You’ve worked so hard to get where you are in teaching. You’ve conquered the grueling schooling; you’ve weathered the late nights of grading papers, which at times are not even gradable; you’ve remedied the lesson that just flopped; and you’ve even dealt with the difficult students and helped them overcome their limitations.
So what’s making coming to work so much harder these days? Perhaps it’s a parent or two?
There were no courses on parent management in your Education program. There is no preparation for handling angry parents. However, you’ve heard the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” You can, in fact, avoid many parental crises even occurring before they happen. Having a few tools in your proverbial toolbox to overcome those moments when an irate parent is at your door will make your year much smoother and will also teach you a few things about handling conflict.
Parents are your VIP customers
You must think of your classroom like running a business. Parents are VIP customers and should be treated as such. Starting out with this mindset gives you a mentality of serving and helping your valuable family clients.
- Be proactive
Front-load your class with as much information as you can to begin the trust-building process. Take the time to create and send home a newsletter chock full of what the students and parents should know. Include:
- Information about yourself
- Your goals for the children in the year
- How you run your classroom
- Homework policy
- Classroom procedures
- An overview of the year and what will be covered
- How to reach you and availability times
Have the parents sign this and keep a copy for your records. Not only does signing the Expectations build trust and rapport, this also gets parents on record of knowing the expectations of the class and the accountability for the students. Follow up and reach out to all parents via phone call or conference sharing a greeting and asking for any questions they may have.
- Constantly and consistently communicate
Keep a list of parents and your communication with them so you can balance the communication with all parents. Remember, customers want to be appreciated so they remain loyal. Therefore, continue making quick calls to parents complimenting their child on what he or she did well that day. Try for one or two calls a day. By doing so, you’ve built a baseline of interaction and started the relationship on a positive note; this goes a long way if you must phone call home about a difficult situation.
Consistently communicate assignments and expectations through your channels, whether it be your blog, email, newsletter, or through the school’s website as often as possible. Remember, the parent should be an informed customer. This assures that there are “no surprises.” Although many won’t read it or pay attention, it’s best to over-communicate.
- Deal with conflict confidently
Situations happen, mistakes are made, and some parent will just not be happy. We must be able to deal confidently with conflict.
Here are some ways you can work with a disagreeable party:
- Listen and don’t interrupt. These parents have an important concern and need to be able to air it out. Remember, it’s about their child, and so it is often filled with emotion. Hence, the less emotion you can have toward the situation, the less it can escalate.
- Show you care and acknowledge their concern. Parents want to see that their child is in good hands with a caring individual. Also, sharing that you are sorry the situation happened shows that you have empathy and are willing to work with them and find solutions.
- Keep your cool and be professional. Never be defensive or get angry back. Address their concerns the best you can. Sometimes you may need to apologize and take responsibility if you made a mistake. Face to face is best since you can lose the facts in translation through email. You are looking to build a relationship not avoid and alienate.
Remember, the key is open and honest communication. Front-loading your class with information and consistently and constantly communicating can build rapport and trust with your VIP customers, your parents. This can prevent potential issues. And, when they do arise, you’ll be more prepared to make your parent a happy customer.
Dr. Stephanie Knight is an experienced 7th and 8th grade English language arts educator. She taught in Title One schools for eight years—helping them grow from underperforming to excelling—and then in an independent school for four years. Knight is now is part of Grand Canyon University’s adjunct faculty where she teaches graduate level education and reading courses.