Trust begins with you and is reciprocal. It is as simple as that but for eons this simple dictum is not understood in its totality by parents, teachers, school managements and students. So what we have is teachers blaming parents and vice-versa. The common statement one hears is ‘how do I make the student listen?’ How can we make the parent, the head of school and the teacher listen is also important. parents trust your school
Trust cannot be measured, it cannot be created overnight. Trust is ensured over a period of time after several meetings, events, decisions, analysis and realisation. It is a symbiotic relationship between the school, parents and students. The day there is trust everything falls in place but getting there is easier said than done. It is a two-way street and all stake holders need to extend a hand to build trust.
“No school can work well for children if parents and teachers do not act in partnership on behalf of the children’s best interests,” believed Dorothy H Cohen, author of classics in developmental psychology. As the term ‘parental involvement’ echoes, an equilateral triangle is traced in our minds. This parent-teacher-student triangle reminds us the equal importance of parent’s role in his/her child’s schooling. Instantly a query arises – Is the partnership between school and parent community strong, focused and positive to reinforce the purpose of education?
In its national survey, Brainfeed documents that 63.5% parents in the country sense an unwarranted mistrust among parents and school management. Interestingly, 42% of school leaders too nod at the sentiment.
Child’s learning is the result of a team effort where all the stakeholders are striving towards a common goal – holistic learning of the future generation. As a result, an all-round and equal involvement of each stakeholder becomes vital. ‘TRUST’ is that fundamental factor which keeps such a partnership intact. However, present-day realities are strangled amidst confusion of whether the parent community has faith in the school or is the school ready to accept parents as an equal partner in child development.
This survey unravels the mysteries buried in the minds of both stakeholders. Maintaining anonymity of all 231 participants (154 school leaders and 77 parents) across India, it highlights critical opinions that dominate the nature of parent-school partnership.
50% of the parents say that schools don’t bother to involve parents in school proceedings. Additional 18.9% parents have experienced this to an extent. “No meaningful decisions can be taken through parents’ involvement as far as financial decisions are concerned,” justifies Dr Benny Kuriakose, Principal of Coorg Public School, Karnataka. Conferred with the Best Principal Award by Department of Education, he shares from his experience, “Parents will think about how we can keep child’s fee minimum ignoring other factors. Schools however, have to take care about all the factors including the 7th pay commission for teaching staff, world class facilities for the students, better learning tools and infra, and at the same time a fee that can support all these while staying minimal.”
Statistics support the principal’s statement as 42.7% school leaders agree that involving parents in school proceedings becomes an obstacle to an extent. Over 75% of the school leaders reason that sometimes parents are unreasonable with their demands. Sharing an anecdote, Dr Kuriakose adds, “For academics, in many cases, the parents are not competent enough to share good suggestions.
For example, for the issue of heavy school bags, the parents asked us to reduce the subjects. It is not practical as it is affiliated to board’s curriculum. The Class X syllabus needs to be diluted before diluting the subjects in junior classes. Now, if we dilute the Class X syllabus, the level of competitive examination will not be matched.”
Such circumstances result in dissatisfaction within parent community. 75.7% parents feel their feedbacks are not taken into consideration and implemented by the school. The fact of an unwarranted mistrust gradually justifies its presence. As Asha Bhatia, Principal of Rankers International School, Indore discerns, “There’s a gap today in both the communities- schools and parents- but none of them are at fault.”
It is evident that through the process, students suffer, but the schools pay its ultimate price. The problem lies somewhere between the struggles of quantifying the costs of an intangible element ‘trust’.
The cost of mistrust
- Families will begin to question or push back on school initiatives or decisions, especially if they feel their voices haven’t been heard
- Parents and guardians will begin considering other educational options for their children
- Administrators will spend time putting out fires instead of adding value to the school experience
Putting out fake fires instead of striving towards child’s learning erodes school’s time, efforts and resources. Meghana Musunuri, Founder and Chairperson of Fountainhead Global School, Hyderabad, narrates an incident where her school had to face the same. “This year, one parent sent her child to field trip and gave couple of medicines to the front office saying that he needs to take this medicine during his lunch break. The teacher helped the child out. Next morning we received a call from that parent who allegedly blamed the teacher for giving high dose of medicines to the child due to which he threw up later in the night and was admitted to the hospital. Surprisingly, on the third day, the child came and when we enquired about his health, he revealed that he wasn’t taken to hospital at all.”
