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Gap Theory - Perception/Expectation

Christian educators are aware of the gap theory in theological circles. We find the gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Between these two verses, according to some theologians, resides billions and billions of years. This theory is how many theologians reconcile the Biblical account of creation and that put forth by evolution. However, how many Christiane educators are aware of the gaps in their schools?

In the beginning, the school was established to fulfill a specific purpose. Parents enroll their children with high expectations of the school and its staff. If not, they would have never enrolled. However, over time it becomes apparent to the parents that the school did not meet their expectations. The time is not billions and billions of years it could be as short as one day, week, month, or a quarter. As a result, the parents receive less than expected; thus, creating a gap between perception and expectation. For example, the expectation is that since the school is a Christian school, students do not cuss. Students get in school, and reality sets in, and it becomes evident that not all Christian students are perfect and that some students may lose their cool and say a cuss word, and the school becomes less than expected.

It may be that the school advertises strong academics and high achievement test scores. A parent enrolls their children with the same expectation. At the end of the first quarter, the student is not doing very well, and the parent feels that their children are receiving less than expected.

Consider the school that opens with strong measures in place to help deal with COVID-19. A school publishes these guidelines and communicates a commitment to enforcing these guidelines for students, parents, and staff. Parents enroll with high expectations of safe and healthy classrooms and facilities. However, shortly into the school year, the school experiences cases of the virus among its students and staff. Moreover, parents begin to question their expectations.

Parents expect that the larger a school is, the greater should be the level of professional expertise; the more facilities a school has, the greater will be the expectation. Likewise, when tuition is higher than in other schools, there is a greater level of expectation. Whenever parents pay tuition for their children to attend a private school, they have greater expectations of the school.

If a parent receives anything less than what they expected, they perceive a performance gap, and as a result, dissatisfaction and disappointments take over.

Disappointed parents, rather than bringing their concerns to the attention of the school because they do not want to rock the boat or cause trouble, simply transfer to another school. Unfortunately, when this happens the school is not aware of the gap. Therefore, nothing is done about it.

It is essential to be proactive in identifying gaps. One way to identify gaps is to monitor the types, nature, and frequency of complaints. For example, there may be several complaints of staff members and students not wearing COVID – 19 protective masks as required. If this behavior is not corrected, it will eventually create a gap between expectation and perception, often leading to disappointment and possible withdrawal.

Another method is to put in place a protocol that requires all families that are considering withdrawal to undergo an exit interview with the administrator prior to withdrawing. This is a good time for administrators to prob for gaps between perceptions and expectations. Sometimes, just being able to talk to an administrator will cause parents to change their minds about withdrawing.

Conducting a school-wide student and parent survey can also help identify areas of dissatisfaction. We recommend the survey be implemented prior to the end of the first quarter. This gives plenty of time for schools to make any adjustments that may be identified in the survey.

Consider the following recommendations in dealing with gaps between perception and expectation.

1. Keep your word. Follow through on all your promises, whether it is in the classroom or in the school. If staff is required to do a period by period wipe-down of desks and to wear masks, ensure that it takes place.

2. Own up to challenges. The school is not, nor will it ever be perfect; as hard as you try, there will always be issues you have to face. For example, the staff does not always do their job as you expect. Many times, the training that you provided two years ago will be forgotten or the directives you gave yesterday. Tell your parents that the school is not perfect. Say the same thing to your student body and that everyone in the school is a work in progress.

3. Take action when and where you can. Do it immediately. If not, parents will conclude that the school is not doing anything about the situation. If nothing else, let the parents know that you are aware of the issue, you have read their letter or heard about the concern. You are working on gaining more information and investigating the situation.

4. Always be sincere about parent concerns. When addressing a concern, look at the parent(s) right in the eye. Mean what you say and come across in a way that you feel the concern of parents.

5. Apologize when necessary. Avoid using the word "if." For example, "If you are angry, upset, or concerned." Face it. The parents are already angry, upset, concerned. It is not a question of if.

6. Revise policies to prevent further issues. Review policies when parents and students bring things to your attention. The question to ask is not one of "who is right?" Instead, ask, "What is the right thing to do?"

7. Follow up. When others are responsible for taking a particular action, always follow-up to ensure that things promised are being carried out.

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