Monday, 8 August 2011

Keeping a Client-centred Focus

Think about a time you felt you didn't get the service you wanted, needed, or deserved.  Perhaps you had taken time off to have someone come fix an appliance, and that person didn't show up and didn't call.  Maybe you had paid a bill but the accounting department kept sending you statements.  Possibly you had made arrangements with your supervisor to take a personal leave day but he or she had forgotten and scheduled you into a meeting. 

Try to remember what you were feeling.  Frustration?  Anger?  Resentment?  Now, think of just the opposite situation.

Think about a time you were treated as a valued customer.  Perhaps the accounting department notified you of an overpayment.  Maybe someone from your clinic called to tell you that the doctor was running late.  Possibly your supervisor stopped by to make sure that you had everything you needed to get the proposal in on time.

More and more leaders are finding it essential to adopt a client-centred focus.  Take education as an example.  The ultimate customers are the students and the community.  In the old paradigm, if students did not have basic skills in reading and math, it was their fault.  After all, they had the opportunity to learn, didn't they?  If that situation occurs now, schools are more inclined to look at their own systems to determine what else can be done to ensure that the students reach the learning goals.  Their core mission is to teach students, not just 'deliver' lessons. 

Students, their parents, and the community are external customers but there are also internal customers - the colleagues with whom you work.  It is important to maintain a client-centred focus with them also.  Having a client-centred focus means always thinking about how you can provide great service and making sure that people receive value. 

From:  Leading Every Day by Joyce Kaser, Susan Mundry, Katherine E. Stiles, & Susan Loucks-Horsley
Published by: Corwin Press

34 comments:

  1. Athena Loopstra8 August 2011 at 07:35

    To me, the clinet-centred focus described in this blog post describes an approach whereby the leader intelligently and authentically thinks about, plans for and delivers initiatives (both big and small) with the needs and interests of others in mind. It speaks to a high level of respect for all the stakeholders. It seems like more than just client-centred, because those words have the connotations of "customer is always right" mentality of business and sales which submits to the whims of the customer without reflective thought or research. In education, the approach is to know the people involved (students, families, community members and staff), and to provide reflective services and support.

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  2. I think the client-centred approach is all about relationship building. It provides a great guideline for anyone to maintain a healthy and professional relationship at any workplace. For leaders in educational institutions, this is even more important as leaders can demonstrate this approach to staff. At a more personal level, I can recall a few upsetting experience with internet / phone service providers and the customer-provider relationships have to be terminated unless client-centred approach was employed.

    Quote - “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. Isn’t that true?

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  3. The situations presented in this article can likely be related to by all people at one time or another. We have all experienced both good and bad service in some context and the differences are noticable almost immediately. The outcome of the situation is directly related to the approach taken by the service provider. There are two main considerations, how a person expects to be treated in a specific situation and how the service provider approaches the situation with an understanding of this knowledge. Some understanding of emotional intelligences can go a long way to supporting a positive outcome in these situations. Again this is about personal relations and yes, following some rules for behaviour like treating others as you would wish to be treated. Anticipating possible outcomes and understanding the professional roles we are required to adhear to are essential. We want the people that we work with and for to be "happy customers" who feellistened to, respected and valued. Having the support and confidenced of our staffs, sutdents, and parents will make acheiving our goals much easier.

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  4. As I was reading back through the article, I was reminded about the need to try and follow through on statements and plans. There are times when my actions or a forgotten item that is anticipated by another may be misunderstood and can cause upset. More than just having a good approach to relationships will be necessary for maintaining good client centered leadership skills. Again there is a need to be organized and consistent in following through on plans. It would be best not to be spending valuable time trying to build up relationships after a misunderstanding.

