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Challenging Parents in the Classroom


For teachers faced with turning around the attitudes of parents.

For teachers faced with turning around the attitudes of parents.

Published in Self Improvement , Education
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  • 1. Making Peace with Parents by Kate Ahern
  • 2. Agenda
    • Introductions
    • Preventing Controversy
    • Setting the scene for conversations with parents
    • During the Discussion
    • Effective Problem Solving
    • Rules of Engagement
    • Three Possible End Points
    • Tips and Techniques
    • Ending an Unproductive Conversation
    • Break
    • The Parent with Mental Illness
    • The Out of Control Parent
    • Identifying and Coping with Difficult Behavior Patterns
    • Brainstorming Activity
    • Case Studies/Role-plays
    • Taking Care of Yourself
  • 3. Preventing Controversy Round Robin
    • What Upsets Parents:
    • Lack of communication
    • Failure to stick up for kids and overreaction
    • Defensiveness and rigidness
    • Breaking promises and dishonesty
    • Unwillingness to Admit Mistakes and Apologize
    • Disrespectful and Unprofessional Behavior (rudeness, condescension, lashing out, breaking confidentiality, being asked for advice and it not being taken etc.)
    • Assumptions and Stereotypes
    • Fear (that child is unsafe or unfairly treated at school, of the unknown etc.)
    • Internal Issues of the Parent
    • Adapted from “How to Deal with Parents Who are Angry, Troubled, Afraid or Just Plain Crazy” by Elaine K. McEwan 1998 Corwin Books.
  • 4. Preventing Controversy
    • Communicate regularly, clearly and effectively
    • Verbalize caring for kids
    • See the big picture
    • Be open to constructive criticism
    • Don’t take things personally
    • Don’t make promises you can’t keep – or at all
    • Be honest
    • Admit when you are wrong and apologize with sincerity
    • Be respectful and professional
    • Be punctual
    • Avoid jargon
    • Be open-minded and tolerant, don’t assume
    • Know and respect cultural differences
    • Create a safe classroom and school
    • Quell fears with information
    • Educate yourself about issues faced by today’s parents
    • What else?
  • 5. Remember the Golden Rule
    • Treat parents the way you would like to be treated.
    • There are no caveats on the Golden Rule; you should treat people the way you would like to be treated even if you feel they are being accusatory, disrespectful, rude or ignorant.
  • 6. Setting the Scene
    • When in person
    • Shake hands and be welcoming
    • Snacks and drinks are never a bad idea
    • Sit “eye to eye and knee to knee”
      • Stay at eye level, not above or below the other person (have enough big people chairs available)
      • Sit face to face, don’t hide behind your desk
    • In group settings be aware of seating patterns avoid “us vs. them” seating
    • Introduce everyone
    • Set a time limit and stick to it
    • Be prepared, use data
    • Take notes, use quotes
    • Consider displaying your qualifications, diplomas, etc in your classroom or office
    • Consider having a witness or someone on call to mediate
  • 7. Setting the Scene
    • On the phone:
    • Try not to make or take calls in the late afternoon when you are tired and cranky and so is the parent, return calls first thing in the morning, never make a parent call you twice
    • Have a plan, be prepared, use data
    • Set a time limit and stick to it
    • Consider having a witness
    • Take notes, use quotes
    • If you don’t have all of the information explain that you will find out what you need to know and call them back
  • 8. Setting the Scene
    • In writing:
    • Proof read and have a colleague proof read – not just for grammar and spelling but for tone
    • Consider all notes, on paper or via e-mail as professional documents – use your alphabet soup after your name, use letter head or official e-mail address
    • If you cannot respond to a note or e-mail within one school day then let the parent know when you will reply
    • Keep photocopies of written notes and print and save e-mails in case you need them
  • 9. During the Discussion
    • Be aware of body language and tone (yours and other peoples)
    • Listen first, listen well and listen between the lines
    • Consider using the mirror technique and reflect back to the parent what you have heard
    • Ask sincere questions, seek to understand fully
    • Be open minded
    • Express empathy and understanding
    • Be tactful and gentle
    • Remain calm and confident
    • See the big picture
    • Present options and avoid backing anyone into a corner
    • Remember “charm and disarm”, not “shock and awe”
    • Monitor your own emotions – if you start to feel angry (or any other powerful emotion) try to connect to its source (i.e. anger usually comes from feeling hurt) and work to remember not to take anything personally. If nothing else work to bite your tongue and not act on emotions.
