To Thrive – A Response to Making Parents Feel Heard

By Rabbi Joshua Fenton

In a recent blog post by Chavie Kahn, To Thrive, Day Schools Need to Make Parents Feel Heard, the case was made for greater engagement of parents in day schools through the solicitation of regular feedback. The argument was a sound one. When parents say great stuff about our schools their friends listen. The best kind of marketing is grassroots; the best kind of marketing is word of mouth.

And this is really true. For a while now the for-profit world has understood that long-term satisfaction is best measured through an individual’s willingness to stand by a brand. In a 2003 Harvard Business Review article, The One Number You Need to Grow, Fredrick Reichheld explained that “…the percentage of customers who were enthusiastic enough to refer a friend or colleague – perhaps the strongest sign of customer loyalty – correlated directly with differences in growth rates among competitors … evangelistic customer loyalty is clearly one of the most important drivers of growth. While it doesn’t guarantee growth, in general, profitable growth can’t be achieved without it.”

One strategy Kahn suggests to build that kind of loyalty is to solicit regular feedback through surveys. The more we ask the parents of our students how things are going, the more parents will buy in to the program and consequently evangelize the program to their friends.

Then comes what is likely the most important point of the article and one easily missed as Kahn doesn’t expand on it. He warns against inaction and the dangers of soliciting feedback irresponsibly. “Parents are too often told that their concerns will be addressed, even if there is no plan to address them in a meaningful way.” While soliciting feedback demonstrates that a school values its students and their families considering them partners in the learning process, if that feedback is not followed up with it can have the opposite effect.

The reason to engage parents in our schools is because that’s how we make better schools. When we take parent feedback seriously, we position our schools to offer better experiences for our students. When we listen to what the parents of our students think about their children’s experiences, whether that has to do with the learning in the classroom, or the culture of the schoolyard, we’re afforded a new lens through which to evaluate how we’re doing. Parents hear and see things we educators and administrators often miss.

That’s why parent involvement has long been understood as the secret sauce or x-factor distinguishing the good schools from great. It’s not the only ingredient but it’s a critical one. If our schools engage parents and families in the planning and learning process, if we foster cultures of open communication and regular dialogue with parents, our schools will be more exciting and dynamic centers of learning. The trick is not to make parents feel heard, it’s to hear parents.

Rabbi Joshua Fenton is Associate Director of Jewish LearningWorks.