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  5. Maintaining a client-centred focus with staff members is harder than one may think. Your staff is like a core family member. You know them better. You have seen their good days and their bad. Valuing the people with whom you work creates a positive working environment. Respect and polite treatment will go a long way when the ultimate goal is to provide quality education and a to build a positive and progressive community in your school. When you receive poor customer service, you tend to not want to go back for more-at least not with a smile on your face and a spring in your step. It is the same with valuing your staff members by treating them with respect. The staff will be more likely to follow your leadership initiatives if they feel that they are valued and that they matter. They will be more likely to pay forward the valued feeling that they carry as a member of your staff. It's definitely a win-win to value ALL members of the school community!

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  6. I think we all agree with the comments in the articles (this and previous ones thus far) however I want to push back a bit on the statements in the original article. First, in agreement with the client-centred focus! This should apply to the majority of people we interact with; whether parents or students (in the educational setting BTW). However I have encountered too many times where this is abused by the client/customer and just "not fair" to the service provider. We should help provide the support necessary but like the old adage, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" can often apply to those few students who, no matter what you do choose to apply and make use of the opportunities in front of them. I have encountered students and parents in elementary and secondary who think we need to do everything for them, with little responsibility on their end. What worries me is the development of "learned helplessness" whereby they feel they can do nothing on their own and they need us to do everything for them. When they "fail" or do not succeed to their expected levels of achievement, they blame us, the provider.

    Again, I am not talking about the majority but rather that 1% or so of people who do not take responsibility on their own even when all the obstacles are removed from their way.

    K.Ko

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  7. Wanting to separate my thoughts, thinking as an administrator and leader, we should keep in mind of the inverted pyramid whereby we support and help those directly above us - namely the teachers and ultimately the students. I have always thought of the need to help and support my teachers so they can succeed at their job; many of the idea of collaborating with them and getting buy in before making decisions. But again just to push back with the few staff who do not do what they need (e.g., attendance on time, reporting on time/regularly)

    Absolutely support them, and treat them as clients instead of insubordinates. However I remember that we each have a job to do and carry out; I do not have the time to do their attendance or report card updates but will find ways to support them (e.g., provide the resources they need, filter out issues from parents) so they can maximize their effectiveness in the classroom with their students.

    K. Ko

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  8. In some cases, client-centred approach may be mistaken by clients themselves. As a leader, we need to know what’s the best for our clients – STUDENTS. There are times parents or other stakeholders do not understand our client-centred approach and mistaken our good initiatives. Constant and sincere communication is essential in order to keep the relationship going.

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  9. I wholeheartedly agree with the inverted pyramid (thank you for that visual,technoteach) however within the service that we provide to our clients there is much room for debate, discussion and sometimes guidance in order to ensure that the end result is student achevement and well being.
    We as administrators, provide the support needed to the front line staff (or the on air talent to borrow a phrase from the entertainment industry), to get the job done. This does not preclude us from at the same time being a leader, crafting a vision and with the support of the staff and other stakeholders moving the organization forward. We still make critical decisions regarding strategic resource allocation, professional expectations etc. It is a delicate balance that is made all the easier through our understanding and use of our emotional intelligence skills.

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  10. A former Director in a Northern school board once said of each student in her system, “Failure is not an option” – just like the YRDSB Parameter 1 that iterates the belief that each (not ‘all’) students can achieve high standards given the right support.

    These are the heart of client-focused service. It’s not about giving students or parents what they want; it’s about using information and data to inform collegial and collaborative decisions about the needs of a student.

    We keep our integrity when we do this, and build community through inclusion of parents and students in the process of building an overall learning plan (SIP) and individual learning plans where required through differentiation.

    What is not transferable from the article to the school context is the word, ‘client’ itself. I remember Mike Harris using it, and my skin crawled. We are not in the ‘business’ of education; it is so much more than that. We come to our roles as not just professionals, but as human beings just as students are people first in a learning role. Any less than this, and relationships remain superficial. Then we begin the catering to pressures of roles rather than authentic inquiry into need. Then, some of the abuses others on this forum have mentioned happen.

    We are finally using words and phrases in education such as ‘co-creation of knowledge’ and ‘well-being’. This is not the language of clients and service provider terms. This is the language of education partnerships.

