By Teachers, For Teachers
Effective communication can be key when confronting parents about an issue with their child.
Though confrontation can be tough, having a positive and efficient approach for communicating can make a big difference in how the parent perceives the information.
Story 1: The Blame Game
A friend told me a story recently. Her kindergarten son didn’t eat lunch one day. When he sat himself down at the lunch table he realized his juice box had spilled and ruined his sandwich and other lunch snacks.
The little guy didn’t know how it happened, but he assumed it was his fault and thought he would be in trouble if he told the teacher. So he sat there and ate nothing, waiting for his classmates to finish. Once home, he told his mom how hungry he was, and after some questioning, my friend finally understood the entire story.
My phone rang immediately.
After calming her down a bit, I explained that it would be better for her to go to the teacher directly before alerting the administration. She did the next morning. Again my phone rang.
My friend told me she had shared her concern, and the teacher had replied,
Yikes. No compassion. No working together to make school a better experience for her child. No unconditional concern for the student. I have a hard time defending a teacher who puts all the responsibility on a five-year-old.
Story 2: Careless Communication
Once, I was having a conversation about a student’s behavior with another teacher during a school event. That student’s parent walked up behind me and heard the conversation. She was hurt to overhear two strangers so carelessly discussing her child.
Later she told me,
That conversation changed the way I think about my students and how I conduct my communication with parents. Here’s what I’ve learned: our students are somebody’s children; these are the individuals that these parents love more than life itself. We have to treat them that way.
Taking all that I have learned into account, here are four key strategies I use when confronting parents:
First and foremost, communicate early. Call before it’s necessary to make a troubling call, like a report on inappropriate behavior or poor grades. An introductory phone call early in the year, just to share a positive tidbit about a student, can set the parent/teacher relationship on a path that is in the best interest of everyone concerned – the student, the parent, and the teacher.
Next, communicate often. Set up an email list (Facebook page, Twitter account), and keep parents apprised of happenings in the classroom and the school. I’ve seen too many parents upset because they missed Awards Day, for example. A problem like this could have been easily alleviated by a simple email. In addition, be creative about families who don’t have access to email. Handwritten notes home and/or phone calls must be in place for those students.
I know teachers are busy, but it’s so important that parents aren’t surprised by a failing grade once the report card comes out or by a suspension when behavior has been becoming more and more inappropriate day by day.
The next strategy is one I truly believe must be in place. Always approach communication with a parent in the spirit of what is best for the child, and begin the conversation on a positive note. Saying something like, “Your child has the best sense of humor! I just love having him in my class, but how can we work together to be sure he does his homework?” is a way to get to the end result – the student doing homework – without making the parent defensive from the outset.
Beginning a conversation with a list of negative statements about a child is never a good way to work with parents. Remember, parents know their children better than we do. Most likely anything we can say as teachers they’ve heard already from the teachers who came before us. What they may not have heard is the caring tone of a teacher who really wants to make a difference with a child. That can be the determining factor in how much that student learns in a classroom.
Once, I had a student who brought a particularly nasty attitude to my classroom every day. I tried all of my strategies for connecting with her, but she continued to snarl at me and show disrespect on a daily basis. I set up a parent meeting, and the student told me that her mother was ready to come and “tell me off.”
I braced myself when the mother came in the room, invited her to sit down, and before she could speak, I told her how beautiful her daughter’s smile was. She looked surprised, but then smiled herself, and we spent a few minutes talking about how silly my student’s laugh could be. Before we ever got down to the business of discussing behavior, we were relaxed and connected. A lot was accomplished that day.
As we work with students it’s so important to remember that if they come to us with a scowl on their faces, or if they refuse to work, or if they struggle at learning, there is a reason. It took me years to realize that I shouldn’t take something as simple as a child not being prepared for class personally. I remember the exact moment I realized that my students weren’t standing in the hallway before entering my classroom thinking, “I’m not going to bring my pencil today so that I can aggravate my teacher.” I had to stop taking those things personally and get about the business of doing whatever it takes to help those students learn.
Yes, I do have a “keep things positive” philosophy, but that doesn’t mean the student is never without fault. Sometimes I do get frustrated with a behavior issue or a lack of work ethic. When I do, I always picture my students as someone’s children being tucked into their beds at night by parents who care about them more than anything else in the world. With that picture in my head, my tone is softened, and the atmosphere in the classroom immediately changes. At that point, it’s a little easier to deal with the student and to plan for any upcoming communication with the parents. They’re sending us the best they have, and we must teach each child as if he/she is our only one.
What tips do you have when confronting a student's parents? Share in the comments section!