf Steiner envisioned these schools to be thriving centers of cultural renewal and not particularly self-serving. His hope was that each school would be self-sufficient, stable and able to accept students regardless of their economic status. He imagined there would be adequate numbers of trained Waldorf teachers. However, here in North America our schools do not get subsidy from the government, thus we base our budgets on tuition and fundraising as our schools struggle to stay within these budgetary constraints. We attempt to admit students from varying economic stratas. To add to our struggle, trained Waldorf teachers are hard to come by. This shortage of teachers may be another direct result of our insular qualities.
As the movement grows globally-(with nearly 100 new schools opening each year), these problems may only magnify. In order to attract new teachers to the movement, and new students as well, each school will have a greater responsibility to be worthy of attention. Each school will want to offer an exemplary and full Waldorf Education with eurythmists, woodworking teachers, art teachers, etcetera. It also bodes well to offer schools residing on aesthetically pleasing permanent campuses, offering tuition assistance programs and as always, maintaining great teachers.
How can we as individual schools meet this high level of responsibility? Proper funding. Without proper funding we are handicapped to move forward. Many of us have tried to meet our funding needs internally, and as history has proven, we often fall short of the mark. If we decide to go outside our school community, we find we are still the best-kept secret in education and donors are reluctant to help. Again, we are very good at teaching children and lack the skills and know-how to bridge this gap. As we limp along financially, we fall short of being the best we can be. As we lack the funds to get the word out, Waldorf schools sadly remain, “the best-kept secret in education.”
Remember the great proclamation; Give and it will be given unto you? Well, as Waldorf schools we are sorely in need of this reminder. But, how can we give? Remember, we are so busy doing what we do best, which is to educate children.
We need to rethink how we view giving and receiving. We must be committed to build a bridge to the outer world, to look beyond our garden gates. We need to make new friends, to partner, to look for new ways we can participate in the larger community. How do we accomplish this? We must be willing to lay some groundwork. In spite of our economic constraints this can be done. But, how can this be done and not detract from what we do best, which again is educate students? Here are some suggestions.
- Consider hiring a part-time director of community outreach. This individual can dedicate the time needed to bridge this gap. Your outreach director, with the help of an outreach committee, can help your school move forward. Many of us tried to make this progress with the sole reliance on volunteers and we have made little or no real progress. This designated individual can “own” the work.
- Define yourself as a school by creating a mission statement, tag line and logo.
What is your message to the outer community and is it a consistent message?
Ensure all of your promotional and correspondence pieces provide this consistent
look and consistent message.
- Send for promotional packets from the local private schools in your area. These are the packets your school’s promotional packet is being compared with. Does your packet shine? From color, design and content perspectives, it should. Your message needs to come across clearly and concisely in an attractive fashion. You really need a nice brochure. You may want to ask parents in the school to help fund your first print run of these vitally needed promotional pieces. If you send out a hodge-podge of unattractive articles and dittos the chances are you will not grow as a school. Remember, we are an art-based education with an aesthetic appreciation!
- Study the web sites from local private schools in your area and other Waldorf school sites. These are the web sites parents are looking at to find a school for their children. Does your web site shine? Poll your parent body for those who can help you design a wonderful site. Bring your consistent, yet unique, message to this as well. Research is telling us that more and more prospective parents are finding schools through Internet searches. Do not underestimate the importance of a good site.
- Does your campus give a good first impression? Is your front office staff warm and friendly? Is your campus tidy and tour ready at all times? Are your classrooms adorned with art and the rich colors one expects to find in a Waldorf classroom?
- If you need to build enrollment install 800 numbers on your phone lines and assign one number to each advertising vehicle to track where and how many inquiries you receive from that advertising source. This helps isolate your target cities and target audience. This also produces more accurate data than attempts at questioning incoming callers. Quickly discontinue any ineffective advertising.
- Present your school to the president of your local chamber(s) of commerce, the heads your local county chamber and the heads of your local volunteer centers. Have them on a school tour. These individuals know everyone in your local community. Join their organizations and attend events that will increase your school’s visibility where it counts. To determine which events are important to your school, ask yourself, “Will the parent, child or philanthropist welcome our presence there and want to know more about our school?”
- Do an Internet search under, “Imagination Celebration” in your area. This program was created to bring the arts and culture to school-aged children when funding for these programs were cut in the public schools. The philanthropists that help fund this program are big supporters of the arts and education. They seem eager and delighted to hear about Waldorf Education. Become an Imagination Celebration partner. May Faire is a wonderful event to offer through the Imagination Celebration spring calendar of events. Your event and name will receive thousands of dollars of free press while lending a wonderful way to invite the larger community to your campus.