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  11. “In the old paradigm, if students did not have basic skills in reading and math, it was their fault. After all, they had the opportunity to learn, didn't they?”
    Accountability – If all teachers assess students as to their starting points, wherever they may be, and accept them, that is one step. The next step for the teacher is to make themselves accountable for teaching those students and moving them forward. If the students aren’t learning, what can you as the teacher adjust to help?

    Remembering to keep your colleagues in mind when thinking of this philosophy is vital. Providing staff with the tools they need to perform and the learning they need to grow is essential to developing a culture of learning within your school community.

    “The customer is always right.”….and if you don’t agree with that customer, give them a different perspective or better alternative so they can meet you on common ground.

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  12. Quote: "We are finally using words and phrases in education such as ‘co-creation of knowledge’ and ‘well-being’. This is not the language of clients and service provider terms. This is the language of education partnerships"

    @Jan, that IS the way to look at it, isn't it. Not so much as the customer/server but the partnership in the journey of education.

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  13. Re-reading all of the previous posts, there are clear ideas about how to provide service for all of the stakeholders in education: treat everyone as a valued customer! Authenticity comes to mind as I am reading all of the great ideas! We need to be genuine in our approaches and our efforts. Children will be the first to detect inauthentic behaviour and treatment! Children sense who is real and who is just talking the talk! In all of this talk about valuing and treating others as worthwhile I remember that in doing so, I need to ensure that I am coming across as authentic, genuine, real: like I am walking the walk as well as talking the talk-what this means in education is to slow down, reflect, listen to the voices around you and authentically value the ideas and comments! That's good customer service!

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  14. I agree with Daniella's comment just above and would like to add something. It's everything Daniella said.....plus....actually delivering results. If we are truly serving our 'clients', it means that we are ensuring that they get what they need - a high-quality education in this case.

    This now raises a new question....what does this mean for leaders?

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  15. Benjamin mentions relationships.... isn't this what our world revolves around these days? Social media is constantly being used to maintain and build relationships. Our students are wired into the internet. As leaders and teachers we need to meet our students (or clients) where they are and find ways to access them. We need to step out of our comfort zone and make it a reciprocal relationship. We need to learn from our students about how they can learn from us. Pushing our staff and colleagues to take risks important so that we can move in time with the rest of society.

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  16. I think about the "How may we help you?" signs and posters that we display. I read this everyday as I enter the school and it reminds we that we really are part of the public service sector. That implies that we provide a service to the public and that we both serve and represent the public at the same time. Another nugget I keep in mind is a comment that was once made by someone and unfortunately I don't recall when or where this was. But this person said that we must never forget that the school and its staff are in fact visitors in the community and not vice versa. This reminds us that we should really be thanking the community and making sure that our actions and our words ensure that we will continue to be welcome in that community. So the "How may we help you?" phrase takes on even greater significance.

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  17. I am an immigrant and I have learned so much from Canada and Canadians. I am so proud to have been able to call myself a Canadian for many, many years now and it's because of the ideals that are so highly valued in this country, like having a "client-centred" approach. I often think that we become complacent and take for granted what means "Canada" and "Canadian". I have the experience of having lived in a society where there was a "dog-eat-dog/if you don't like it, lump it" approach among all strata of society, from so called "service" and public sector organizsations to casual encounters among people. Comparing that to our worldview and approach in this country, the difference is startling - people tend to have a happier and more positive outlook on life when this negative approach is absent from our daily lives. We cannot take for granted what feeling appreciated, being acknowledged, being treated with respect and generally feeling valued means, just because, for the most part, it's our "modus operandi" in this wonderful country. But I have to say that I try very hard to make a point of intentionally ensuring that those with whom I interact walk away feeling the way I have learned to feel as a "transplanted" Canadian (okay I'm not "new" any longer, but still I find myself reflecting on this idea virtually every day). This article and our previous readings have made very concrete suggestions about how we can go about ensuring that the ideals we, as citizens and as YRDSB members, hold dear, are perpetuated. Thanks for listening!

