Customer Service Matters – Even in Education

Over the past few days we have been in the market for a new car – always a joy in the middle of the summer!

We actually enjoyed the first part of the experience. We met a great salesperson who talked to us, found out who we were, listened to our concerns and then took us for a really fun test drive.

Everything was going beautifully and for a moment I thought this might not be a terrible experience. We agreed on a price, I had my card out ready to pay the deposit then things went south. Our salesperson called over his manager to confirm the deal. He took one look at the paperwork and quickly bumped up the price by an additional $10.00 a month.

We were stunned – not so much by the added price, but by the way the manager totally disregarded his salesman and decided on his own that he could squeeze another $10.00 a month out of us.

Of course, we left. But the money was not the issue. It was the total disregard the manager showed to his potential customers and his staff. They tried to get us back in later in the day, but the total lack of customer service and common decency was enough for us.

On to the next dealer. In this case, I had been in correspondence with the saleswomen for two days. We had texted about price, model all of that sort of stuff. We went in to meet with her to start coming up with a final price. She then excused herself and the manager returned. He took her seat – she wasn’t even allowed to sit down – and quoted us a price that was way beyond what we had discussed with our salesperson.

Again we left, the woman looked apologetic about the total brush off we had received from her boss.

So, dealerships 2, family 0.

But was that really the case? We had spent the better part of the day talking in good faith with dealerships and had encountered people who didn’t have a clue how to treat employees or customers.

It made me think that actually, maybe things are not so bad in education. I have seen so many teachers become administrators and turn into multi-headed monsters, showing little regard for their staff and the parents they serve. I assumed in the business world things would be better, but I don’t think that is the case.

It seems to me that our modern society has lost a certain amount of civility. How you treat the people you work with and your clientele doesn’t seem to count for much these days. I know of instances where the principal had no problem disregarding the interests of their parents because they were certain they knew the best way to get things done. Such leaders pass this arrogance on to their staff creating a toxic atmosphere in the school.

This should never happen and these leaders need to be called to account if they don’t know how to manage people.

In the case of the dealerships, I had calls apologizing for the poor behaviour of their managers. In each case, they wished us well and there were no hard feelings. What would happen in education if we treated our parents with this level of care and respect when a manager missteps?

Customer service is everything. I have written about this before, and there are excellent examples of organizations with great customer service out there and they need to be celebrated. For years, I have worked and volunteered for Discovery Education mainly because they never miss an opportunity to thank those who work with them. It almost seems a little countercultural, but they always act with grace and do their utmost to make sure their clients are receiving the service they deserve. We need more Discovery Education these days.

By the way, we did find a car – excellent customer service!

The Importance of the Community School

a mural painted at St. Anthony School to celebrate the Italian heritage that shaped the early history of the school

 

Community schools that are truly integrated as a partner into the wider neighbourhood are rare. However, they are increasingly important as more community agencies try to work together to solve complex social problems.
Education institutions stand apart from these cooperative efforts mainly because they still see themselves as silos or islands of instruction not to be sullied by outside influences.
It does not have to be this way, and it would be heartening to see a shift away from the silo approach to education in our society.
There is no question that the connection between a school and its surrounding community is vital. Really, the two should be inseparable, both working together to make a stronger union and a better community.
As a principal, I have always tried to do this, especially in the last school I worked in.
St. Anthony School in Little Italy serves a diverse population of new Canadians from countries around the world.
Our staff believes strongly that we need to reach out to our community so that we can do a better job of serving our families. Over time, we established strong ties with organizations like Somerset West Community Health Center,  Rec LINK, a wonderful small organization that links families up to recreation opportunities for their kids, and the Dalhousie Parents Day Care – a community organization that resides in the basement of the school and until recently, had office space in the school.
Dalhousie Parent Day Care
We also had strong ties with the local Italian community who raised thousands of dollars for playground renewal and other projects. We even had a great partnership with a local store called The Bike Dump. Dave, the owner of this store supplied cheap or free bikes to our kids every year and last year even found us a mechanic to fix all the bikes before we handed them out to our kids.
These are just a few of the many partnerships we worked on over the past years. We also tried to make the school as open as possible to all parents. This was really important as many parents come from countries where positive relationships between families and institutions were not encouraged.
Unfortunately, this can all change very quickly. In the past few months, community agencies have lost office space in the school. There is little communication between Somerset West Community Health Centre and the school. The doors of the school are locked, keeping the parents away from the building. The social media accounts – Twitter and Facebook have fallen silent. The school, in essence, is retreating in upon itself.
This is not what should be happening. Community schools should encourage partnerships with the agencies that support their families. Surplus space should be used to offer additional services to the community. There is space in the school for adult literacy classes, even space for a computer room for parents who do not have access to computers or wifi. These ideas have been discussed but were never implemented.
It is important to remember that all schools are ultimately the property of the Province of Ontario and they all need to be utilized to serve the community in the best way possible.
The current trend away from the community is distressing and it shows a complete misunderstanding of the role a school should play within its community.
This situation does not have to continue. Ultimately, the Ottawa Catholic School Board can push back against this trend and become more involved in making the local community its top priority. To ignore the importance of St. Anthony School to the surrounding community risks losing an important community asset.
Schools should be the heart of the community. It is sad when people ignore or just don’t understand the importance of this relationship. I hope this will change in the future and that new principals will be better trained to understand that schools do not and cannot exist in isolation.
To offer an excellent education for our students, we need to learn to be a part of the community. Are there ways that the community could reach out to bridge the current gap? Can the Catholic School Board begin to see itself as a vital partner in Dalhousie? Only time will tell.

