I’m talking about enrollment. So I’ve got half a dozen ideas that could help you strengthen your enrollment for next fall, because it’s already — for a lot of school systems — time to start registering kids for classes for next year. And as much as they enjoy being in the shows, you know that your paycheck really comes from the classes that you’re teaching.
First stop, of course, is the students. For your students, this is probably a really good time of year to get some really fun stuff going, like if you can bring someone in to do stage combat…that’s always very popular. Or special effects makeup. For your actors, find some way to have a public performance. It can be just the scenes you’re doing in class; put them all together for an evening for parents to come see, and their friends to come see. You’ve got to talk it up, and you want to time it with when they’re about to go sign up for their classes for next year.
But also you need to focus on your potential students, the friends and the people who might sign up for class. You certainly want to encourage your students to talk it up, perhaps create sense about the wonderful stuff the class includes, and show them off to other classes. Also, if you do something special that other classes don’t do, like a New York trip or some other big field trip, that’s the thing you want to really be pushing.
Put ads around your school: Put up posters, “Sign up for drama! Have fun! Make great friends! Have a different kind of classroom experience!” You want to encourage your kids to use social media to promote it: students are going to be much more responsive to their friends saying, “Hey, this is a really cool class, you want to come in here!”
Also, you can make clear that a Theater One class can definitely be something for juniors or seniors to come into, if they’ve not done theater in the past. It will be really easy for them, since they’re not also getting used to what high school is like, and they will have a great time! So your first stop is your students, every way you can think of.
2nd stop: Your Guidance department, or Student Services, or whatever you call the people who actually fill out the forms to send students to a particular class in the fall.
If you don’t know those people, and they don’t know you, you want to be building a relationship with them. There is nothing more effective than a meeting of the minds. So one thing you can do, since everybody in the school is crazy busy, is maybe sponsor a free lunch; have something brought in that’s not just the cafeteria food. And do two things: get to know them, have them outside their environment, to sit down and talk with you about the value of what you’re doing with students. And also, give them a tour of your space. If you are lucky enough to have a scene shop or costume shop, people have never been in those spaces, unless they’re doing theatre. And it can be really eye opening to see how much organization, how many materials there are to work with, and your guidance counselors need to be aware of the range of stuff your kids do, from cutting lumber to storing props to organizing costumes. There’s so much that you can tell them and show them, it can really make an impact.
- Feeder schools: What middle schools or what elementary schools are going to be sending students to your school? They are your future. So don’t skip them! If you can get your students to go there and do workshops, or performances, absolutely make the effort to make that happen, whether during school or after school. One way or another.
Get to know and love your feeder school’s drama teacher. And go to see the shows they do; this is a very important one. Imagine if you were a kid who did a show, and some teacher from the next level up wrote you a handwritten letter saying, “I really liked performance. I really am looking forward to having you in my theater class next fall, get in touch at [this email] if you or your parents have any questions,” that’s going to make a big impression.
If you can’t manage that, maybe you have some drama boosters, some parents, who can take the program from the younger kids’ show, and write individual notes to pass back to them, inviting them to be part of your program in the classroom.
Also, if you’re doing a show, make it easy for them to see what their future might be like. Maybe a free ticket for every seventh or eighth grader who comes to a high school show (they’re going to have to come with an adult anyway, right?), so it’s an investment that can really pay dividends.
- Your audience for your own productions. Do you include in your program a full page that describes all the theater classes that students can take, and basically what happens there, what distinguishes one from the next, and how to follow up for more information? If not, start doing it.
- Community. This is a little more distant, but use your website — if you don’t have a website, get in touch with me. I can help you with that. Really! But if your community has easy access to information via a website, for people coming into the area from out of town, it should be very easy for them to find out what classes you offer, and what value you give, and how much fun it looks like. Having a website, which can be done very inexpensively and very easily, is really a necessity. How great is it to know that some family moved into your school area, so they could take class with you; that does happen!
- Parents. Of course. They are sort of the bottom line. But the public face of your program is your productions, yet all the building of skills and the acquisition of knowledge that is happening, much of it is happening in your classroom. That’s where students have a chance to get better. That’s where it doesn’t depend on casting for what kind of opportunities they have available. That’s where they can learn about the history, and plays you can’t produce that year, and how theatre impacts the world (and vice versa) and so much more. So that needs to be made clear to parents.
They want to know, as do the students, how much work is involved in what is, typically, an elective class. Is there a lot of homework? Is it going to compete with the core curriculum, especially as kids get closer to filling out those college applications? How much will this help or hurt? And it will help — if you haven’t got the statistics on how both math and English SAT scores are much higher for students who take arts classes, and particularly Theatre Arts production classes, you need to get those statistics! They are terrific. Also, those “21st Century skills,” communication and collaboration and critical thinking…those are theatre classes; I mean, we do that all the time. So make it very clear that your elective is the kind of class that is going to prepare their children to be successful in college and beyond.
This all sounds like it takes a lot of energy. I know, we’re all crazy busy, but really it’s your job because it’s your job, so reinforce these ideas, and persist.
And please leave a comment if you have ideas, how you boost enrollment for the coming year. By the way, if you’re not a member of my Facebook group, Theater Teachers Conspiracy, go there. That’s a great place to swap ideas and frustrations and solutions for making your program better and stronger and making you a happier instructor.
Thanks a lot.