It’s an unavoidable truth: you will always have at least one challenging parent in your class. They may disagree with your decisions, involve administration, or even be rude—but it’s important to remember you’re always on the same team. When dealing with challenging parents, I use the following tactics to prepare for and carry out parent-teacher meetings.
1. Make a connection early
Take time in the first month or so to establish a relationship with each parent. This can be a positive note or phone call, which will make challenging conversations later a bit easier because you’ve already made a connection.
2. Continue with open communication
After my initial outreach, I continue open communication by taking pictures and explaining what we’re doing with a weekly newsletter. This way, parents who prefer more touch points than others are always aware of what’s happening in the classroom.
3. If a parent is angry, don’t ignore it
It can be nerve-wracking to receive an email from an angry parent, but never ignore it. What you notice first in a note like that is that they’re upset, but often what they’re really looking for is your side of the story. Don’t take their feedback personally, and try to provide information or context that they may not have had initially as quickly as you can. The longer you ignore it, however, the more upset the parent may become—and could potentially notify administration that you’re being unresponsive.
4. Don’t make promises
When a parent gets upset about something, it may be tempting to promise that things will get better. But no matter how much you try or want things to get better, some things may simply be beyond your control. Let the parent know that you will find out what can be done to remedy the situation. This way you are not “breaking” a promise.
5. Be careful what you put in writing
When responding to angry parents, keep it cordial and brief. Always offer to meet with the parent in person to discuss further. Once the meeting is over, that’s when you should email to follow-up with the parent to recap the discussion and provide the agreed-upon next steps.
6. Come to meetings prepared
When meetings are necessary, come prepared with objectives for the meeting, as well as documentation about what’s going on. This can include email conversations with the parent, their child’s grades, work samples, etc.
But don’t stop there. Also prepare suggestions to improve the situation to ensure a productive meeting that will leave the parent feeling optimistic.
7. Show you care
Amidst all of the emails and documentation, it can become easy to forget why the parent is upset in the first place—it’s because they care about their child. Remind them that you care too, and that you want to be on the same team.
8. Don’t get defensive
Teachers often misunderstand where parents are coming from and become defensive. Try to see the situation from their perspective, and explain your point of view or approach rather than trying to defend the outcomes.
9. Listen first, talk second
If a parent is angry, always let them speak first in the meeting. If you listen, you will often find out what’s really wrong, which can save time going back-and-forth trying to solve an issue. You may think you know why a parent is angry, but your assumptions could be wrong.
10. If the meeting is not productive, end it
There will be meetings where it’s clear the issue will not be resolved. If emotions are running too high, politely tell the parent that you will have to reschedule the meeting in order to have a productive session. For the next meeting, bring in a third-party, such as an administrator, to facilitate the conversation.
While our primary job is to educate our students, we must always think of the parent. By using these tips, you can avoid challenging parent situations and spend more time on your students!