“On enquiring further, he narrated that after reaching home he was tired and slept off,” she continues. When his mother reached home from work, she realized that he slept without eating anything. She woke him up and out of concern overfed the child. He threw up. Anger surfaced her emotions and she told her husband, ‘I think teacher gave the child extra medicines. I will talk to the school tomorrow and will take them on a ride.’ We called the parents and confronted them but they refused to confess and created a huge mess for the next two days. Luckily the conversation was recorded in our school and the parents were enlightened that it was not the teacher’s fault. But how many schools will have that time and facilities to record everything, call up the parents, follow up and solve the issues?” she questions. “This is what causes mistrust. These parents then go out and spread the wrong news polluting the community with mistrust.”
Apparently, building trust is not just an ethical need or a push for a better learning outcome of a child. It is the key factor to sustain the schools today.
Sustainable factors for schools
“From the school, I have obvious expectations,” shares Ritu Kaul, parent of a 9-year-old on choosing a good institution for her child. “First and foremost is the assurance of my child’s safety. When I drop my son to the school, I would certainly want to know if he’s cared for, does somebody love him and pay attention to him.”
Academics are important criteria for parents when vetting educational options for their children. However, expecting it to be the no. 1 criteria is surreal. A research distinctly shows that other factors matter more. Culture and climate impact how parents, students, and others come to view and talk about the schools.
“We have a parent-teacher where a teacher becomes a parent for 4-5 children,” shares Dr Kuriakose on an initiative to provide home-like climate to students in his residential school. “The parent-teacher will go to their living room, interact with them casually, find out their problems and help them solve those. For this, we have an orientation session with the teachers in the beginning of academic year. A permanent counsellor and student psychologist takes sessions to train teachers on when students come up with problems, how to talk to them and how to solve their issues. It is after this training that we select the matured teachers as parent-teachers.”
While parents experience contentment in school’s climate provided to their children, the students in turn are empowered. “They are trained to solve their own problems at their level and are prepared to face the challenges of life. This is actually a life-skill training we are giving here,” he adds.
Focusing outside academics is a methodology to indirectly boost the learning outcome of a child. As Dr Jeny Raphael elucidates, “The academic outcome is a consequence of a conglomeration of factors affecting the students such as his mental health, the psycho-social atmosphere at home, parental attitudes, parental beliefs and aspirations, attitude towards school, and relationship with teachers, etc.”
Imbibing a strategic partnership, Meghana elaborates, “We do a ‘Homevisit’ where teacher visits parents through which we understand the situation in the house, the environment of the child and as a result his behaviour, habits, level of concentration or learning outcome.”
Findings in a Teacher Homevisit
- Are they doing homework themselves or do they need parent’s help?
- Are they eating themselves or the parent is feeding?
- Do they get proper sleep and rest so that they can be attentive in the school?
- Who influences them outside the school?
the school, you are still not part of the school”
At the other end, parents undergo two important realizations. One, they experience the school’s dedication. Two, they understand the impact of hours spent in home on the child’s learning. Eventually, the parent who usually acts as an unsatisfied customer transforms into a responsible partner of the school. “After all, curriculum is just one part of a child’s learning. Ingredients of a happy child include all the stakeholders,” asserts Asha.
But what happens when such initiatives aren’t in practice? When expectations aren’t matched, parents tend to transfer their child to other potential institutions and that fearful decline of enrolment leads to a decrease in funding which in turn affects the stability of the school.
Mistrust- Decline of the school
4 Lost students=Salary of 1 full time teacher
For every four students lost, funding equivalent to one full-time teacher is lost
In a school overseas, roughly, for every four students lost, they also lose funding equivalent to one full-time teacher. Not precisely, but a similar analysis breathes in Indian education system. As a result, the intangible issue of mistrust fuels a staggering challenge – dearth of teachers. When school faces such difficulties, parents are involuntarily persuaded to opt for another school which has the strength to sustain. Nevertheless, if a bond of trust connects the two stakeholders; such situations can be turned into a source of parental involvement and cherishing the goal of child’s development.
Recounting a similar incident, Asha shares, “Once, our school was short of a computer teacher. Due to some of her personal issues she had to leave urgently. That time, I received a letter from one of the parents saying, ‘I came to know that the school is short of a computer teacher from few days. If you don’t mind, I have a proficiency in software development. If you need any kind of assistance from me, I would be more than happy to teach computers to your children because it is exam time.’ This was so amazing. If the bond of partnering together wasn’t build, complaints from parent community would have been expected. However, the situation was altered as the parent understood the responsibility as this is my school and offered the help. Easily, the problem had a solution rather than a match of blame game that diverts the focus from solving the situation. This will only happen when child is the focus of both the stakeholders and his education is considered as an equal responsibility.”
