In my article How Do Schools Bring Educators on Board With Future-ready Learning? I emphasised the importance of taking teachers’ emotions into account during the change process leading to future-ready learning. Bringing teachers around to the need for change is only one piece of the puzzle, however, as it is just as important that parents support the direction in which a school intends to move. In effect, school leaders hoping to move the needle must first understand and tap into parent emotions to ensure that these key stakeholders become advocates for future-ready learning rather than a potential hindrance.
Understanding the Context
The context of every school setting is different and it is key to understand the motivation of parents in order to attract their support for educational change. In Asia for example, education has played a key role in transforming economies over the last 50 years, bringing millions of families out of poverty and into prosperity. Asian parents are spending increasing amounts on private education for their children, in attempts to secure admission to top universities, which continues to be viewed as the only pathway to success. While GDP in China rose 63 percent in the five-year lead up to 2012, spending on education rose 94 percent over the same period and it is now estimated that Korean families are spending up to 70 percent of household income on private education, with many going into considerable debt in the process. For many parents, therefore, education is a high-stakes business and one in which tried and tested classroom methods are likely to be preferred as a safe option. Parents may be fully aware of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the changes already occurring in their own workplaces, as automation increases and the emphasis moves towards 21st-century skills. For some, however, discussions around unfamiliar concepts such as personalised learning, student agency, and hands-on, experiential learning elicit a heavy dose of fear and anxiety rather than excitement.
Addressing Parents’ Fears
Addressing these fears and anxieties is the key to success in bringing parents no board with the need for change. Research from the field of positive psychology demonstrates that when we are experiencing negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety, we are narrow in our focus and are less open to new ideas. Our perspective broadens as we move from the stress response to experience positive emotions and, as a result, we become more open-minded. School leaders, therefore, need to move parents from a place of fear and anxiety to a place of positive emotions. This can be done in a number of ways. Firstly, it is important that schools demonstrate empathy, compassion, and respect for parents and their perspective. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of treating some parents like “the enemy” standing in the way of progress. Bringing parents into the conversation, helping them to feel connected and secure through active listening, is an important part of this process. Secondly, anticipating and getting out ahead of parent concerns is a key strategy in addressing their fears. The single most common issue that parents raise relates to the core skills of literacy and numeracy. Parents are concerned that future-ready learning will lead to less time being made available for these subjects and to a subsequent erosion in standards. It is crucial then that school leaders find ways to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to core skills teaching. The model for future-ready learning that I have outlined in What is Future-ready Learning and Why Do Schools Need It? places foundational skills as one of three key pillars, together with 21st-century competencies and character development. If parents are reassured of a school’s ongoing commitment to these core areas, they will be more open to considering the second and third pillars of future-ready learning and the pedagogical approaches used to implement them.
Make The Learning Visible
The third key strategy in bringing parents on board is finding ways to make the exceptional future-ready learning taking place across the school more visible to parents so they can better understand what it looks like in practice and the benefits students are deriving from it. There are a number of ways in which this can be done. Providing opportunities for parents to experience the learning themselves through hands-on workshops, gives parents the opportunity to experience the learning themselves and creates a buzz among the parent community as those taking part share their experiences on social media and WhatsApp groups. Finding ways to bring everyday learning out of the confines of the classroom into more visible areas around the school where parents are likely to encounter it also works well as does sharing exceptional learning at special events. Seesaw and digital portfolios are also powerful tools for making the learning journey of each student more explicit and providing opportunities for parents and students to reflect upon weekly learning together at home.
While work needs to be done in helping parents to understand the need for future-ready learning, addressing their fears is also key. Demonstrating a firm commitment to the continued development of core skills and ensuring that the quality of learning taking place is both exceptional and highly visible will help reduce parents’ anxieties and open them up to the exciting possibilities of future-ready learning for their children.
Article first published in The International Educator 2018