Retention: Responsibility of All (Part II)

Like most parents, independent school mothers and fathers desire above all else that their child be known and loved.  They want a safe environment where their child is valued and recognized.  So, it is also worth noting that the individuals in your school that have the greatest influence on whether a child is known and loved, valued and recognized, are the teachers and other staff.  As a result, these individuals also have a great influence on whether students remain students at your school.  For this reason, teachers and staff should receive specialized training on the essentials of student retention.

A parent’s decision to reenroll a student in a school often mirrors the original decision to enroll (see blog on the Value Proposition), though a few additional variables come in to play.  When reenrolling, experience has informed a family’s perception of the school’s value, including encounters with each member of the school community.  (For a refresher on what is valued by families when they are choosing a school for their child, see my blog on Perception of Independent School Value).  At the reenrollment point, a family is not only projecting with their expectations as they determine value, but they also are factoring in their actual experiences and it is for this reason that retention is every staff member’s responsibility.

In training teachers to be attentive to the needs of students and families, it is also important to emphasize that this does not mean compromising the school’s expectations or values.  I am not suggesting that teachers lessen expectations of students.  What I am suggesting, however, is that all staff must express empathy and caring toward all students.  Carl Rogers, the father of Person Centered psychotherapy, believed that three things are necessary for a person to be well-adjusted; congruence, empathy, and unconditional positive regard.  According to Rogers, these conditions allow patients to find solutions to their own problems.

In a school environment, this approach reminds us that we need to help families feel positive about and to value the school.  If all staff approaches students with congruence, empathy, and unconditional positive regard, an ideal environment will exist for students to succeed; an environment where students feel known and loved.  Congruence (genuineness) dictates that a teacher is honest with the student in expectations and student outcomes; empathy reflects a level of genuine caring about the student’s situation; unconditional positive regard exhibits a love for the students that does not take personally certain behaviors or lack thereof.  A school with teachers trained in these three important characteristics will be positioned to provide the ideal environment for students to achieve their maximum potential.  It will also create the perfect environment for the retention of students.

Checklist of retention ideas:

  • Assign a staff member to administer the school’s retention efforts and related data.  This is an enrollment management function and is most often the responsibility of the Director of Admissions; however, this responsibility could be assigned to another department.
  • Train all teachers and staff to report to the retention administrator comments made by students indicating that they are not planning to reenroll.  Quite often, the first indication that a student will not be returning is when the student tells his/her friends or teachers.  Parents are often more reticent to notify the school prior to actual contractual deadlines.  A preemptive effort on behalf of the school may result in increased retention.
  • All teachers and staff should work collectively to ensure that all students have a meaningful connection with one or more adults in the school community.  All students should have at least one teacher that can speak in a highly informed manner about them.
  • All staff should be aware of students that appear to be on the outside of their peers’ social groups.  All students need to belong and students who are not sufficiently engaged with their peers are more prone to not reenrolling.  Independent schools provide a level of connectedness not available in other types of schools.  The more a school can make sure that all students are connected, the greater will be their retention efforts.
  • All teachers and staff in an independent school must be willing to go “above and beyond” the call of duty when assisting students to be successful.  This does not suggest that they should “take it easy” on students but rather that, they should be completely committed to all students’ success.  Teachers should maintain appropriately high behavioral and academic standards as they inspire students to their maximum attainment.
  • All teachers must be willing to communicate with parents, especially on positive issues.  Many parents expect that they will only hear from a teacher when their child is falling behind or misbehaving.  Notes sent and calls made to parents regarding positive actions of their child are very appreciated by the parents and they serve to create tremendous goodwill.  Advise faculty to write notes to parents when observing a student involved in an extra special act of kindness or when a student performs exceptionally.  Although writing these notes is not time consuming, they serve to remind the parents that teachers are mindful of the special talents and gifts of their child.

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