Parents – Vital Education Partners

When I first moved in to school leadership it was before I experienced dealing with schools as a parent. I was shocked, at least in India, to see the frequency with which schools treated parents with little more than disdain. Parents joked about it, but the jokes were barbed with truth that hurt. Once the school had got the child admitted, parents were treated so often as though they were a hindrance and a nuisance. They were also often treated as if they knew nothing, understood nothing and should just accept as gospel whatever the school did or said.

I was looking at these things from the perspective of a former Private Banker. What’s more, our bank had been phenomenally successful by putting the client at the centre of all we did. A large part of meetings were spent talking about clients, much training was around clients and all staff were aware that communication and engagement with clients was always the most important priority. Being passionate about service to clients was job number one.

Once I got over my initial shock I came to see more and more WHY so many schools wanted to shut the parents out. So many educators sought to dress up what they did in their schools with a degree of mystique, whilst the reality was there was little magical or even very modern about what went on. In other cases it was simply that schools wanted to adopt the path of least effort, a form of laziness that wanted to simply deliver lessons, prepare children for exams by traditional and conventional methods (but take much higher fees than in the past on the basis of fancier premises and facilities!)

The result of all this has been that in any school I’ve lead I’ve always wanted to put strong emphasis on parent engagement. As time’s gone on, technology has enabled us to really enhance this. So, whether it’s stressing on really good quality written textual reports on children’s assessment and performance, this blog, parent workshops, parent orientations, the way school phones get answered or a multitude of other things, it’s always been my mission to bring the partner on board as a partner.

There’s another analogy from my banking days. Often clients were elderly and widows. I always made a particular point of giving them extra time in the early stages to help them to understand, in simple layman terms, what we did and how we did it. Some told me that they found this refreshing and respectful as peopl;e were often inclined to pass them off as silly old ladies who understood nothing. However, it also paid off as a couple told me that they rebuffed attempts to lure them away on the basis that nobody else would help them to understand in the same way. Again, I’ve taken a similar approach in education. As educators we don’t have the right to treat parents as outsiders, to wrap what we do in a cloak of jargon and mystery language so as to shut them out. I believe it’s vitally important that we open up the learning process in a transparent manner for the parent so that they can really understand what we’re doing, how and why.

In my experience, one of the times when all of this communication pays off is when/ if something goes wrong with the child – whether it be an issue of academic struggle, interpersonal or disciplinary issues. The time invested means that school and parents can meet from a position of high trust.

Keeping all this in mind, I was interested to read this article on the subject of parent engagement and communication from Education Week. It is the first of five pieces, so I’ll be interested to see the follow-ups;

Education Week – Keep Students Close, Parents Closer

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3 Responses

  1. Great post Mark.

    Hope this has gone to TSRS mgmt as well.. TSRS-AR was more engaged with parents and were holistic focused in your & Manika’s days. But now is again gradually drifting towards more academic/exam focused modes.. Revival of old spirits badly required.

    Best Wishes, Neeraj Khurana +91.95609.33009 / +1.408.773.0635

    • Best suggestion I can give us to talk it through with the Head and share your concerns.

  2. As a parent, one couldn’t agree more. But there is also another side to it. The number of parents who do expect the school to take care of all things academic and even behavioural. It is easy to shrug off responsibility and say “Academics is the school’s job.”

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