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  18. This week’s blog post made a comparison between the business world and the school world with the analogy of our students being clients whose needs we have to satisfy. It goes without saying that our responsibilities entail doing everything we can to help students be successful in school. It’s an interesting analogy but still begs many questions. What are the roles and responsibilities of the clients (students, parents, community) in this relationship? How can school leaders help clients fulfill their roles and responsibilities? And what if the client isn’t interested in purchasing what you’re selling? I think the client centered relationship is perhaps not the best analogy for describing the relationship. I like to think the relationship is mutually beneficial. I think this is a cultural shift that must occur for both sides to work together in this relationship. Teachers and students; administrators and parents all have roles and responsibilities to fulfill on both ends. One simply has to look at the most successful education system in the world (according to PISA scores) Finland to see that teachers are highly respected and valued in that society and this pervasive attitude may be a large contributor to their success.

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  19. Dave mentioned the idea of relationships being two-sided and also mentions the role that technology has to play in allowing students participate in this relationship. I would love to get some clarification as to how he envisions students participating in this reciprocal relationship process using technology.

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  20. I agree with Safina that the clinet-centred analogy is somewhat flawed, however, I think that the purpose of the analogy is to highlight the need for school leaders to think about the needs of others. I also agree with Safina that the relationship is mutally beneficial. The relationship is symbiotic because each requires the other for success and purpose. The Board exists with the purpose of educating students, and without the Board, children are not formal students. The one defines the other. What does that mean as leader? Perhaps that as leader we need to keep in mind that we are to work in partnership with our "clients".

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  21. The discussion about the use of technology and social media to comminicate with students (and others) is not just about trying to be tech savvy or speaking student language. It is ultimately about respect because it acknowledges student voice and validates both how and what they have to say.

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  22. As digital immigrants we need to open ourselves up to the learning and the knowledge that our students have naturally acquired, which includes their various means of communication and relationship building (social media and web-based tools). As Athena says, “validating both how and what they have to say” is an effective way to capture their attention and respect. Utilizing technology in the classroom (and in staff meetings), even when not totally comfortable with it, shows that we are lifelong learners and are working with the students and each other to teach and learn new things.

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  23. Lynne,
    Thank you for reminding us of how fortunate we are to live in a country that on the whole adopts a 'client focussed' approach.

    I know how frustrating it is as a parent when I go to my children's school with a concern or question and I feel I am ignored or not listened to. Luckily this hasn't happened very often and most times I receive a follow up phone call or a note from the teacher. Even if the results aren't what I would have liked, I was happy to have been listened to and my concern was looked into.

    I can see how some parents may become discouraged if they perceive they are being ignored and not make another attempt in the future. This is a shame as we are trying to build partnerships with families on behalf of students.

    I agree with you that most people have a more positive attitude because of the client-centred approach we adopt and we should strive to never forget that.

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  24. I had posted this response earlier this week but as I reread everyone's responses I don't see mine. I don't know what I did wrong but here it goes again!

    As I read this week's post I thought about how our board has been working hard to move away from talking about whether or not students are 'ready to learn' or their 'readiness' and thinking more about what schools can do to be ready for students and their families. This is especially true in the early years where transitioning into Kindergarten is focussing more on identifying the starting points of children and their families and then thinking about their learning as a continuum of development rather than 'they're not ready'. As the post says - this means more than 'delivering lessons' but teaching students.

    I feel this is very much in line with the 'client-centred focus' the authors speak about.

    There is an article "Ready or Not, Here We come: What it means to be a Ready School" you can read through NAEYC if anyone is interested in some extra reading.

    I had originally attached the link to my post but I think that might be why it didn't show up so I'll leave it off this time.

