Many teachers, even seasoned veterans, have a fear of talking to parents about their child’s misbehavior.
Generally, they’re afraid of three things:
- The parent (or parents) will get angry and defensive.
- The parent will question their competence.
- The parent will complain and make demands.
These fears are well founded.
While discussing behavior, teachers tend to say things that rub parents the wrong way. And because the topic of conversation is their child, their beloved flesh and blood, parents respond by fighting back.
Their protective instinct kicks in, their emotions flare, and in an instant you find yourself backpedaling, apologizing, and explaining away your decisions and methods.
Or worse, you bristle at their angry tone, become defensive, and drive a wedge through the critical teacher-parent relationship.
Yikes! It’s a bad situation to be in.
It’s also avoidable. Regardless of who the parents are, or how bad (or good) their reputation is at your school, it’s possible to discuss behavior in a way that leaves them both supportive of you and eager to help their child improve.
It’s a mistake to be grave or overly serious when speaking to parents, which causes them to put up a wall of defense before you even get to the purpose of your meeting. Put them at ease from the beginning. Say hello, smile, and maintain a friendly attitude throughout the conversation.
The sole purpose of talking to parents about behavior is to inform. That’s it. Keep your thoughts, opinions, and advice to yourself. Despite what you may think, sharing them isn’t helpful. If, however, you’re asked your opinion after the conference, then proceed cautiously.
Stick to the facts.
Tell the parent precisely what happened—or what has been happening—that prompted your call. Leave nothing out but add nothing more. Stick to only what you know to be true, leaving out any rumor, gossip, or innuendo.
Watch your tone.
A common mistake teachers make is that they affect an attitude of “so what are you gonna do about it” when speaking to parents. It’s almost as if they expect parents to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. You should have no such expectation.
Note: A core principle of Smart Classroom Management is to never take misbehavior personally. This should come through loud and clear when talking with parents.
You can and should say, “This is the behavior I’m seeing, and any behavior, like this, that interferes with learning is not allowed in this classroom.” Don’t hold back in this regard. Be a straight shooter. The plain, unvarnished truth is the most helpful and influential language you can use with parents.
Explain how you’re handling it.
After giving the facts of the incident/behavior, let the parent know how you’re taking care of the problem at school. Include what rule(s) the student broke and how he or she will be held accountable. Assure them that you’re doing your part to help turn the behavior around.
Note: Sending a classroom management packet home during the first week of school is an effective hedge against parents being surprised or angered during this step.
Your conversation with parents should last no more than five minutes. As soon as you finish explaining how you’re handling the misbehavior, say, “Thanks for your support. Call me or come see me if you have any questions.” Then hang up the phone or lead the parent to the classroom door.
Talk To Parents With Confidence
When you follow the guidelines above, you’ll discover that conversations with parents are nothing to fear.
You’ll leave them with little to get angry over, complain about, or be unsatisfied with. In fact, they’ll come away from your talk impressed with you and more willing than ever to support your classroom.
And the best part is your meeting will have impact.
Instead of the responsibility for misbehavior getting lost in the haze of the parent’s anger and dissatisfaction with you, which is typically what happens, it will now rest on the shoulders of the one person fully deserving of it:
The misbehaving child.
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