A happy parent can tell you so much more than any evaluation from an administrator. Now that I am out of the classroom, I can say that without having to worry that putting my parents’ happiness above all else can somehow harm my job status. Where I taught in Oklahoma City, we used the Marzano’s Instructional Strategies as a metric for our teachers’ success, and NOWHERE in the Marzano’s Evaluation do they ask parents — “Are you happy with the job the teacher is doing?”
Actually, nowhere do they ask parents anything. This is bonkers, backwards, and all sorts of bad. And I am not bashing Marzano’s. This is a systemic cultural problem in education. Parents aren’t valued because parent satisfaction doesn’t really affect enrollment. Without school choice, the system is not structurally designed to consider parents dreams, hopes, and desires. A good principal, teacher, or district obviously wants parents to be happy but the system ensures there is no skin in the game!
For those who aren’t fully on board with school choice, that’s okay! In this episode, I’m not getting into the macro-policy discussion. I’m more interested in this fundamental question:
Do parents have the right to choose where they send their child to school?
If they don’t have that right, what can be the consequences? Let me use an analogy to show why treating parents like they have a choice is crucial to making them the proudest, happiest parents in the world. Imagine if there was only one doctor in town and he wasn’t very good (just like there’s one school in an area and it may or may not be very good). Your child gets sick and you don’t want to send him or her to this doctor in your area because he has a bad reputation; instead, you want to send him or her to a different doctor who is much better. However, this doctor is in a different part of town and this doctor only serves the people in that part of town. In fact, the city made a law that you aren’t allowed to take your child to any other doctor but the one in your town, even if he’s not very good. So even though the doctor in your part of town is failing and he’s messed up year after year, you have to keep bringing your kids to him. Thank goodness we have “Doctor Choice!”
If that example seems scary, it’s because it is. This is why many of our public schools are failing in this country. No matter how good or bad a school is, parents can’t do a thing. So, going back to Marzano’s, it is no surprise that parents are not even factored into the discussion when evaluating teachers. Parents aren’t asked for their hopes, dreams, and expectations when developing a curriculum. And parents aren’t consulted when crafting new standards and benchmarks. If our school system values parents’ opinions and happiness, it has a funny way of showing it. Despite everything, you can make parents feel like the valued customers they are.
The biggest mindset shift that teachers and schools can make is to start treating parents like customers. And if my analogy hasn’t convinced you, that’s okay. You don’t have to believe in school choice to make parent satisfaction a main focus of your class. Imagine that parents can choose to send their child anywhere in the world; wouldn’t you want them to still choose your classroom?
The sad truth is that our system is designed so parents’ opinions really don’t matter when they should be the biggest gauge of a school and teacher’s success. In our current system, nearly every parent could be enraged with a teacher, principal and/or a school and it wouldn’t affect enrollment in any meaningful way. A school doesn’t get its funding for satisfied parents. A school doesn’t get its reputation based on happy customers (because, as we learned from Marzano’s, there is no data to even compare which schools have satisfied parents).
Instead, schools are judged by test scores and teachers are judged by bubble sheets and twenty-minute evaluations. What?
When a principal sits in on your classroom and checks off how well you follow the rules and how many learning objectives you have written on the board, it doesn’t give you any true insight as to how you are doing as a teacher. It certainly can’t measure “impact” in any meaningful way. If my evaluation came back fantastic of flubbed, it didn’t affect the way I taught. If my goal was to get a great evaluation, then ironically that meant I wasn’t doing my job.
So if you feel like I felt, what do you do? What if your goal isn’t to follow the district mandated rules? What if your goal is to help your students learn as much as they possibly can? What if your obligation is to parents and not to administrators at the Department of Education?
Some may argue that relying solely on parent satisfaction can have its downsides. The argument goes: “Parents aren’t educational experts and may not know what grade-level looks like for each grade – that’s why we have standards! They may be satisfied with bare bones thinking it’s a college education.”
This may be true, but it is our job as teachers to make sure parents have high expectations and know exactly what grade-level looks like. If we aren’t doing that, then we aren’t doing our jobs – plain and simple – so teachers can’t use that as an excuse. If parents don’t know what’s going in the classroom or their child’s education, it is probably because we have a system that doesn’t tell what’s going on. But if we are letting parents know exactly where their children should be, then their satisfaction would be a perfect metric and they will hold you way more accountable than any bureaucratic or administrative oversight.
When you treat parents as customers, you remember that they are entrusting you with an enormous responsibility — educating their child! They are choosing you, over every other teacher, to allow you prepare their son or daughter for the world; we should never take this for granted or take it lightly! Parents deserve our appreciation and gratitude every day for allowing us to shape their child’s future. We are not simply working with parents; we are working for them so all their dreams and hopes for their children can one day be realized.
So what are these dreams? The easiest way to show parents you care about their happiness is by asking, “What will make you happy? What do you want for your child this year?” Ask parents for their goals, their values, their dreams, and their expectations and incorporate it into your classroom. Download our free Parent Survey to ask all the right questions! Start the year off right by building family relationships and getting insights into how to best relate and teach your very unique students!
When you ask these questions, it is the beginning of partnership that will last years beyond your classroom. When you build great relationships with parents and make them proud, those relationships become friendships. And those friendships allow you to become an influential force for good in your students’ lives way past the one year you spend together. Is there anything better than that?
Resources and People Mentioned in this Podcast:
Show Notes (w/times):
- 1:18 – Introduction
- 5:00 – Mindset Shift
- 7:22 – Strategies
- 19:40 – Actionable Next Steps
- 21:34 – Main Takeaways
Thanks so much for joining us this week! Did you think of some important skills I missed? Would you mind sharing in the comments so all the great teachers can use it too!? Thank you!
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