Educational leaders need to think of their parent relations as a component of their business model—which I define as how they “do business.”  Please read the following two articles which have direct implications to your business model of how to relate to parents.

The first “How the Internet of Things Changes Business Models” was one of those articles I read that seemed to be brilliant but written in a different language.  I committed to re-reading, close reading, highlighting, and simply struggling with the ideas in order to grasp it.  The article can be found here: http://goo.gl/Klx195

The premise is that the Internet is changing how goods are produced.  No longer are we seeking out what people are interested in and then developing a product (or service) to meet that need.  Imagine a thermostat.  They evolved to be digital when you could set certain temperatures at certain times.  Pretty advanced, right?  Our schools evolved through the same slow process—figure out what the market needs and then try to develop programs to meet those perceived needs.

An article and video which explores the traditional approach of building a business model can be found here http://goo.gl/SvUKRh.  This differs from the Internet of Things (IoT) model which is much more personalized.

But with the Internet of Things (IoT), companies can track customer behavior as they respond to products.  Products and services can therefore be customized and altered in real time.  Think of the “Nest” thermostats as the example.  As customers alter their thermostats through their Internet-connected devices, they control their environment from where they are.

How will this affect schools?  Many parents can track their children’s grades in real time and can measure their achievement of standards through new types of report cards.  Many types of computer-assisted instruction tailor problem-solving to student results.  But is this enough?  What changes are on the horizon?

Four techniques jump to mind immediately that would foster personalization:

  • Personal growth charts can track a student’s assessment record from pre-K to high school graduation. There are a myriad of assessments (Kinder readiness exams, reading diagnostic tests, achievement tests, high school entrance exams, Smarter Balanced exams).  It’s our job to put those together into a spreadsheet that parents can access online.  I have a sample that I can send out on request.
  • Annual reports for each class and each school. Again, I have an example I can share.  If teachers would report every May on the student learning experiences of their classroom—everything from curriculum used, books read, field trips, presentations—parents would begin to understand what is involved.  These Annual reports would provide a road map for the next year.
  • Newsletters, blogs, and social media presence bring the learning alive and share the experiences of the classroom and the school in general with parents.
  • Surveys are easier to conduct than ever before. Teachers could send out Google forms monthly to their students and parents to find out what’s working.  Schools can send out surveys to ascertain the depth of the successes and areas to improve.

These ideas are great but this business model of personalization has to have limits.  As parents become empowered to understand education, they begin to challenge the paradigms of curriculum and culture.  We risk reacting to every concern and changing our mission due to parental opinions.

This line of thought was inspired by an article about parent bullying in schools.  Jodee Blanco, the author of Please Stop Laughing at Me, and a noted expert on school bullying, has turned her attention to the phenomenon of parent bullying in schools.  Her NCEA presentation last week in Orlando was well-attended and generated attention.  Her central point is that as Catholic schools have struggled with enrollment, they attempt to pacify every disgruntled parent.  As Connor Higgins, who wrote about Blanco’s presentation, argues:

Parents have a right, in every sense of the word, to address every aspect of their child’s education. They have every right to question the teacher, to question the administration, and to question the curriculum, they are after all, a customer of the school. They are paying for their child to receive an education, they are paying for a product, and the school needs to work with the parent on delivering that product. However with dwindling enrollment, rising costs, and the precious nature of full tuition payment, parents have found themselves in a position of power and authority over administrators and teachers.

The article can be found at: http://goo.gl/7yE7zj.  I found this article and Blanco’s presentation as a warning against the type of transparency that the Internet of Things approach demands.  We need to be sure to claim our mission and purpose.  As we personalize education, we need to ensure that the education process is protected against a market-dominated business model where our customers (parents and students) command all the attention and power.

Blanco describes the phenomenon of bullying as parents using their perceived power (tuition) to influence school decisions.  But our mission is to provide an excellent Catholic educational product.  We can build a business model of personalized and excellent learning environments without losing our souls.  As Higgins writes, “the school is after all selling a product, a quality education. Catholic schools who find themselves in a buyers’ market are forced to bend to the whims of the consumer. Catholic schools who create a superior product will find themselves in a seller’s market, and capable of responding to bullies by showing them the door.”

In our Catholic schools in Montana, this will mean holding to our principles despite the loss of a few parents who don’t agree.  It’s possible to build a transparent, personalized learning environment in an Catholic school built on our common tradition of excellence.

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