  • 10. Effective Problem Solving
    • Identify the problem
    • Explore the causes of the problem and everyone’s interests
    • Set a goal to solve the problem
    • Look at alternative solutions
    • Select an alternative and create a plan
    • Implement plan
    • Evaluate results and fine tune the plan
    • Adapted from
  • 11. The Rules of Engagement
    • Should push come to shove remember to use the rules of engagement
    • You are a professional
      • No sarcasm, yelling, rudeness or otherwise questionable behavior
      • Listen (with sympathy) before you talk
      • Be willing to compromise
      • See the big picture (it is more important for Susie to do her science project herself than for you to have the last word or force her parents into admitting they did the project)
      • Avoid accusations and “trigger” words
    • Listen, remain calm and demonstrate empathy and understanding
    • Focus on one issue at a time (“Today’s meeting is about ___, let’s focus on that.”)
    • Don’t take anything personally
    • Know that you both have the best interest of the child at heart – remember parents send the best kid they have to school, they’re not keeping the good kids at home
    • Keep data and have a witness
    • Involve the administration if needed
    • And, again, you are a professional
    Gmail - Inbox (17)
  • 12. Tips and Techniques
    • Give respect and insist on it in return (Try the customer service hotline technique, “I’m sorry but I cannot continue this conversation if you are going to curse (or shout, or make unfounded accusations, etc.)
    • Ask “What can I do to improve this situation?”
    • Say “You need to do what you think is right.” when the parent insists on going to an administrator etc.
    • Turn the question around, “What would you do to make this situation fair to everyone if you were in my shoes?”
    • Listen attentively without interrupting or arguing
    • Set limits
    • Make silence your friend
    • Make your point without demanding the last word
    • Repeat the rule that you are following – broken record technique
    • Remember Kenny Rogers – “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.”
    • As a good scout always “be prepared” (do your homework)
    • Re-state limits – i.e. “I only have ten minutes for this phone call, but I am willing to set up a follow-up call tomorrow or meet with you next week.”
    • Listen for the “question behind the question” and say, “I think you may be asking about ____ .”
    • If you know the type of behaviors you will be facing in a meeting or phone call prepare a strategy with colleagues, role-play possible situations and create and carry a “tip sheet” to remind you how to approach the situation
  • 13. Three Possible End Points
    • Consensus
      • Everyone comes to an agreement on what the problem is and how to approach solving it
    • Compromise
      • Both or all parties agree to some of the provisions of what the problem is and how to handle it
      • Everyone works in the spirit of cooperation on solving the problem
    • Confrontation-Capitulation
      • If parties cannot agree on what the problem is, how to solve it or both and they cannot find a compromise the end result is confrontation, capitulation or both.
      • This may lead to a placement or class assignment change, legal action or further administrative involvement
  • 14. Ending an Unproductive Conversation
    • Know when to cut your losses, perhaps saying, “let me try to find out more about the situation and let’s schedule a time to talk (or meet) next week.
    • Interrupt venting to say, “It is important I know how you feel about this but I only have about five more minutes. What would be the most productive way for us to end this conversation?”
    • Go back to the original topic, “I hear that you have many concerns you want me to know about, I will follow up with ____ and perhaps you could put the rest of your concerns in writing for me?”
  • 15. The Out-of-Control Parent
    • The moment a conversation becomes out-of-control set limits. (“If you are going to curse or use abusive language with me I am going to have to end this conversation.”)
    • The same “hairy eyeball” you use with students can be highly effective when a parent begins to become out of control.
    • If the situation becomes volatile, state that you are willing to meet again, but with administration present and you will not continue to meet right now.
