Earlier in my career – before kids – I worked with a few community organizing groups. One group was doing parent surveys – and I was shocked when a large scale survey What Matters Most to Parents in Your Kids’ School revealed…that academics were near the bottom.
I thought parents were simply mistaken – or that the surveys were faulty. It was impossible for me, a former teacher and the spouse of a leader of schools, to believe that the very thing schools were designed to do were, for most parents, near the bottom of their list.
As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), had kids, and gotten to know feedback from thousands of parents, I understand a whole lot better. And parents are right. Academics matter, and yet only to the extent to which other needs are also met on the path to academics. Parents need to know that their child is safe, clothed, known, not teased. Only then do they care that their child knows how to subtract or can recognize a gerund. Parents would rather hear about a teacher who loved their kid and was a mediocre teacher of long division – than a teacher who yelled at their kid (never mind that we do it :)) and was an excellent teacher of long division. It’s not always the answer we want to hear…but it is the truth.
Kids – and parents – are as humans are. We have a hierarchy of needs. And the need of an academically high quality school experience is along the lines of self-actualization. Academics matter – but there’s a hierarchy of worries and needs that parents and students have along the way. Check out Possip’s School Version of the Hierarchy of Needs. Remember: what is at the bottom of the pyramid is a need that must be met on the path to the higher needs.
Physiological needs: Does my kid have transportation? Is it reliable? Are they fed? Clothed? Comfortable? Do general school operations leave me comfortable that the basics are cared for?
Safety needs: Is my kid safe in school and on the bus? Is anyone picking on him or her? Do teachers and staff treat my kid in a way where they are emotionally and physically safe?
Love and belonging needs: Does my kid feel seen? Known? Do they have friends at school? Do teachers know my kid – beyond their name? Does my kid literally have a seat at the table? Do teachers and staff know my kid such that they can tell me new things about my kid even I never knew?
Esteem needs: Does my kid know their strengths? Can they tell me about a subject they love or are good at? Can they share more than 1 thing for which they are proudly recognized?
Academics/Self-actualization needs: Does my kid have the academic experiences that are going to lead them to learn and be able to do whatever they want to do? Is what they are learning – and how they are learning – going to set them up for success for life?
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