Getting difficult parents on your side is key to a productive, harmonious school year. Doing so can not only improve your outlook; it can help all your students to have a better, more positive experience in your classroom as well.
Parental Support Can Make or Break Your School Year
We've all had them; parents who criticize your every move, or expect you to put their child at the head of the class no matter how they perform. It can make for a challenging school year, to say the least, unless you manage to get them on your side first. It isn't easy, but I have a few tricks that worked for me. Using them might give you a leg up with hard to please parents so you and your students can get off on the right foot and make the most of your school year.
Start off on the Right Foot
The most effective way I've found to get difficult students and their parents on my side is to make the classroom environment fun and supportive. I used a tip from the Smart Classroom Management blog to get kids excited to come to class; in retrospect, it was simple but effective:
- Make the first day great. Follow this with the first week, then the first month, and before you know it, you have a great year behind you.
When students are excited to learn, feel welcomed, and know you'll treat them equally, they'll have plenty of good things to say at home. These positive reviews give parents a feeling of confidence, knowing their child is in capable, caring hands.
Taking the time to pay attention to your students seems like basic classroom management, but it goes beyond that. It takes an effort to smile when Johnny is throwing paper balls at Susie. It can be very hard to stay positive when your overcrowded classroom adds five more chairs. But the extra trouble is always worth the effort.
When I take students aside at the first hint of disruptive behavior and try to understand the cause, they feel supported. Keeping the discussion positive and letting them know I care, they go away with a better opinion of themselves and me. That translates to a better relationship with their parents as well.
Acknowledge Their Frustration
No parent confronts their child's teacher for something to do on a Wednesday afternoon. Whether you agree with what they say or not, your student's parent feels that their child was wronged and wants the problem resolved. When a parent comes to me frustrated that their child isn't being cared for, I try to approach it like this:
'I'm sorry to hear you feel I didn't handle that appropriately. I'd love to discuss his needs, as well as what is within my power to change. Do you have a moment to talk with me?'
'I can tell you're frustrated. If you have a moment to talk, maybe we can figure out the best way to handle this issue together?'
Whether the parent is correct in their assessment of their child's treatment or not, making them feel heard goes a long way in diffusing the issue. I also keep these discussions private and never talk in front of the students. As Teach-Nology's blog post on the subject notes, maintaining control makes classroom management easier and allows parents to speak to the child in their own time.
Accentuate the Positive
Parents know their children and, unless they're in complete denial, they know that Jimmy can be difficult. Often parents come to a meeting with the idea that I'm going to lead with their child's behavioral issues or complain about their performance in class. Beginning with something positive, like their child's enthusiasm for art or willingness to help other students in class goes a long way towards improving our interactions.
When we start off by reminding parents that we value their children, they're more willing to hear what we have to say - even if it isn't quite so inspiring.
As much as I want parents and students to see me as a resource, establishing boundaries is necessary to a respectful working relationship. From day one I make sure my families know:
- Office Hours
- School Discipline Policy
- Classroom Expectations
- Classroom Plan
If parents know what to expect ahead of time, they'll be more relaxed and better able to work with you as the year progresses. I send out a flyer at the beginning of the term with this information. I include a brief questionnaire with questions about preferred contact methods, as well as who I should include when I message them. I follow this with information about the school's communication policy, where they can find the most up-to-date information, and how best to contact me.
When the lines are clear, and everyone knows what to expect, it's easier to keep all parties on the same page and, most importantly, happy.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Parents want what is best for their child. In spite of how it may sometimes feel, they aren't out to find fault with your teaching. When my son returned to school after being diagnosed with diabetes, his teachers singled him out often. As a parent, this was infuriating. He was a good student who did his best in school and worked hard to obey classroom rules, yet he faced scrutiny his peers didn't. As a teacher, however, I understood how frightening it was for them to care for a student with a life-threatening disease. I knew that this extra attention was their way of maintaining some control when faced with a frustrating situation.
Discussing their concerns and providing my support took a lot of pressure off them. This allowed them to teach without worrying every moment that my son was going to collapse.
In the end, parents and teachers have one job - to prepare children for a time when they will be responsible for their own well-being. Acknowledging that and creating a plan that serves the child and their class is essential to succeeding as a teacher, as well as creating a supportive working relationship with families. As Allen Mendler notes in his blog post, parents are their child's first, best advocate, and even the caustic ones have something to teach us. Listen to them, acknowledge their concerns, and before you know it, they'll be your best advocates too.