Over the last few weeks, I've been speaking with a number of parents about the school where I work (Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA) and about the qualities that attract families. Education is filled with competing theories and methods and approaches, and it can be difficult to decipher what will ultimately be of value. In my conversations, therefore, I wanted to know what parents deemed to be essential for good education. Not education in the abstract, but education as delivered within an institution, especially in a private, Catholic environment. What makes a school compelling? What makes a private school worth the tuition?
The responses fascinated. In all of my conversations, none of the parents mentioned job preparation. None mentioned technology. No parent stressed SAT scores, AP exams or facilities. When they identified what was most important, none of the parents highlighted the qualities that so often consume media, teachers, or experts.
Instead, the parents stressed something that cannot be purchased or measured: They cared about whether their child was motivated and inspired. They wanted teachers who knew their students and responded immediately to academic needs. They wanted their children to feel safe and happy, among friends and peers who respect one another and shun gossip. And they wanted a program of studies that harmonized emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.
It wasn't that everything else did not matter. Parents do care about college readiness and exam scores, and they do like up-to-date facilities. But not at the expense of the human, relational element.
It was a powerful reminder of the crucial importance of individuals, of the decisiveness of a smile and a hello. It was a powerful reminder of the ways that small acts -- or seemingly small acts -- reverberate in huge ways. When parents see teachers regularly updating grades, communicating about the class, and relishing the details of their vocation, parents see signs of excellence. They see a place where adults are modeling the behavior they want to see in their kids. They see a place where they believe their kids will flourish.