As an administrator, you’re going to be in so many parent meetings that you’ll lose count very soon. It’s just part of the job.
As a teacher, I had the occasional meeting where we discussed the progress of the student (or lack thereof), but I could go weeks without having a parent meeting.
Now that I’m sitting in the administrator’s chair, there isn’t a week go by where I’m not meeting with a parent or sitting in on a team meeting.
Most meetings go relatively well.
The parent shares his/her concern about the student; the teachers offer their point of view; a plan of action is created, and the meeting ends.
Sometimes, however, there is a meeting where the administrator has to intervene to make the meeting a productive one.
Some parents are just passionate about what they think is best for their child or about some real or imaginary injustice that they believe they or their child has suffered, and they come in ready to get somebody fired.
Teachers look to administrators to make sure they are protected from any abuse from these kind of parents.
For the administrator, there is a fine line between supporting your teachers and allowing the parent to share his/her concerns.
Some parents do not have the communication skills that most teachers do, and therefore can sound downright rude and abusive.
Here are some tips that I’ve learned from my experience and from my mentors about dealing with abusive parents:
1. The greeting
Be the one to greet the parent, so they know you’re the one conducting the meeting. Be pleasant and calm.
Turn your phone off. Don’t check your email. Lean forward and show that you’re interested in what they are saying.
3. Restate the concern
Once the parent has stated his/her concern, repeat it back to them. Make sure that you understand their concern. Ask them, “Did I understand your concern?”
4. Refocus the conversation
Be quick to bring the conversation back to the main focus of the meeting when the parent starts deviating and talking about other issues that have no relevance to the topic.
5. Refocus the responsibility
Many times the parents will come in and want to put all the blame on the teachers. It’s important that the administrator place the responsibility back on the student. Once that is established, then there can be a conversation on how the parent and the teachers can help the student be more responsible.
6. Request help
Ask the parent what you can do as a school to make things better. Demonstrate that you are willing to take action to fix the situation. Obviously, there is a limit to what you can offer, but you want to have this parent leave the meeting knowing that he/she got something she wanted. Otherwise, he/she will be sharing with others in the community of how inflexible the school is. Bad press is only good in Hollywood.
The words, “I Promise” are powerful. I demonstrates that you are making a committment to that parent. It’s so much better than, “I’ll do my best.” It also means that you now have a task that you must complete to keep your word to the parent.
Thank the parent for his/her concern and support (even if there wasn’t any demonstration of support). Not all parents are willing to come down to the school and discuss the needs of their student. It’s a good way to end the meeting in a pleasant way.
But what if…
Yes, there will be times when a parent will not be reasonable or want to listen to the opinions or suggestions of others, and they can become abusive to your teachers. In those times, an administrator must make the decision to end the meeting and offer to continue it outside the presence of the teachers.
As a teacher, I’ve been abused by parents in front of adminstrators who did not stand up for me, and my respect for those administrators has never returned.
When it comes to irrational parents, the administrator has to take on the responsibility and duty of body guard for the teachers.
In my opinion, a happy teacher is worth more than a satisfied parent.