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  25. Claire Hainstock14 August 2011 at 13:32

    Coming from a business background, it is easy to echo this approach. However, education makes it a more challenging endeavour than business would ever likely see. Put a diverse cultural student element together with a community who may have different cultural norms and it becomes very difficult to keep the train on the track.

    What can help in this situation is a more focused approach on using more tools that are at your disposal. In a secondary environment, you can have much more dynamic extra-curricular activities. You can bring in additional experts and offer engaging field trips that resonate with real world opportunities. But perhaps the most potent tool available to keep a client-centric approach comes from the students themselves. By building better helping mechanisms inside and outside the classroom that are student lead, you are adding a component that is very hard to replicate in business. Students adding a voice or actionable suggestions can go a long way in helping students achieve success.

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  26. Claire Hainstock14 August 2011 at 13:34

    Colleagues are an area that is so often overlooked in schools. Cross – curricular interaction can be so rich in offering a full-service approach to student learning. Co-operating on choosing students leaders for school clubs to give more students opportunities or bringing up names that other teachers may not see fills in a gap that is seldom available in business. Simply by stepping beyond subject – based professional relationships in schools, allows students to benefit from different exposures early in life and may offer them an opportunity to try something that may never be available to them otherwise.

    It is not easy to overcome the natural tendencies to stay within your own grouping, but the benefits from a wider communication opportunity benefit internal and external clients alike.

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  27. I agree with Benjamin that the client-centred approach is all about relationship building. The quote "Do to others as you would have them do to you" does resonate with me. I know that oftentimes when I'm in a conversation with a teacher who is angry or upset or I have spoken to a parent who is upset I always stop to think how I would want to be treated in this situation. Rather than become defensive or reactive, this helps me to be a better listener and work on building the relationship that is crucial in order to support the student.

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  28. Claire Hainstock14 August 2011 at 14:01

    @ Safina
    Not to pick on just one aspect of the response, but I really question the whole Finnish success ranking. I like the professionalism for teachers that has obviously crept into their system but I see it as early days for them. Their society is so homogeneous and they do not have the complexity that a GTA school offers. Would their approach be as successful given a more diverse clientele? I would like to see how they would adapt. Could they balance having ELL, Visa Students, refugee literally right out of the Centre … all in one class?

    Related to the idea of an interested client, I once worked for a professional fund raiser. The best idea he ever gave me relating to people was that they are always ready to give you something. It may not be what you want or need at the time but you will always get something. The key is how you will use it to be successful or create success. For the client who isn’t buying what we are selling … maybe we just aren’t recognizing what they are buying right now. Over time it might be more obvious.

    Thanks for the opportunity to think about the Finns again. I never think we get enough credit here in the GTA and that the OECD sometimes doesn’t see the complexities of the Canadian mosaic!

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  29. @Claire,
    You bring up a very interesting point, however, I don't know if I agree with you. I don't see our diversity as a weakness of our system but rather a strength. Our pluralistic mosaic is really a coveted model for the world to see and appreciate. In any standardized test, variables can exist, as in the case of PISA scores. Don't forget, not all students in Ontario took the test, only a select few. The case with Finland is interesting because a few years ago they were way at the bottom in PISA scores. It is their rise to the top and their resiliency that has garnered so much attention.

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  30. Nadia, thanks for your response to mine. I think that we always need to put ourselves in others' shoes if we feel frustrated with or disappointed in their behaviour. Sometimes we forget that our educator circle is really a relatively small and restricted circle. We mustn't forget that the school can be a very intimidating and alien place if we are less than familiar with its culture. While all of our parents and community members have attended school at some point in their lives, it may have been a very different experience to the one we offer. I can remember when my children first attended elementary school here, just how grateful I was for the friendly,welcoming smiles, the cheerfully offered explanations about how things work and the open, warm feeling in the school. It made me feel safe, it made me confident that my children were safe, and I'm sure that it in turn supported me into quickly adapting and becoming a productive member of our community where I could then endeavour to reproduce and extend the welcome I was made to feel. That is so powerful! I only hope that somewhere along the way, I have helped another parent or grandparent feel the same way. I think of the recent "do good.ca" signs (I think that's what they're called) we see just recently on billboards and buses and so on. It's that idea of "paying it forward" that is so important, motivating and powerful. I was completely blown away a few weeks ago when I offered to let a woman drive in front of me in the drivethrough at you-know-where in the morning. Do you know that when I stopped at the window to pick up my coffee, I was told that the lady in front of me had paid for me! I smiled a different, broader smile that whole day and whenever I remember the incident - it puts one's faith back in humankind! That, to me, is what a clent-centred approach means.