    • Report all threats of violence to the administration and the authorities.
    • Take all threats seriously.
    • Trust your intuition, if the meeting starts to feel unsafe leave.
  • 16. Difficult Behavior and Challenging Positions
    • Some Types of Difficult Behavior
      • Complaining and Negativism
      • Bullying
      • The Silent Treatment
      • Knowing It All
      • Passive-Aggressive
    • Difficult Parent Positions
      • Clingy Parents
      • The no show
      • Activism without cause
      • What else in your experience?
  • 17. Complaining and Negativism
    • He or she
      • May shoot down every idea and view everything through a negative lens
      • May complain constantly about their child, even when child is doing well or is present
      • May constantly complain about you or the school system
      • Will seem to only want to complain with no interest in solutions
      • May have a bark that is worse than the bite
    • Why does he or she acts like this
      • May have no sense of power or no desire for power – may actually be very passive
      • May be worn down, depressed or tired and have no supports or not know how to use supports
      • May honestly doesn’t know what to do
    • What to do
      • Listen first, fact find together if you can
      • Beat them to the punch, bring up the negatives yourself first and dismiss one by one with logic and data
      • Stay positive, but realistic – don’t make promises
      • Turn negative questions over to the entire group
      • Stick to the facts, don’t offer opinions if possible
      • Give them power, “How do you want us to solve this?” (especially if they are shooting down every solution)
      • Insist on a problem solving approach
      • Try find a solution without accepting or placing blame
      • Ask what results they would like the conversation to end in – you may just agree with the answer
    • Example: “Montana says you let all the other kids play a game during recess and she had to do math… . She says that she didn’t know she had to finish her class work if she wanted to play the game.”
  • 18. Bullying
    • He or she
      • May believe that he or she always right, no matter what.
      • May demean those who disagree with him or her, sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly.
      • May insists on getting his or her own way.
    • Why he or she acts like that
      • Need to prove him or herself, may come from low self-esteem
      • Dislike of weakness
      • Sense of entitlement
    • What to do
      • You may feel personally and/or professionally attacked – don’t take it personally
      • Do not engage in argument because the Bully will win, he or she has more practice
      • Address them by name
      • Assertively express your option without negating his or her opinion if possible
      • Some experts suggest interrupting rants with a distraction
      • Be ready to make friendly overtures if you gain his or her respect
    • Example: “Johnny WILL bring his MP3 player to class! It helps him learn!”
  • 19. The Silent Treatment
    • He or she may act
      • Silent
      • Passive-Aggressive
      • Apathetic
      • Not follow through
    • Why is he or she behaves like that
      • Possibilities include inability to express fear, rage or other intense emotion and/or apathy
    • What to do
      • Ask open ended questions
      • Make silence your friend and use a friendly, anticipating gaze during the silence
      • Avoid power struggles
      • Comment on the interaction between you or the body language of the individual
    • “ Do you have any questions about the IEP Mrs. Jones?” No reply. “Is there any you would like us to add, Mrs. Jones?” “I guess not.” She says.
  • 20. Knowing It All
    • How he or she behaves
      • These parents are experts. Not only on their own child, but also on everything else from curriculum to pedagogy and beyond.
