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Life in the Drop-Off Lane

The start of the school year is here and among the things on leaders’ minds will be the new schedules, routines, and systems put in place over the summer break. So many different options present themselves during the year and we want to make substantial, impactful changes each year, aimed at making transitions for students and staff as seamless as possible. One of the most important transitions, both from a safety and a public relations standpoint, is the parent/student pick-up and drop-off process. And no matter what, it always finds a way to bite us on the nose.

We’ve all been there, right?? You’ve heard it from your teachers, your school board, the parents, etc – the drop-off and pick-up needs to work more smoothly. Worse yet, YOU KNOW that and don’t need to be told over and over. You’ve got a plan, you worked really hard on this over the summer. (yeah, I saw you out there parking your own car and the cars of anyone who happened to be at the school in specific spots, measuring distances with a long tape measure, stepping off how far apart cars can ‘fit’ in the lane) After several weeks you have it down. You set up communication, drew a beautiful map with the flow of traffic (complete will cool little arrows and stop hands). You’ve sent out a dozen emails, notifications, and fliers explaining the process of the drop-off lane. You have lots of orange traffic cones ready to go. You absolutely nailed it this summer!!

And then came the first day…within the first five cars (yeah FIVE CARS) somebody has parked and gotten out of their car, another car is dropping off in the ‘drive on through’ lane, and Mrs. Jones (you know her) is packing lunches, putting on her makeup, checking backpacks, and kissing her kids goodbye while only kinda-sorta parked in the correct lane. The whole thing is a MESS. Ugh…

While everyone has a different set up, traffic flow, and methodology for the dreaded drop-off and pick-up lanes after school, there are a few sure-fired steps to ensure the parent pick-up and drop-off to succeeds. (*disclaimer: nothing is guaranteed with parents)

  1. Over communicate: no matter how much you’ve communicated the process, you can still communicate it more. Keep in mind that communication is not just simply pushing out information on the Facebook page, school notification app, and/or paper tucked in each student’s backpack. Our communication is also done in signage, bright colored paint on the curbs and in the lanes, as well as physically being in the spaces directing traffic. When you feel like you cannot possibly communicate this more, do more. Get ads in the paper along with your traffic flow maps, if you have local tv then get on their morning show, post things on social media more than once (we all know we don’t see everything in our timelines). Tag staff on your posts and ask them to repost and share.
  2. Direct traffic: this seems like a no-brainer, but have multiple people on duty directing traffic. If possible, work with local law enforcement and have them present to support (but not do the directing, people need to learn to follow your staff’s directions). Be very intentional with this step. Actually TEACH your staff doing this work exactly what you wish to see, how the flow should work, and what to say and do with parents. Give them radios and TEACH them your radio protocols. Give them bright colored vests and tell them to SMILE, alot!!
  3. Exercise grace and kindness: I read a post recently in one of the principal forums that was, honestly, hilarious. It was making fun of the parent who does virtually everything wrong in the drop-off lane. While these things are a hoot to share amongst principals, this is not what we wish to convey to our public. Remind yourself, and everyone who is part of your traffic team, every morning to exercise grace and kindness. Just like we don’t know what baggage our students bring with them each day, the same is true for the parents. Ever have a morning when you spill coffee on yourself? Leave the house without your computer? Dogs not settle in because of a thunderstorm, resulting in a terrible night’s sleep? (this one is popular at our house) This may well be what parents are bringing with them on the way to school. Be patient with them, let them feel the love and the grace from each of us. It might make a difference in their day.
  4. Be consistent: follow the same procedure each and every day. Be consistent with how you treat each parent. If you have 3 people on parking lot duty, have three people each day. If you are going to change a procedure in the pick-up or drop-off process, communicate it well and don’t drop it on them without proper notification.
  5. Positive vs. negative: PBIS and Jostens Renaissance programs work so well because you’re focusing on catching them doing it right. The same should be the practice for parents. I know, it seems odd to have a reward system or strategy for parents, but why not?!? Maybe you recognize the Top 5 parents of the month based on the pick-up/drop-off process (parking all-stars if you will).

Yes, life in the drop-off lane can be a nightmare. But when leaders are intentional about their process and focus on over communicating, directing traffic, exercising grace and kindness, being consistent, and catching parents doing it right rather than punishing them for doing it wrong, it can be successful.

Bonus Tip: have one of your fellow administrators from within the district or in a nearby district come and shoot holes in your plan. Having an outsider review your strategy can bring a fresh perspective and uncover the blind spots in your design. It is much better to have someone find the flaws prior to parents finding them through their own ‘creative parking’ processes.


Have a #RoadToAwesome week


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