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  31. I enjoyed the comment that was made about remembering that we are visitors in the communities in which we work and that community members (parents, students) are not visitors in our schools.
    It is so important that we learn from the community we serve and that we build in aspects of that culture (or cultures into what we do). If there is a clash of values (perhaps a sense that parents and students do no value education or see it as important). Then it is incumbent upon us as education service providers to explore this with families, find out why and make education relevant to their needs. I work in a largely white middle class neighborhood where most families speak English. However the value that many of these families put on formal education is not as high as the value that they place on sports or recreational activities for their children. Many of our parents had horrible school experiences themselves (due to undiagnosed learning disabilities etc.) so they sometimes come to us with a chip on their shoulder. They see any issues or concerns as attacks on themselves and their children. This has resulted in the past with initial interactions with these parents being more adversarial than supportive. I believe that even within the "service" role that we fulfill their is still room to listen, learn about their concerns and to educate both students and families about what we do and why we do it. We have to constantly be looking for opportunities to engage families as partners in educating their children. Most frequently this requires listening to their concerns, acknowledging them and working from there. There is always the common ground of wanting what is in the best interests of the student. Being involved in "a service role" does not mean that we have to agree with values that run contrary to our own, or that we should adopt practices that go against our profession beliefs regarding what is best practice. It just means that we have to acknowledge that we are visitors in their community and as such we cannot cut families out of the education partnership.

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  32. Ensuring good customer service and delivering quality education begins with leaders making themselves authentic to their own staff first and foremost and it also means providing opportunities for professional development. Modelling the importance of quality treatment of others and the importance of quality education through authentic relationships. Provide teachers a forum where they can voice concerns and ideas. A leader listens to the stakeholders and asks the right questions to lead everyone toward a vision of quality education and quality service for all.

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  33. To me, it all comes down to loving what you do. In general, I think most of the negative experiences we have as a "customer" are routed in the person providing the service being not happy with their job - or at least not passionate about it. To be passionate in our profession, we have to have bought in to what we're teaching. We've all experienced working with others who have for whatever reason become disenchanted. The quality of teaching (and planning) at that point is adversely effected. Like many others have already pointed out, the kids know when that has happened.
    If we consider our clients as the family, the more proactive we are the better. From that point on the relationship must be reciprocal. Idilworth made a comment that struck me - that "we are visitors in their community". I can't say I agree with that. I think we are equal partners. The reality is that in many cases parents (especially those new to the country) feel the opposite - that they're visitors in our community. The sooner we make our customers feel cared for and vital, the sooner the client-centred relationship becomes effective.

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  34. I think being passionate about our jobs is very important and we need to think about our accountability to the public and our staff members. The business analogy can be interpreted in different ways but the basic message is the same when applied to our roles as public educators. Our approach should be client centred but this is not to assume that the business for profit model is our goal. Ultimately we are working towards a vision of preparing learners to be succesful life long learners in a changing world. I think that there are many situations where parents, staff and students may not "buy into" what we are selling immediately, but this is where the leadership skills become essential. How are we best communicating, supporting, encouraging and educating our public so that we can stay the cours and achieve our goals with the greatest level of success? I think that educational leaders must be very aware of our students' individual needs and work with parents and teachers to provide this client centred model of education. One size does not fit all and we have a clear end goal of improving student achievment for all of our students.

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