Having been in the school system, dealing with parent complaints is a commonplace. At first glance, the complaints may seem to be purely related to operational issues. However, a close examination of different types of complaints reveals that they usually stem from deeper, often hidden, factors.
Philosophy of education
Everyone who has been through schooling holds his/her own opinion about education and how it should be imparted. Likewise, parents and school administrators hold their own unique philosophy of education. Schools are governed by a set of beliefs that dictate and guide their educational decisions and practices. As such, most complaints and/or clashes between parents and school administrators arise from significant differences in the philosophy of education of these two parties.
Philosophy of education drives the vision, mission, and expected school-wide learning goals of a school. Additionally, every school has its own unique philosophy that may differ from other schools. In this context, parent complaints can be traced back to two things; parents’ discomfort with difference(s) between their own and the school’s philosophy of education, and also parent’s tendency to compare one school’s philosophy of education with another.
Administrators in School A decided to increase the number of Language Arts periods and reduce Math and Science periods by one per week. Hence students meet seven times a week to learn the English language and only four periods to learn Math and Science respectively. According to the principal of School A, the school strongly believes in the philosophy of relying on concrete data to make educational decisions.
The principal added that student performance on a standardized test the previous year indicated significant weakness in the area of English language. School administrators also found out that there is a significant correlation between performance in the English language and other subjects like Math and Science.
Hence, School A’s move to increase Language Arts periods and reduce Math and Science periods was based on a philosophical understanding that assessment data directs planning of teaching/learning experiences.
However, parents of School A hold a different philosophy. According to their philosophy, Math and Science are the most important subjects. This belief seems to match their own experiences when they were at school. Furthermore, they realize that other schools do not do what School A does. Hence they conclude that something is really wrong with the school and lodge a complaint.
Addressing parent complaints is necessary. On the other hand, if School A tries to address the complaint without going into the root of the problem, the administrators will fail to convince parents about the truth of the matter. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that school administrators address the root of the problem rather than pacifying parents by covering up complaints.
Schools and parents should work together to communicate each others’ philosophy of education. Fixing complaints is a temporary solution. Understanding and working from the framework of each others’ educational philosophy is a long-term solution to dealing effectively with parent complaints.
Parents rarely complain about a school whose philosophy of education they understand, fully accept and advocate for. Schools that succeed in this process would receive fewer complaints in the long run. Sessions that encourage parents to think about and own school’s philosophy of education work well to this end. Such sessions (or parent workshops) should actively involve parents to talk about, question, and assimilate school’s philosophy as their own.
At the end of the process, an increased sense ownership is developed, fostering a feeling of belongingness toward school. This sense of belongingness discourages complaints and encourages the celebration of successes instead.