How our teachers make learning visible through collective blogging

Every Sunday I take immense pleasure in putting together a blog post for our parents.  The best part of this is that almost all of it is written by our teachers.  For the past two years, our staff has developed an incredible expertise for writing to their parents each week on what will be coming up during the next few days and what the highlights of the past week were.  We write a ‘collective blog’ together each week.

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display of art work put up this week – portraits of Einstein 

I write every teacher back and comment on their post.  I have often said to them that they really need to share this with others! Of course they do – to the people most important to them – their parent community.

It is up to me to highlight their work to the wider education community.  I am very happy to do this.  People need to see what this incredible group of people put together each week.  All of this is completely voluntary, but they all see the great benefit the collective blog has in getting their message out.

Kindergarten News for December 5-9, 2016

We are very excited to plan many great events for our Kinders. They are embracing all of our initiatives and as educators we are delighted to see how all of our efforts are so very much appreciated. A special thank you to our parent community for supporting us too!!

The Kinders were so reflective and attentive during the school’s first magical Advent celebration on Thursday. We look forward to attending the second celebration next Thursday

Thank you to all the parents who have sent in their donations of toiletries for St. Luke’s Table. Whatever small donation you can make is much appreciated.

On Friday they all had fun on their walk in the neighbourhood and they loved discovering where their stuffed animals were hibernating in the school yard. Of course, the delicious hot chocolate with marshmallows was enjoyed by all after coming in from the cold. Thank you for sending in a little stuffed animal to hibernate. Thank you to Ms. Ekich for joining us on our hibernation walk!

Kindergarten news for the upcoming week

All our parents read this every week.  The students as young as grade one will ask if a particular picture or event will make it to the blog.  Students want their parents to see what they are excited about at school.

This is what I think all schools need to do.  By putting out regular collective blog posts like this we are breaking down the barriers between the school and the parent community.  The beauty of making this a ‘collective blog’ is that the teachers do the most important work – providing the content.  I put it all together in one blog and post it to our Twitter and Facebook accounts and send it directly to our parents through Remind and Synervoice.

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winners of the St. Anthony Superstars Award for the past week – proud kids!

One great benefit to all this is that I have such a better idea of what is going on at school.  I read all the entries and notice as new ideas, activities and programs spread throughout the school.  Through the blog I know how we are growing and innovating as a group of educators.

I won’t post the entire blog here – its pretty long – but you can see our latest edition here.

If you take a look, maybe you could post a comment on the blog – Great work deserves to be recognized!

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Conversation with Joanna Crapsi – Roxborough Park School on Parent Engagement

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This morning I had an amazing conversation with the principal of Roxborough Park School regarding some of the parent engagement work she is doing at her school.  This is terrific work that needs to receive more exposure.  All these ideas are things that we would love to do at our school.
Joanna has been working on these programs for four years.  Here are some of the essential points from today.
1)  Funding is important to hire teachers to work with the student groups that have been targeted for additional academic coaching and to pay for the meals that take place after each session.
2)  The program is invitational – staff and admin make personal contact with the family to invite them to take part in the tutoring and the parent component of the program.
3)  Community partners are important to act as facilitators for the sessions identified by the parents.  Very important to coach facilitators that sessions are to be designed to create a dialogue rather than straight information sessions.
4)  Essential point – parents choose the sessions they are interested in – they design their own learning program during their first session at the school.  Topics have included, health and wellness, safety, stress management, how to finish high school, EQAO, how to read with your child – to name just a few.
5)  The sessions run twice a week for 15 weeks.  Tutoring is from 3:00PM – 4:30PM and the parent session is from 3:30PM – 4:30 PM.  All sessions conclude with a meal for the parents, students, facilitators and teachers.
6)  Child care needs to be in place.
7)  Your school is also running a special ELL initiative which sounds really interesting, it would be good to hear more about that.
This would be a terrific workshop idea at any educational conference.  We all know that parent engagement is important, the ‘how to’ is not as well known.
Any ideas that you would add to this list?