What is the most memorable expression of gratitude you have received? What did it tell you about the person who expressed it? How did it make you feel?
Gratitude is such a simple, effective, and universally beneficial art to practice. It’s so impactful that we’ve heard it can have a positive effect on stress, depression and even achievement. However, true benefits don’t result from empty thanks or obligatory praise. The giver and the recipient reap the most meaningful rewards from gratitude that is grounded in empathy and a deep, thoughtful awareness of another’s impact on us.
Gratitude Comes in Many Forms
As a former admission director in the Bay Area, there were many prospective parent or older student thank you notes to read and catalog. Some were hand-written and some were emailed – we were always grateful to receive them! However, there was a big difference between getting a thank you note and receiving heartfelt gratitude. If the note was really long it could be too much to read. If the note was brief, mechanical and non-specific, these well meaning gestures of gratitude could get lost. However, if the gratitude was a thoughtful expression of empathy for our team, or an authentic appreciation about our specific school, these sentiments made us feel respected, seen and more likely to understand the family as a genuine match for the school’s mission. Sometimes these weren’t written notes, but a parent who pulled us aside after an evening event to thank us for working late. Other times, it was a student who enthusiastically shared something amazing that happened on a visit.
Making Gratitude a Habit
As a prospective family, demonstrating a pattern of brief but meaningful appreciation is exponentially more impactful. In fact, I noted on various admission committees, that families who habitually expressed gratitude effectively, in any format, could even have a positive impact on admission decisions. To be clear, if a child is not able to thrive in a program, a lovely interaction will not overturn a decision. However, within the context of a child who is a match for a specific school, these communications preview how a family will positively participate if they are a future member of the community.
You might be thinking, “Check, that’s easy, we’ll thank everyone!” However, after 21 years working with families I have observed that, when a child is being evaluated or is under perceived scrutiny, even the most gracious parents can lose perspective. Most families have great intentions but, in their fret about outcome, end up seeing the admission process through blinders, believing wild rumors or even dehumanizing admission personnel. Part of what I do in my consulting business is persistently and gently slow parents down to help them envision their communications landing on schools. This starts to create a habit of not only expressing gratitude, but actually being more aware and thoughtful as you navigate different schools.
Focus on Empathy
In case you don’t have anyone reminding you, and you become stressed while marching through admission hoops (understandable with all of the requirements by the way), it is helpful to remember that the admission officers and school personnel you interact with are also under quite a bit of pressure. The pandemic was hard on schools and hard on admission offices. It still is. First, all educators reinvented everything for a virtual medium and now there is additional pressure to blend virtual and in-person events to cater to everyone. For admission professionals, heap those expectations in a pile with competing enrollment goals, and the need to please many opposing constituents, and it’s actually the case that they have a lot weighing on them as well. When parents expressed a modicum of understanding or empathy about the challenges we faced in admissions, this really stood out.
Beyond “Thank You” Notes
Given the above, your family can distinguish yourselves if you are able to offer some human connection, empathy and appreciation for the efforts the schools make to welcome you. Despite what you may think, this is not time consuming – it’s quite simple. When busy and applying to schools, remember to take a breath, slow down, walk in the shoes of the school representatives, and really listen to what they are saying about their school. Then, take another breath and stay laser focused on finding the school where your child would best thrive. Tune everything else out. If you can do this with a clear mind, realistic goals and some authentic gratitude, you will save time, stand out in a positive way and be much more likely to land in a community that works well for your child and family.