It’s time that the schools digest an unerring fact. “When parents are involved, it is not negative, it is always positive. When parents are involved, they become your joint partner,” she states.
Certainly there are challenges in partnering with parents but as the doctor of education, it is the school which will design and lead the involvement of each stakeholder. Asha explains, “Schools should decide the extent of interference from parents. Parental involvement has to be optimum. If it is less, then the parents will have an indifferent attitude. If it is more, then they will be unreasonably demanding. It is true that parents are not the experts of teaching but both have to work together to create a bridge and partner in fostering the child.”
How to build trust?
An interesting set of statistics answer whether the parent representative have a say in decision making in the school administration. While 44.2% school leaders report an agreement and 11.7% confess a clear no, 39% stand at the diversion with ‘sometimes’.
Being education experts, it is the responsibility of schools to indulge in building ties of trust among parent and school community. In 44.2% schools, the parent representative has a say in decision making in the school administration.
“The schools should decide on certain areas where parents can be given the authority to take decisions,” says Asha Bhatia. “For instance, if my school is going to organize 12 events this year, so I will create a ratio that one-fourth of this will be decided by parents.”
Setting the foot forward, management must first accept parent community as an equal partner. “Without their involvement, no educational institution can realize its objectives,” says Dr Jeny who derives a three-pronged approach—involving authority, parents, and teachers—to reaffirm the awareness on parental involvement:
- Sensitize authorities about the inadequacies extant in the present practices of parental participation.
- Conduct teacher awareness programmes. The conceptual frame work of these programmes will be based on evidence-based facts which uncover the significance of parental educational involvement.
- Arrange parental awareness programmes which will not only sensitize them about the importance of their educational involvement but help them to develop their skills to communicate effectively with teachers and authorities in the interest of the academic well-being of their wards.
Today, the mistrust is like a reverberation from parents’ ever dwindling trust towards teaching community as a whole. Dr Jeny confirms,
“Anomalies or disparities existing between parental expectations and teachers’ professional dispositions are the major contributors.”
Evidently, involvement of parents should be a linear process. To adapt this, 78.6% school leaders have an active Parent-Teacher Association or Organisation in their schools. However, the Principal of Rankers International School upholds a different view. “The purpose isn’t fully accomplished as limited parents (and not all) are part of PTA, mostly who are highly educated.”
Concern stands true when as much as 80.5% parents say that they aren’t a PTA/PTO member. “Taking suggestions from each stratum of parents is necessary. There has to be some system that listens to all and common problems can be resolved,” she reasons.
1. Measure the faith of parents
Statistics on the extent of parental engagement largely differ. While mere 7% school leaders have less than 20% parents involved in school proceedings, number of school leaders with highest parental involvement aren’t many. Only 32.5% school leaders say that more than 80 percent of parents are regularly involved in school proceedings like PTM, workshops, counselling, orientation programmes, etc. The strength of a school is visible in its forces of parent partners. Hence, to solidify the institution’s efforts, it is important to increase their numbers and closely work with them.
However, challenge lingers when parents find it difficult to trust schools. The root cause is their absence, says Meghana Musunuri. In the past academic year, 54.5% parents visited their child’s school for even lesser than five times during the whole session.
“If you are not visiting, even though you are part of the school, you are still not part of the school. Parent should always work hand in hand with the school to help their child grow. In this way, we can correct each other too because every child is different. The same formula will not work for all the children,” she adds.
Coercing the parent community is again the responsibility of schools. A series of regular school surveys help quite effectively. Presently, as the statistics confirm, in a span of five academic years, 85.7% parents have participated in school survey for less than five times. This implies that at most, school must have conducted one survey per year. There are chances that some schools have not conducted any in the whole session!
An opportune initiative must not be ignored. Conducting regular surveys on varied topics will help schools to measure the confidence of parents on the institution and map out the strategies to effectively increase parental engagement.
2. Address mistrust with bonding
Once students get admissions in school, the never ending role of parents embarks without which children may under-perform. This ongoing process has to surpass the boundaries of traditional Parent Teacher Meetings. Parent’s line of thinking – ‘I have taken my kid’s admission in a good school, now I should get a finished product’ – needs to be overshadowed with a rapport between both the parties. In order to achieve this, Dr Kuriakose organises regular interaction in the form of games.
