As a classroom teacher, one of our jobs is to build a team between us, our students, the parents or caregivers, and administration. Without a doubt, the environment of a classroom will be more challenging and our job becomes tougher if the team is broken somewhere along the way.
Building a relationship with your classroom parents is important. With that said, are you going to have parents challenge you as a classroom teacher? Yes! At some point in your career, you will have at least one (okay, probably more), that may have high or unrealistic expectations for you. When this happens, please take a moment to step back and remember some of these tips that may help you along the way.
Change Your Mindset
Years ago, I had a principal remind our staff something that has always stuck with me:
“That child is their whole world. Always remember this when you are working with a parent that is challenging you.”
I believe it is so important to change your mindset when you begin working with a tough family. Don’t think of them as challenging parents, think of them as loving parents.
Remember that all they want is the best for their child. We may not always agree with what they think is best, but they are the parent. We must respect them.
Sometimes it helps to put yourself in their shoes, your whole outlook may change.
Please set boundaries for yourself. Inform parents at the start of the year about your protocol with email replies and your policy for returning phone calls. Set a time-frame of when you will answer emails or return calls (you should not be replying to parents during your dinner or your child’s baseball game).
I even suggest sharing that you will get back to them within 48 hours. You may need to sleep on it and may need time to reflect before answering. I suggest turning off your email notifications when you are off contract hours. You need this time to take care of yourself and your family.
If you ever feel that a phone call or meeting may be interpreted the wrong way, always have an eye-witness. Ask a colleague or administrator to sit in with you while you meet or return a phone call.
I also highly encourage you to never meet on the fly. Tell the family that you have a previous engagement to be at and that you can meet tomorrow from 3:00-3:30. This will give everyone time to reflect before meeting.
Many times, a phone call is the best route to take. However, when you call a parent, remember that you have no idea what you just interrupted. They might have just found out their mother is in the hospital. They may have just had an argument with their spouse or gotten an unexpected bill in the mail. Always ask if it’s a good time to chat.
Their mindset will be different depending on what is happening to them at that moment. What may seem like a big deal to you may not be a big deal to them based on what just happened at home.
Your mentality when making a phone call is important. The purpose of a phone call is to not go head to head. It is to work together to find a solution to the problem.
If a phone call is going in the opposite direction that you were hoping for, just tell the parent that you think it’s best that you reflect a little more and that you would prefer an in-person meeting (with administration if necessary) if that is possible.
Do your very best to never react with anger.
Remember, emails never go away. Consider the circumstances and determine if a phone call or meeting would be best. CC or BC administration if necessary and forward anything that you feel has stepped over boundaries to your administration as well. They would rather have a heads up than get an unexpected phone call from an upset parent.
Never continue to email back and forth with an angry parent. If your email was not received well, immediately suggest a phone call or meeting.
Be extra cautious of the words you use in an email. Always state facts and consider asking questions. “What do you think would be best?” “What do you do at home?” “What are they motivated by?” Have an open communication and be willing to listen to their ideas.
Be sure that you never use another child’s name.
Meet in the Middle
Sometimes it’s okay to apologize. If you made a mistake, fess up to it. You aren’t perfect, and that’s ok. Just be willing to apologize, learn from it, and grow as an educator. The parent will respect you even more and will be more willing to meet you half way if you are honest and open to other considerations.
Sometimes you may have to take a step back a little. Is what they are asking you to do really that big of a deal? That weekly behavior note may be necessary for that one student. It doesn’t mean you have to do it for every student. You do not have to bend over backward, but maybe you can meet in the middle.
Choose to be Positive
Stay positive and make those connections with your families. Send home a positive note about your students. Highlight the positive things happening in your classroom. Focus on finding something positive about every student. This will help pull you away from any negative or frustrating situations.
It’s easy to get mad and vent to your teacher bestie. But that just brings you both down. Find something positive in the situation. Sometimes I have to tell myself, “At least that child is lucky enough to have a parent who cares about him.” The truth is that I am more worries about the parents that I don’t hear from all year. It’s all about perspective!
I encourage you to pause and reflect when you feel a parent is challenging you. Set your boundaries, but consider meeting in the middle. I know that some days are going to be tough, but being able to communicate with parents when they are upset is vital. You are a team and in the end you both just want what is best for their child.
Have a Not So Wimpy day!