Working with parents is an essential part of being a teacher. Every teacher (and school leader) needs to know how to win with parents. At some point in your teaching journey, you will experience a direct confrontation with a parent of one of your students. In fact, this will probably happen many times. Parents will always be part of what we do as teachers so we had better figure out how to handle these confrontations when they occur.
Here’s four key actions you must take to effectively work through a confrontation with a parent.
1. BELIEVE CORRECTLY
It’s ‘us’, not ‘me against them’.
When a parent confronts you, you must immediately adopt a ‘we’re on the same team’ attitude. You are both focused on the student (their child) and want the best outcomes for that student. Don’t get defensive, but rather start from a place of being on the same team.
Understand it’s real for them.
The parent has come to you because, in their eyes, they have a genuine concern. It’s real for them. It’s something they really feel they need to talk to you about. Try and empathise with what they are saying, before you launch into all the reasons why you think they’re ‘wrong’.
Don’t take it personally.
Taking a parent’s comments personally will cause you to become defensive and jump to (usually incorrect) conclusions. Try and remain objective and remind yourself that it’s all about the student and that you and the parent are on the same team.
2. OBSERVE INTENTLY
Be self aware.
Be aware of how you are going during the conversation. What is your body language saying? How is your tone of voice? Are you speaking slowly and clearly? What is your face saying? Being self aware can help you to behave in a way that helps the conversation progress, rather than hindering it.
Listen, listen, listen.
Often a parent just needs to be heard. Listen intently to what they are saying and don’t interrupt. Hold back your comments until the parent has said what they need to say.
Listen with your heart and eyes, not just your ears.
Whilst the parent is talking, listen also with your heart and your eyes. What are they really trying to say? What is their body language telling you? What are their facial expressions saying? How is their tone of voice and pace of talking giving you extra clues as to what is going on for them?
3. ACT APPROPRIATELY
Ask lots of questions.
Exercise self control and refrain from immediately giving your opinions or thoughts or justifications. Ask more questions. Be curious. The person who is asking the questions is in control of the conversation. Ask lots of questions. Seek to understand.
Clarify the issues.
Once you have listened to the parent and asked lots of questions, you need to intentionally clarify what the parent is saying and what their concerns are. Start the sentence with, “So what you’re saying is…” and then reflect back to parent the main issue they’re concerned about. This is true listening. When a parent hears you succinctly reflect back to them what they have said, you have already solved a big part of the problem. They feel heard. They feel that you understand their concerns about their child.
Do what you say you will do.
Make sure you follow through on any verbal commitments you make to the parent. Be trustworthy and show that parent that you mean what you say.
Own and admit your mistakes.
Yes, there will be times when you make mistakes. And great teachers are willing to own and admit their mistakes. If you’ve done something wrong or made a wrong judgment, be a big person and say sorry. Yep, it requires humility and courage but it’s worth it.
4. REFLECT REGULARLY
Get from the day.
Jim Rohn said, ‘Don’t get through the day, get from the day.’ Every interaction with a parent gives you an opportunity to learn something new and to grow personally and professionally. Think about the conversation you had with them, reflect on it, and learn from it.
Be committed to growth.
Use every parent confrontation as an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. Develop your skills in having a difficult conversation and you’ll notice how you get better and better at dealing with parents, even the tricky ones.
Working with parents is an essential part of being an excellent teacher. Learn to do it well.
Enjoy the journey,
And more importantly, enjoy the moments.
P.S. Upcoming webinar – Success Secrets For Savvy Casual Teachers (get heaps of teaching days, pick your schools, remain passionate). Click here.