Despite the push for innovation in our schools, many parents remain committed to the value of a traditional education and can sometimes represent a hurdle in the change process, particularly in independent schools. Persuading parents that educational practices need to change, both dramatically and quickly, if students are to be prepared for the unknown future is challenging but is also key in moving schools forward.
We know that we most value what we understand best and what parents understand best, in this context, is the kind of education they received when they were at school. The provision of a solid academic education, that will lead to the good grades students need to enable them to enter top universities, is the driving force of most independent school parents.
Throughout my years as a principal, I have learned that academic excellence, creativity, innovation and enjoyment are not mutually exclusive concepts. At least they don’t have to be if the curriculum is integrated, well-planned and balanced. In fact there is plenty of research to demonstrate that opportunities for creativity improve grades, that engagement and motivation are key to maximising students’ potential and that top universities seek out students whose talents go beyond good grades. The role of school leaders is to help parents to understand this better by joining the dots for them and explicitly setting out the benefits of more innovative approaches to learning.
Parental concerns about traditional, core skills permeate independent schools the world over. Even parents who choose a more progressive curriculum, such as that offered by IB schools, desire traditional literacy and numeracy skills to be taught, in ways that may have been discredited by academic research as ineffective or demotivating. This is particularly the case in elementary schools where the push for innovation can be met with fear on the part of some parents.
At the recent Global Education Leadership Summit in Bangkok, a forum of some of the most innovative schools in the world, it was interesting to note the emphasis placed upon standards based curricula as a crucial underpinning of innovation. Furthermore, the World Economic Forum’s 21st Century Skills clearly label Foundational Competencies, including literacy, numeracy and science, as playing a key role in future-ready education. So parents have nothing to fear in this regard. Core skills are still as relevant as ever. The role of the school leadership team is to shape these understandings for parents.
Of course the type of core skills students need to be successful in the future may differ from what some parents expect to see. In mathematics, the emphasis needs to be shifting from knowledge and application to developing thinking and understanding through problem solving , while in literacy students need to be able to communicate in a range of media and distinguish between real and fake “facts”. Parents need support in understanding what core competencies their children need and also the importance that other 21st century skills play in preparing them for the future.
Listening to and understanding parents’ concerns, bringing them into the conversation and sharing the need for and purpose of change is essential . If the message is crafted well, school leaders can create among parents a sense of urgency for the need for change and excite them about the possibilities, turning these key stakeholders into innovation’s biggest advocates.