70.1% parents and 64.9% school leaders think that there should be another form for Parent-Teacher interaction other than PTMs. “To create a bond of trust and strategic partnership, we practice a parent volunteering programme- Educator of the Day,” shares Asha Bhatia. “Each Tuesday, we invite one of the parents who narrates his/her own story. Through this kind of involvement, they consider the school their own and their child ours. We also invite them to talk about their profession. For me, as a school leader, it becomes very easy to expose my children to ‘n’ number of career options which they are not aware of at present. Involving the expertise of parents, we are accomplishing two purposes: career guidance from field experts and increased parental involvement.”
Strings of trust are strengthened even more when schools are ‘Always on listening’. Feedbacks through suggestion boxes in schools or through one-on-one conversation help schools in keeping a check on the areas of mistrust pertaining within the parent community.
41.2% parents have participated in community feedback (conducted by school) once a year. These feedback initiatives are the source of long lasting trust. Dr Benny recalls, “There was one feedback from parents on language learning. The child was able to write in English but was unable to speak in English. We understood that we are focusing more on the writing skills but the present situation calls for very good communication skills to survive. So now, we have started focusing on speaking the language correctly and fluently.”
3. Develop an action plan
When suggestion boxes and surveys reveal the areas of mistrust, it’s time to reciprocate with an action plan. “A parent request in the suggestion box recently, asked us to cook only Jain food for one month,” shares Asha Bhatia. “I conveyed that this was a big decision to be taken at the management level but as a principal, I will do the best I can. I altered the daily menu for that month in a way that it doesn’t hamper the nutritional needs of any child and also helps all our Jain students to follow their culture.”
This initiative helped the parents affirm on the fact that the school is concerned about their child. “However, if you keep giving all those facilities asked by the parent community, there’ll be no end to it,” she opines. “But within limit if we consider their requests and suggestions, they will start feeling the sense of belongingness and the bond will be stronger. We, the schools, definitely cannot go out of the way because it will affect the costs and we have to take care of that part also. Also, if I will become very lenient, they will become more demanding.”
4. Building a brand story
If schools consider trust as their stock-in-trade, the stories people tell about their schools are equivalent to their inventory. The power of a two-way communication accelerates the successful creation of a positive school story.
In the suggestion boxes, the requests and ideas offered by parent community are sometimes implemented by the school. The key factor here is to convey to that parent that his suggestion has been used by schools. “Once, a parent wrote a suggestion to conduct weekly test on a particular topic. We take it generally after one chapter or a unit. It was a simple solution but we implemented it. Now here, the important point is to inform the parent that his/her suggestion has been considered and implemented. I called that parent and shared that your solution is being implemented in this particular class,” shares Asha Bhatia.
An approach like this completes the goal of parental involvement when each parent is communicated the status of his/her suggestion. “There are two ways- either we make the system flexible or we make them understand the reason behind our decision,” adds Asha on discussing the suggestions which are not practical to imbibe. School’s transparency on the nature of consideration of the feedback, gives the opportunity to bridge the trust gap visible today.
5. Identify unreasonable parental demands
Any “demand” from the parents which has nothing to do with the upliftment of students or the institution can be considered as unreasonable, states Dr Jeny.
To gauge if there’s a genuine complaint/request or an unreasonable demand, analyse whether the complaint/request is being asked by a parent or a customer, describes Asha. “Schools are not service providers who are responsible for customer satisfaction. There has to be satisfaction at every
level –at the level of teacher, principal, student and parent. Common satisfaction is the goal, individual satisfaction is not possible.” Firstly, we have to cater to the majority. Secondly, if the system doesn’t permit flexibility, then it is best to communicate the same to our parents. There comes parent orientation programme, where even some parents can be invited to talk to the rest parent community because they will be able to relate and understand better. If at all we want the parents to be involved, then the focus of stakeholders should be on parent well being. Trust is a human virtue. It won’t come in a blink of an eye. Trust will only be established when there’s involvement from both the parties. It has to be developed gradually. As Asha Bhatia describes, School A can have low parental involvement, School B can have moderate parental involvement and School C can have high parental involvement. In any case, no school is at fault. The only thing which has to be checked is if we are in sync with the common goal of child learning and child safety which cannot be compromised. Research proves that a good parent-teacher relationship is favourable and results in better outcome. The more the interactions between parents and teachers the better it is for trust to grow. After all, trust is the fulcrum of a steady relationship and the child spends close to 10 years in a school. Trust matters.
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