Communicate Effectively With Angry Parents
Communicating with parents/guardians is one of the biggest responsibilities that a teacher has in their line of work. While you have the opportunity to interact and affect the lives of the children you teach, they ultimately are being raised by parents/guardians who have a strong interest in their well being and education.
If you fail to keep a parent/guardian apprised of their child’s progress in school, you are missing a wonderful opportunity to bridge communication that is essential in a child’s life. Parents/guardians and teachers should work together to make sure children are learning effectively and gaining the most from their education.
When bad grades go home, parents are often angry with the teacher. New teachers need to be prepared for this and learn how to hold effective conferences.
One way to be certain that you are communicating with parents/guardians effectively is to utilize forms and notes that you send home periodically to let parents/guardians know how their child is doing in class. Examples of forms and notes might include:
- Notification of failed assignments
- Quick notes to say a child did something good today
- Parent communication log that is filled out each time you communicate with a student’s parent/guardian
- Classroom newsletter
- Volunteer letter asking for parents to come and help in the classroom
Many times, parents never speak with their child’s teacher unless they are frustrated with something. Often these parent-teacher conferences can be difficult and stressful for a new teacher. Here are some key tips to help calm angry parents and communicate effectively during a parent-teacher conference.
Angry Parents Need to Talk While Teachers Listen
When a parent comes into the classroom upset about something, the first priority of the teacher should be to let the parent talk. Attempting to interrupt or defend oneself will only fuel the fire and make the situation worse. Strategies to ensure that the teacher does not interrupt the parent include:
- Make eye contact. When focusing on making eye contact the teacher will effectively do two things at once – first, he will demonstrate to the parent that he is listening and second, he will keep quiet longer, letting the parent talk.
- Count to five after the parent stops talking. This ensures that the parent is finished talking before the teacher begins to join in the conversation. If the parent begins talking again, go back to eye contact.
- Fold hands together. When hands are folded, the teacher will be able to refrain from searching for a student’s file, the call button or the telephone. The angry parent needs to talk and needs to know that the teacher is listening.
Attacks on the Teacher Have a Deeper Problem to Solve
A parent who comes storming into the classroom yelling at a teacher is often not angry with the teacher. The anger may be directed at the teacher, but with some careful listening, the teacher will be able to figure out what the real issue is. Most often it involves a student and grades.
Becoming defensive in the face of an angry parent will only serve to anger the parent more and delay a chance at coming up with a constructive solution to the problem. Here are some specific questions and statements that a teacher can use to help get to the bottom of the problem:
- Can you show me an example of what is upsetting you? This allows the parent to clarify the issue and provides a way for the teacher to jump into a discussion about a solution to the problem.
- Describe how homework time goes at home, step-by-step? If the problem is regarding homework, asking for more information prevents the teacher from blaming the parent for the child’s problems, which can only exacerbate an angry parent.
The goal of any parent-teacher conference is to make sure that both the parent and teacher have all information necessary to provide the best education for the child. Teachers who make sure to listen to the parent’s concerns and find a way to get to the root of the problem are more likely to have cooperative parents involved.
Sometimes parents/guardians are uneasy about contacting a teacher because they feel like they are too busy to deal with interpersonal conversations with them. You need to take the first step in breaking down that wall. Perhaps you can have a parent/guardian visitation day whereas they are welcome to come and sit in on the class for a day. Let parents/guardians see their child’s classroom and experience first-hand what is being taught to them.
The keys to communicating effectively with parents/guardians are to:
- Do it often. Don’t let months go by without hearing from you as to what is going on in the classroom and how their child is performing.
- Be honest. Call them at the first sign their child is having behavioral or learning difficulties in the classroom.
- Stay organized. Remember that when you are talking to a parent/guardian about their child, they are really only interested in their child, not the whole class. Parents/guardians might become impatient if they have to wait for you to dig up notes on their child under a stack of other papers. Give the impression that you are interested in their child.