Persuading Parents: Relationships or Results?

1. Let’s pretend you run a school.

a. Parents believe X.

b. X is at least partly wrong.

c. But most other schools still say X.

So your choice: Behave like the other schools (pretend), or speak your truth.

If you speak your truth, some parents will want to “Shoot The Messenger.” Then what?

* * *

2. I think back to 2000.

a. We had launched our new high school. Our focus was poor families.

Some kids arrived having been honor roll students in their former middle schools. Those proud parents believed their 9th graders were “on track” for college success. That was X.

b. Those parents were wrong. Many of those “strong” 9th actually read at a 6th grade level. Their kids were way behind college-bound students in wealthier schools.

c. We’d say:

“Your kid is way behind where she needs to be. Here is how we’re going to get her caught up. (Provided details). But it won’t be easy. There will be very long hours, and your child will at times become frustrated.”

Some parents trusted us. Others got mad at us.

But over time, as we developed a track record, “trusted us” became a more common reaction.

Relationships drive trust at first.

Results drive trust over time.

3. Here in China…

a. Many parents believe in cramming and hounding your kid to study, study, study.

b. Some schools are trying to change to a more “Western” approach.

c. Will it stick?

It depends on execution.

My friend F writes:

My friend’s new school in China promotes student-driven learning vs. teacher-dictated learning. That means they gave lots of freedom for kids in terms of how they should behave in school.

With a lack of dictation and management as they have been used to in traditional schools, students experience a drop in their academic performance. So the parents who had bought in what teachers told them about quality education when they sent their kids to this school, all went against the school, complaining and protesting to transfer their kids out.

My point is – no matter what types of teacher you are trying to bring here, you can’t change parents’ mindset in terms what they want to achieve for their kids. University admission is and will keep remaining top priority at least for this generation.

Probably it takes another generation (when my generation becomes parents of high schoolers) that we will be able to truly appreciate the value that high quality human interaction with kids brings to their education.

There were some kids who were trying to organize student club, sport/cultural event, however, due to lack of systematic support and guidance from school, it didn’t go through. And when the kids who don’t want to learn but just play video games become the majority, and combined with lack of school intervention because of its initial belief, the culture is very toxic for learning.

My takeaway is that – it’s probably too late to form learning habits of students when they are in 9th/10th grade. And unlike American kids who learn to enjoy taking initiatives in extracurriculum, Chinese kids, transferred out from traditional primary school model and family education, really don’t know how to design, lead and benefit from so much freedom.

Sadly: most kids of this school are not super rich kids who can afford undergrad overseas. They will mostly end up going through national entrance exam and not studying for the text will leave them in a bad position to compete with kids from traditional schools.

F may be correct that 10th grade is “too late” to change kids.

Or perhaps not. I could imagine a Chinese school that does succeed in this.

What’s clear is that in this case:

a. Parents believed X (don’t give kids much agency)

b. X is at least partly wrong (later on in life, kids need agency, so denying it entirely K-12 has its shortcomings)

c. The school convinced parents to (short term) accept a change. That probably happened via relationships.

But they couldn’t execute the vision. Results drive trust over time.