Building Parent Allies

It’s a well known fact in life that, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

This is equally true in your interactions with parents.  The vast majority of the parents you will work with will be kind, supportive, and appropriate in their interactions with you.  That being said, you will also encounter parents who seem irrational, irate, or downright rude.  You will be tempted to say, “Excuse me, but could you please remember that when you speak to me, I am also a human being?”  Although the temptation will be great, resist it.  

Here are five strategies to avoid unpleasant parent interaction and how to move past it when it does occur to build parent allies.

Strategy 1: Be Proactive Rather than Reactive in your Communication

Most of the time, we reach out to parents when something is going wrong, really wrong.  Often times, the parent’s initial reaction is, “Well why did you wait so long to tell me that there was an issue in the classroom?”  While a perfectly honest and realistic response is that you have thirty-nine other students to support, grading, and teaching responsibilities, saying such will not help you build a positive relationship with a parent.  A great strategy instead is to be proactive and build parent communication from the get-go in your classroom.  Call or send a personal email to every parent at the beginning of the year to introduce yourself and let them know you are open to working with them this year.  As the year progresses, send positive emails home as well so that parents aren’t just hearing the negative about their child.  Even if it’s a small behavioral improvement, celebrate growth!

Strategy 2: Be Honest, and Support Areas of Need

While, as mentioned above, it’s important to send good news home to parents, it is also vital to be honest in your praise.  Most parents know the truth about their child’s cognitive and behavioral development.  Don’t exaggerate merely for the sake of trying to appease a parent in your communication.  If there is an area where a student needs help, communicate the need factually, and then say what you’ve already done to support the need.  For instance, “Jane continues to struggle with shouting out during class.  In order to help her remember not to talk over others, she has been receiving a positive behavior ticket when she remembers to raise her hand before speaking.”  Brainstorm ways with the parent to continue to support the need.  Report facts, rather than opinions, as this is less emotionally charged for parents.  

Strategy 3:  View the Parent Perspective as Essential

It’s always a good idea to ask parents about strategies for success that they’ve used at home.  Chances are that if you are seeing the behavior at school, parents also struggle with it at home.  Conversely, parents might see a side of your student that you are unaware of.  Inviting parents perspectives into the conversation serves two purposes.  First of all, you will learn more about your student: the parent perspective will help you understand how to help your students better.  Secondly, you will build a stronger relationship with the parent, which will make your life more pleasant!

Strategy 4: Focus on the Needs of the Student

When confronted with an extremely angry parent, it’s easy to lose sight that that you both care about the same thing: helping their child.  Take a deep breath and steer the conversation back on course.  You could say, “I see that this issue is clearly important to you as it impacts your child.  It’s important to me too to help your child.  Can we work together to find a way to help her/him?”  It’s good to remind the parent (and yourself) what the point of the conversation is to move forward in a productive way, and to defuse tricky conversations.

Strategy 5: Set Appropriate Professional Boundaries

While parents are clearly motivated by seeking what is in the best interest of their child, sometimes they overstep appropriate boundaries, or have unrealistic expectations.  For instance, a parent might expect you to email them back immediately during the school day.  Your first priority at that time is being present for the students, and therefore this is an unrealistic expectation.  It is realistic, however for you to respond within 48 hours to all emails.  Be clear in your expectations with parents and set clear boundaries.  If a parent is overly antagonistic in an email or in person, consider inviting in an administrator for in-person meetings and cc’ing an admin on email contact.  On the other side, also remember that the parents are not your friends, and therefore, it is inappropriate to socialize with them.  Use your best judgement, and when in doubt, check in with us in the forums to get advice from at EdCourageMentor about your specific situation.

Remember, you have the power to make parents your allies, not your enemies!
Are there any other strategies that you’ve used successfully in parent management?  Weigh in the comments below.

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