Principal Hotline: The Never-Ending Morning Drop Off

What to do when the bell has rung to start the day and parents are still hanging out.

kids at desks with parents taking care of them

Dear Principal Hotline,

Here’s the story. I am new to my position as the principal of a large elementary school—this is only my second year. My predecessor was popular and had served the school for almost twenty years.  Thus, I am being slow and deliberate. The previous administration allowed moms and dads to deliver their kids directly into their classrooms every morning. Not just the parents of the Kinders—All the kids. They linger in the hallways with their Starbucks cups. They try to have impromptu parent-teacher conferences or help their kids do  morning seat work. I think this is crazy. But some of the parents and teachers think this is core to the culture of the school.

Gratefully yours,

Parents, Please Go Home

Dear PPGH,

Ah, helicopter parents. As I’m sure you know, this is not a new phenomenon that must be managed. Take back your school by understanding where parents are coming from and giving them the information they need, when they need it. Then, go to your teachers. It’s important for your instructors to have a clear understanding of your beliefs and plan of action. Explain your thinking that students learn important skills when faced with more independence. Dig up a little research supporting your beliefs and turn it into a brief PD if you want to.

As always, I’m going to recommend you ask for teachers’ rationale behind allowing parents morning access to their classrooms. Is the parent in the classroom acting as a classroom volunteer but also over-parenting? Is a student really in need of one-on-one help, but parent involvement is being used instead?

You’re seeing the chaos, but you may not be seeing some extenuating context. Most of the cases are probably bad habits, but this approach will let you address the situations that need individual attention before you start enforcing a zero-tolerance policy—which, by the way, should be your next step.

Check your district policy governing parents entering classrooms and review the old building policy. Then draft a memo and send it home with your students. Give a firm deadline for enforcement. For example, you can say, “Beginning on October 2, 2018, all parents must say goodbye to their students in the main lobby by 8:10 a.m. If parents are volunteering in a classroom or would like to visit a classroom, please sign in, per building policy. These extra measures help our students practice independence every day.” Offer to answer any questions and be ready for resistance.

You may want to have a different policy for kindergarten students to accommodate their age-appropriate levels of independence. In that case, you could say, “Parents may walk their kindergarten students to the classroom, but all parents must return to the main lobby before the Pledge of Allegiance.” The key is creating boundaries that are easy to remember and follow.

Be creative but clear. Don’t be afraid to tweak the policy in the future, but it’s probably best if you keep it firm for at least a year. Helicopter parents need time and boundaries to make better choices.

These sorts of sweeping policy changes take a long time for building communities to internalize. Acclimate your teachers to the idea first. Then address the situations that require exceptions before creating the larger policy. In the long run, you’ll avoid frustrating some parents.

Each week, our brave school leadership expert answers your toughest questions about the daily adventures and challenges we all face as we strive to make our schools great places for kids to learn. Have a question? Email it to principalhotline@schoolleadersnow.com.

Plus, check out Six Ways Principals Can Air Traffic Control Helicopter Parents.

Posted by Amy Lynn Tompkins

Superhero.

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