Middle School Math Teacher, Kelly Ann Ydrovo recently completed Learners Edge continuing education Course 859: Parent Trap: Achieving Success with Difficult Parents & Difficult Situations and outlined her top 10 strategies for dealing with difficult parents and difficult situations. Check out her tips below to help you establish positive, constructive relationships with the parents of your students.
1.) Keep Your Cool
Yelling at each other will accomplish nothing. Advancements can only be made when there is dialogue and understanding. When dealing with a difficult parent, teachers must maintain their decorum. Teachers must find a way to be able to reach the difficult parent in order to help the student. Don’t take their yelling personally. Often, a parent is frustrated and is lashing out at the nearest person, you.
2.) Build the Parents/Guardians Trust
One technique to build trust is to touch base. Parents want to hear the good things that are going on in a classroom. They do not only want to hear from the teacher when something goes wrong or when the student is in trouble. Sending a quick note or making a call shows the parent your interest in the child. A quick email or call to the parent saying that their child did a great job on something or performed a random act of kindness can go a long way in building rapport with the parent. It shows that the teacher is looking at all the good things a child does and not strictly focus on the bad. I know that these quick little notes lead to a positive perception. Parents recognize that you are not out to get their child and point out every wrong thing that a student may do.
3.) Reach out to the Community
Reaching out to the community can build great rapport. This is a win-win-win situation. Students win as they showcase their skills and gain the euphoria of helping another. The community wins as they see their young citizens showing concern for the community. The school wins as it can get great press and the community may look more favorably on the needs of the school. After all, the school is willing to help the community, so the community should in turn help the school.
4.) Show You Care
Parents want to see a teacher who truly cares about their children. As schedules come out only a few days prior to the start of school, meeting with the parents prior to the first day is impossible. On Back to School night, parents are greeted at the door and provided with light refreshments. While reviewing important information, I try to include some of the positive things the students are doing – even though school has been in session for a week. My presentations stress a caring environment that will allow students to learn in a fear free zone. I encourage parents to contact me regarding their concerns – no matter how trivial. The fact that I have a child who is the same age as my students and can relate to what stresses and pressures that they are experiencing also helps.
5.) Establish Your Authority
Another measure to present confidence and authority in a difficult situation is to look the person directly in the eye. By looking the person in the eye, it shows that you are interested in what is being said. You are concerned about the situation and are actively listening to acquire all of the information. Second, you are showing respect to the other person by giving them your undivided attention. What they say means a great deal to you. Third, “looking a person directly in the eye gives you an air of self-confidence and self-assurance.” (80) This perception can help diffuse a difficult situation. By displaying self-confidence, you can turn a lopsided conversation into one of equal cohorts who have a mutual objective.
6.) Speak with a Low Voice
Parents often feel that they must “go to bat” for their child. In many cases, the parents feel that the child has been unfairly pointed out by the teacher and want this situation corrected. Too often, they ask too little questions to get the full story and make assumptions – often to the detriment of the teacher. They are out looking for justice before the teacher has had the opportunity to provide additional information or explain the situation. One technique that is helpful is for the teacher to lower their voice. Upset parents often talk at an elevated level and in an accusatory nature. It is quite common for the person on the receiving end of this conversation to become nervous. When one becomes nervous, coherent sentences are often lost. A person’s voice can become shaky and lack confidence. With the lowered volume, the shakiness in the voice will become less obvious. In addition, the decreased volume forces the other party to focus more closely on what is being said. Instead of focusing on their needs or concerns, the upset parent must channel additional energy to listen to what the other person is saying. Furthermore, the upset parent will start noticing how loud they are speaking and how this will not benefit the conversation.
7.) Realize Everyone Makes Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes. Teachers have many responsibilities and there are many opportunities to error. When a parent brings an error to light, the proper procedure for the school (teacher or administrator) is to be gracious and accepting of the information. If the parent is taking the time to bring attention to the matter, the school must be willing to put in the time to investigate. By acknowledging the possibility of an error and looking into it, the parent feels that the school cares enough to do the right thing. An investigation must be done in a timely manner and the results shared with the parent. If the teacher has made an error, it should be quickly rectified and extend an apology. Teachers are not infallible. They make mistakes and must own up to those mistakes.
8.) Show Empathy
The words, “I am so sorry that happened” are highly effective. These six little words convey a great deal. First, it shows that you listened to what was said and are concerned about everyone’s well-being. In addition to acknowledging what happened, you are providing an opportunity to establish a rapport with the other party. The person has shown concern and would like to address the matter to alievate or remedy it. Sometimes, the person just wants a shoulder to cry on. Other times, a wrong may have occurred and this person would like a remedy. Either way, you have put a priority on the person’s situation. By stating that you are sorry that the situation occurred, you can calm an irate parent down and provide an opportunity to have a calm conversation to obtain the details. This is a highly effective way to have a discussion and increase relations. Chances are, whether you are a teacher or as an administrator, you are sorry in some way. Another situation has come across your desk that needs your attention and is taking you away from chipping down the work that you had previously committed to completing. It is like the comic strip – just when you think your inbox is empty, it is quickly filled up with new stuff. The basket is NEVER empty.
9.) Use and Show Concrete Examples
“I can’t believe that my Jimmy threw a paper ball at Sally.” Usually I will overlook one transgression before a parent is notified. When I do contact the parent and he/she denies that the event is possible, I highlight the earlier instance that occurred in which the student was reprimanded. For example, Jimmy decided to paint his sneakers with white out during a group presentation. Jimmy was asked to stop and the incident was simply noted on a log. The next day, Jimmy did it again. This time the parent was contacted. She could not believe that he would do such a thing. I mentioned the earlier incident and how the behavior did not change. It was also noted that in his file was another incident the week prior with a different teacher. Highlighting these instances helped the parent see that perhaps little Jimmy is capable of doing “less than angelic things”.
10.) Set up a Parent Resources Area
It has been suggested that a room dedicated to parents and equipped with a multitude of resources be available. This sounds like a wonderful idea and would be a fabulous thing to implement in my school. If it were possible to have a parent room, it needs to be an inviting place. A soft color pallet on the walls, comfortable chairs, and computer access would be necessary. Resources for the parents should be grouped according to grade level and subject. Parents can see what the scope of the curriculum is. Past projects can be placed on display. Future projects can be listed with the hope of parental expertise can be shared. I have seen parents come in and discuss their work experience and demonstrate on how the current subject of study applies to real life. If there is something that a teacher would like parent assistance with, there can be a board to post the “position”. Finally, the parents must feel welcomed in the building. They should not feel like they are outsiders.
Looking to learn more skills and tools to help you work with the most challenging parents in the most challenging situations? View our on-demand Parenering with Parents webinar where former teacher and current Learners Edge Director of Professional Development, Keely Swartzer, will share strategies and techniques she used in dealing with difficult parents throughout her twenty year teaching career. Come away with ways to reframe your perspective, templates to run effective meetings and suggestions on conflict resolution. Parent-Teacher Communication does not need to be the most stressful part of your teaching career. With preparation and perspective, you'll hardly break a sweat!