The majority of parents that you encounter as a teacher are genuinely concerned about their children's education. They are interested in assisting schools and supporting teachers to help their students be successful and obtain academic goals. However, a very small percentage of parents present a challenge for teachers.
While you should recognize that you may not change a parent's attitude toward you or the school, communication is one of the best methods to thwart and prevent confrontations.
When communicating with challenging parents, you can employ a variety of strategies for coping with or neutralizing the situation.
Strategies for Resolving Conflicts
- Recognize Parents as Important Participants
Educational research documents that parental involvement and support of schools and teachers positively affects student achievement. To capitalize on this, teachers should recognize parents as significant contributors and work to foster productive relationships with all parents.
Parents should be respected for their knowledge of their child and for the validity of their concerns. Teachers who recognize and exhibit positive attitudes toward parental involvement communicate a powerful message.
- Increase Communication with Parents
Parents and schools will always share the responsibility for educating students, but it is up to teachers to communicate with parents about school and classroom issues. Use the following strategies in your efforts to improve communication.
- Communicate often. These communications should be inviting, ongoing, and encouraging. Communicate with parents as often as possible. When you clearly communicate class goals, expectations, and grading policies and procedures, many potentially difficult situations may be easily avoided because parents and students remain informed.
- Document communications. Various modes of communication may be utilized, including newsletters, Web sites, e-mails, parent meetings, telephoning, progress reports, personal notes, and conferences. Each communication should be documented.
- Share information about class activities. While parents should be regularly informed about student achievement and academic status, it is also worthwhile to share details about the educational experiences students are having in your class. Be sure to inform parents of the purposes, specific academic goals, and learning objectives associated with the activities you decide to share.
Even when you put your best foot forward, challenging parents may still react negatively toward you simply because you are the teacher and they are looking for someone to blame. In some cases, their behavior reflects their feelings about their own school experiences, which may have been less than ideal.
To improve your chances of reaching an effective solution, you can employ a conflict resolution model as a basic agenda. By following these five simple steps, you can involve parents in resolving the conflict and reaching an agreeable solution.
|Five Steps to Conflict Resolution
- Identify the problem.
- Brainstorm solutions.
- Evaluate solutions.
- Select a solution.
- Plan how to document and assess progress.
While relatively simple in nature, a conflict resolution method maintains the focus of the conference. Recognizing that comments may be sidetracked, you can bring the conversation back to the original concern-the needs of the student.
Meeting with Parents Face to Face
When meeting with parents face to face, a few simple strategies can improve the outcome of the meeting.
Know When to Call in Support
- Approach the parent with respect and expect respect.
- Project confidence by sitting next to or across from the parent.
- Remain calm, friendly, and professional at all times.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Be willing to listen and keep an open mind.
- Make every effort to understand the parent's complaint or concern.
- Emphasize all positives and academic gains first.
- Exercise empathy and reiterate your concern for the student.
- Address specific concerns and remain focused on what is best for the student.
- Share student work that supports your concerns.
- Offer explicit help and advice.
- Stand firm on school policies.
- End conferences on a positive note and thank parents for coming.
- Never sit behind your desk.
- Avoid crossing your arms in front of you or placing your hands on your hips.
- Do not argue or interrupt.
- Do not accuse; state honestly what you feel using "I" statements.
Even when you are prepared with a conflict resolution agenda and utilize strategies for defusing conflicts, there will be situations that warrant the need for an administrator to step in for additional support.
Make it a priority to keep your school administrators apprised of any potentially explosive conflicts. This allows them to avoid being caught unaware should the need arise for intervention or assistance during a conference.
If you are attacked verbally with threats or insults, never resort to anger, arrogance, or rejection. Instead, pause, look at the parent without emotion, and respond by saying, "I will return momentarily. I would like our principal, Mr. or Ms. _________, to join our conference," and walk out. This allows you to maintain your composure while seeking additional support. It also allows the parent time to reconsider his or her position.
When you are proactive in dealing with academic difficulties-by offering specific strategies, advice, and help for improvement-you contribute to the likelihood of eventual success for the student.
You need to accept that not every parent can be won over; it is inevitable that personality conflicts will occur, even under the best of situations. However, every effort should be made to establish working relationships with all parents.
When this occurs, you can have confidence that you are doing your best to help every student succeed.
Read More about Dealing with Challenging Parents
NW Regional Educational Laboratory
This Web site defines parental involvement and the benefits for students. It addresses training for teachers, engaging parents, and pitfalls to avoid.
Teacher Support Network
This online document identifies seven, distinct, difficult personality types and ways for teachers to cope with them.
This article was contributed by Mollie Crie, an educator with 22 years in the classroom. She currently teaches for Bedford County Schools in Forest, Virginia.