You probably never imagined dealing with difficult parents when you first dreamed of becoming a teacher. Unfortunately, it is a fact that almost all teachers are faced with an irate parent at some point in their career. In those times of heated passions, our responses can carry great weight. A miscalculated response can fan the flames of an upset parent and even burn bridges which is why it is important to arm yourself with the proper tools and techniques to effectively deal with angry parents. Below are some tried and true tips to help you resolve difficult situations with parents.
1. Establish Empathy
As a teacher, you should meet a difficult student's parents in order to establish a sense of empathy and understanding for the student's behavior and situation. By meeting the parents, many questions can be answered about the student's behavior. Another important point is the truth all teachers should realize; all educators are responsible for modeling appropriate behavior with everyone they come in contact with 100% of the time if that is what is expected from students. While this is a challenge and a large responsibility, it is what all teachers must do. We are models for others to follow and we must "do as we say."
2. Establish Trust
Establishing trust at the beginning of the year is so crucial because every educator wants to have positive, productive relationships with parents that will last throughout the school year. Parents are an integral part of the educational process, and if a teacher does not have their trust, the process is incomplete and hindered. As a result, students suffer the consequences. Establishing trust with parents is the key element in an educator's healthy relationship with them, and it can help temper any problems that arise down the road.
One way of building trust with parents is to call them at the beginning of the school year. Introduce yourself and let them know you are available at any time for a conference. Make sure your personal contact information is known so parents understand that you care about their children and their progress. Another way of building trust is to develop a class newsletter positively informing them of classroom information, happenings and events. This is a great way of keeping parents informed and establishing weekly contact. Finally, teachers can find ways to get their students involved with the community in order to strengthen civic pride and raise awareness among parents of the positive and important work their children are doing.
3. Communicate the Positives Early & Often
A teacher can ensure that the first communication with parents is positive by contacting them with news that is favorable about their children. This is why initial contact at the beginning of the year is so important. A teacher should never wait for something to happen before he/she has the first communication with a parent. The first contact should be one in which the teacher is in complete control, and the most ideal situation is when there is only good or neutral news to share about the child, class, etc. The first contact should be one of goodwill as a result of the teacher's desire to establish a positive relationship; if negative information must be reported in the first contact, it should be kept at a minimum.
Sample Positive Communication Letter
I wanted to take this opportunity to compliment Johnny on his hard work during the final quarter of Language Arts. I know you have received earlier notes from me, but as you peruse the large volume of work Johnny has completed over the course of one quarter, I am sure you will agree that Johnny has shown great perseverance and commitment to the class. Also, he has been a model student for others in terms of classroom participation and cooperative learning, and has helped many of his classmates who have struggled with the material over the course of the semester.
More importantly, I feel Johnny has improved as a writer. He had a "B" average in written competition last quarter, but if you look at the summary report, his grade has improved to an A-. His writing reflects that change as his skills have improved in essay structure and content. These skills will help him tremendously at the college level, and I encourage Johnny to utilize his current development portfolio when submitting writing samples for college applications. He is on the right track to becoming a strong college writer, and has proven his versatility in written composition as he has developed a wide range of pieces in class. Please encourage Johnny to continue writing over the summer; it is a good way for him to keep his skills honed for senior year Language Arts.
Thank you for supporting Johnny and keeping in contact with me over the course of the semester.
4. Lower your voice & increase your movement
When dealing with an irate parent, your first step should be to lower your own voice. This is a simple, yet effective technique because it forces the parent to see how loud and boisterous he/she is being while allowing the teacher to compose himself or herself even though he/she may be feeling nervous with the situation. Another technique is to increase one's movement. If an educator is showing physical signs of nervousness such as wobbling or shaking in the presence of an angry parent, increasing the movement by pacing, tapping a pencil, or shuffling through papers may help. Although an unintended side effect, this behavior may make the irate parent uncomfortable and as a result, empower the educator.
5. Close the gap & maintain eye contact
Closing the gap between the angry parent and oneself, if done subtly and calmly, may have a calming effect on the irate party. Also be sure to look the parent straight in the eye. This action conveys to the parent that the teacher is listening and understanding their argument. Also, strong eye contact with the parent will instill the teacher with self-confidence and self-assurance which is also beneficial in these types of situations.
6. Be honest
When dealing with angry parents, it is important to be honest and not focus on winning the argument; the goal should be to arrive at a common understanding in the most agreeable, productive manner. Be sure to apologize for any difficult situations that may arise, and proactively acknowledge a potential shortcoming or mistake by calling the parent before the parent has a chance to contact the school. This will help temper any anger on the parent's side.
7. Make parents/students feel as they were treated fairly
It is important to make both the parents and students feel that they were listened to thoroughly and that they "got a good deal." This concept is extremely valuable as parents want to feel that educators are on their side, giving them the best outcome. This goes a long way in maintaining positive relations with difficult parents. A second important point is to remain calm, relaxed, confident, and assertive in presenting "fair" to an irate parent; having a predetermined dialogue can help diminish the "lack of fairness" attitude.
Managing difficult parents can be one of the hardest parts about teaching. It is easy to dwell on negativity and begin to question your skills as a teacher. Instead of worrying about how those parents perceive you, approach them and offer the opportunity to join you as you help their child have the best year possible. Focus on all that positive energy and have a great rest of the school year!
To learn more about how to deal with difficult parents, enroll in Learners Edge continuing education Course 859: The Parent Trap: Achieving Success with Difficult Parents & Difficult Situations.