When Ronnie Hines started thinking about middle school for her daughter, she read lots of GreatSchools reviews about the schools in her Los Angeles neighborhood. As a Black parent living in a community where there were few students who looked like her daughter, she wanted to be sure the school climate would be welcoming. “The parent reviews helped me understand what she would be dealing with in her transition to middle school,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I identified a school that would be comfortable for her.”

School reviews gave Hines specifics about what peer-to-peer and parent-to-staff interactions were like at different schools, and also a sense of how happy her daughter might be at them. “Reviews are really critical in making a choice,” she explained.

Hines isn’t unusual. Research suggests that anecdotes – whether personal stories or online reviews – influence how people make decisions, at times even more than evidence does. A friend mentions getting bad service from that pizza joint down the street and it sticks in our heads, tarnishing how we feel about the restaurant, despite thousands of glowing reviews. Similarly, sharing your family’s experience with a school can have a big impact on how other parents view that school.

When you write a review of your child’s school, you’re offering other parents something that just looking at the numbers can’t provide — your personal experience as a member of that community. And because it’s so powerful, it’s important to pause and think about how to make the review as useful as possible.

Here are a few guidelines for sharing both positive and negative experiences:

Focus on you and your child’s experience

Do not share rumors, hearsay, or experiences that have not directly affected your family. Although it may be tempting to paint the school with a broad brush – It’s terrific! It’s terrible! – such reviews are not as persuasive or powerful as sharing details about your family’s experience with the school. If you’ve heard about events that color your impression of the school, encourage those directly affected to share their story in a review.

Help us understand where you’re coming from

Whatever your experience has been, it’s important to recognize that plenty of other parents are in the same boat. Sharing more about your family and child can help parents understand if a review is written by someone whose child may be like theirs. So tell us: Did your child need extra support in reading, or have trouble with cliques? Are you a military family that has attended many different schools across the country? Are your children students of color in a predominantly white school? Does your child have an individualized education plan (IEP)? Sharing details about where you’re coming from can help prospective parents visualize their own child at the school.

It also helps to share the time span you’re referring to in your review – whether it’s the six years you spent sending three kids to one school or the two months at a school your child just started. Whatever the amount of time, mentioning it can help other families get a better feel for the school.

Dig into the details

This will help parents understand your perspective. Does it seem that your child is learning a lot and is excited about going to school? Do the teachers seem enthusiastic and curious about what’s working for your child? Is it easy to get in touch with your child’s teachers, and will they quickly get in touch with you if they see a problem? How well attended are the PTO/PTA meetings? Does the school make you feel welcome? What does your child complain about? And if your child has had a discipline issue, how did the school handle it?

Such details can not only paint a clear picture of the school’s strengths and weaknesses, they can also help parents whose children attend the school and are experiencing similar things realize they’re not alone. Finally, such details can help the school staff recognize that there are areas for improvement or celebration.

Share the inside scoop

If your school does something special that isn’t widely known, a review is a good place to share it. Is there an immersion program? Is the PTO/PTA very active? Is there a really amazing journalism program or a track team that includes everyone? Are the assigned texts culturally relevant to the students? Whatever is weird, wonderful, or problematic about the school that might not show up in the school data is worth mentioning.

Avoid getting too personal (or foul-mouthed)

We allow reviews that use names of principals and school leaders in a respectful way, but personal attacks or accusations of a crime will violate our guidelines and your review will be removed. We also don’t publish reviews that use swear words or any kind of slurs. We know that when we feel that our children have been hurt it’s natural to feel anger. So, before you press send, pause and make sure that you are not attacking someone personally or accusing them of a crime. If you have serious concerns about a crime being committed, please contact the authorities.

Talk it out before you write it out

If you’ve had a bad experience with a school, it can be helpful for other parents to know. But your first step should always be to go to your child’s teacher or principal to try to resolve the problem. Finally, be patient. We have real human moderators who care about sharing your perspective. For this reason, it sometimes takes reviews a little extra time to show up on the site.

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