- Invite preschool directors and staff to your kindergarten events (in the evening or on Saturdays). They will be some of your best resources for new parent referrals.
- Present your school to the editors and publishers of your local parenting magazines and have them on a school tour. These individuals will call on you when articles come up and they will include you in their stories.
- Present your school to local mayors and other local dignitaries and have them on a school tour. These individuals know everyone in your community.
- Present your school to the education directors and curators at your local art galleries. Partner with them by providing hands-on art booths at their youth events and provide youth artwork to exhibit.
- Join education committees of local playhouses and performing art centers. See if you can’t procure ads in their playbills at nominal costs, perhaps obtaining non-profit rates for your art inspired school.
- Join cultural arts committees and groups in your local cities.
- Present your school to local departments of education and deans of fine arts at local universities. Educators need to know about Waldorf Education (just as they learn about Montessori and other teaching methods). The universities will then share Waldorf education with teachers in training, which may draw more teachers to Waldorf teacher training.
- Host an on-campus “Educator’s Day” when other schools may be out on break or in the late afternoon. Present a gallery of work from each class to show our wonderful curricular progression. Have a few teachers present an overview and answer questions.
- Gain editorial space in local newspapers and magazines. Assist with the editorial wherever possible, to avoid misrepresentation- (one poorly written article can haunt a school for years).
Once this groundwork has been laid, your school will have a stronger local identity and presence. You will now see where you can best serve. Organizations will want to partner with you on projects. Your list of friends will grow. The resources you need as a school will begin to come forward. Easy ways to help others will present themselves. Things that naturally involve Waldorf students and methods will come your way. The phones will ring. Best of all, very little money has been expended to accomplish these goals. The groundwork has been laid to move forward.
If your school suffers from under-enrollment, effective advertising will need to occur in your local parenting magazines and publications until your classrooms reach capacity. It behooves you to answer incoming calls promptly and effectively. You will need to host monthly “Walk Through the Grades” and Information Evenings. If you have a strong brochure and an effective admissions director, your message will attract the numbers of students you will need to fill your classes.
If your school suffers from attrition, you need to look at the strength of your teaching staff. Parents typically leave a school when there is a breakdown in communication in the classroom or lack of trust in the teacher’s ability to provide a full Waldorf education. Your teacher search committee needs to look for teachers that are stable in their own lives, who can be in command of their students and that practice excellence in their parent communications.
Phase 2 If your school is looking for outside donor support you will need strong name recognition among the philanthropy community in your area. The donors of the arts and education are among your best supporters. To accomplish this is not an inexpensive endeavor. Send away for demographics from local magazines or journals that reach your local philanthropy community. The advertising rates will be undoubtedly high. Ask for any non-profit discounts and if you can do it, take out a 12-month run. The ad you run will need to showcase your name and emphasize the arts and education with related photos.
When you later approach these individuals, seeking their support, the hope is they won’t say, “What is a Waldorf?” Your hope is they will say instead, “I have heard of you; tell me more.”
“Friend-building” can then begin. You can begin to host “Breakfasts at Waldorf”- “Tea at Waldorf”- “VIP Walk Through the Grades”. Invite these new friends in smaller groups for a classroom tour with a small orientation lecture and a healthy roundtable discussion. From there the development of your “Friends List” begins. To build those relationships, help them remember you with token gifts of Waldorf calendars in December, cards and so on through the year. The hope is that when you are ready to begin the “ask” phase of your fundraiser or capital campaign they will happily give to your school.
Proper funding means many things to a Waldorf school. It means a rich and full program where you can attract good teachers, retain good teachers, maintain strong classes, offer tuition aid to families that need assistance and own a beautiful school. Your school is no longer the best-kept secret in education. You have many friends in the community and you have the opportunity to be a great friend.
The motto, “as we give, we shall receive” becomes a reality. You can give when called upon, and the community will give to you when asked. The entire school community will need to be reminded of how far you have come and the principles you hold dear. Other distractions and needs in the school will try to tear away at the groundwork you have laid. Gentle reminders will need to occur from time to time, especially when new faces and families join your school. Try to hold strong to these laws of prosperity by looking beyond your garden gate. I wish you the best in your school endeavor.
Diane Kastner was the Director of Community Outreach at the Waldorf School of Orange County in Southern California. She was involved in the schools outreach and publicity work for nearly 12 years both as volunteer and employee. She assisted the school in implementing the most extensive community outreach campaign known of in the Waldorf movement. She helped bridge the gap between what was once a very insular school to one secure in the larger Orange County community. She has a son and daughter, both graduates of the Waldorf School of Orange County.
Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
Effective Practices Research Project
Development Document DEV 1-5.f