      • They may seem condescending and arrogant
    • Why he or she acts like that
      • They believe knowledge is power and feel more secure when they are “in the know”
      • May like to show off/like attention
      • They fear being wrong or out-of-control
    • What to do
      • Be ready, know your facts, do not try to “fake it”
      • Build off of the knowledge they espouse
      • Praise their knowledge and hard work learning the information, that may be all they need to calm down
      • Present alternative views without telling them they are wrong only as a additional source of information
      • Respect their opinions and listen empathetically
      • If you need to correct their information consider doing it through firm questioning
  • 21. Passive-Aggressive
    • How he or she may act
    • Sarcastic, jokes at others expense
    • Potshots and indirect criticism
    • Criticism by comparison
    • Does not follow through with commitments
    • Why he or she behaves that way
    • Afraid of direct conflict
    • Not empowered to share opinions in another way
    • Depressed, low-self esteem and doesn’t know another way to interact
    • What to do
    • Keep bring discussion back to issues instead of personalities
    • Refuse to allow sarcasm by kindly asking it be discontinued
    • Get commitments in writing
  • 22. The Clinger
    • Views child as delicate or in need of constant assistance
    • Hoovers around and clings to the child
    • Does not want the child to take risks or face challenges
    • The child is a primary source of their self worth
    • Attempt to ally fears with information and examples – show them what the child can do
    • Be personal and caring, but a role model of confidence in yourself and the child
    • Try to avoid allowing them to over-engage or redirect attempts to control you or the child by giving other assignments if they insist on volunteering
    • Example: “Robbie (age nine) cannot do all of the work you assign. It will take him too long and he needs time to relax and just be a kid. He’s just a little boy. You need to give him less work.”
  • 23. The Activist
    • Favorite statement is, “That’s not fair.”
    • Insists you, the school, the district, the American education system and possible the entire world is unjust towards his or her child.
    • May like to bring up lawyers.
    • Example: “Sarah is allergic to bees, she cannot possibly go on a trip to that farm! If she can’t go then the whole class shouldn’t go! She will feel left out and it isn’t fair!”
  • 24. The No Show
    • The no show – this child’s parents think he or she has better things to do than school. Things like sleeping in, going shopping, going on a trip and sometimes even actually important things like the dentist, orthodontist or allergy shots. The parent insists you make allowances because it is no the child’s decision, even if the child is in high school.
    • Example: “It is hard for Melissa to wake up in the morning, I don’t see why you have to be so hard on her for being 30 or 45 minutes late.”
    • Example: “We are going on vacation in two weeks. It is cheaper to fly in March, you know. I need you top make a packet of Jim’s work for him so he won’t get behind.”
  • 25. Other Tricky Parent Behaviors or Attitudes…
    • ?
  • 26. Parents with Mental Illness
    • Approximately 1 in 4 Americans will suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in their life
    • Most of this 25% of adults will have mild or short lived illness
    • A smaller number may have longer term or more serious mental illness requiring more intensive treatment
    • Any level of mental illness can impair ability to parent, but with proper support and intervention parents with mental illness can do an excellent job
    • A parent with untreated or active mental illness may be inconsistent, have mood swings, be unable to participate in their child’s education or have other symptoms
    • The same advice applies to situations that require working with a parent who has mental illness (follow the golden rule, be respectful, listen, be empathic, set limits, etc.)
  • 27.
    • Case Study 1a (elementary school)
    • Today you taught a lesson on germs and proper hygiene. It was a great dynamic lesson and as a follow up you assigned the students to read a social skills story about a child who has poor hygiene but changes his ways. At 3 pm the phone rings. It is Allison’s mother, you have had a good relationship with her in the past and are surprised to hear from her. She tells you in no uncertain terms that the follow up reading was disgusting and she will not have her daughter reading anything so nasty. What do you do?
  • 28.
    • Case Study 2 (middle school)
    • Today was the class trip to a local museum. It was a good trip and you are tired, but happy at the end of the day. The phone rings and it is Ryan’s mother. She is irate and you can barely understand her. Finally you realize that she is angry that you made Ryan go to the end of the line in the museum gift shop. She doesn’t seem to know that you had Ryan do this because he cut everyone else in line and shoved another child out of the way. What do you do?
  • 29.
    • Case Study 3 High School
    • At eleven at night you finish grading all of the end of term reports your students turned in earlier in the week. You scan through your grade book and see that Bill has not turned in the report – again. The next day you pull Bill aside and remind him of your late policy (ten points off for each day late). Bill just nods and walks off. The next morning his mother is in your room waiting for you. She insists Bill finished the project and put it on your desk the day it was due; you must have lost it. What do you do?
  • 30. Discussion Groups
    • Divide into work groups; school based teams are recommended
    • Choose a type of challenging behavior and a typical school situation
    • Discuss the techniques for working with the parent in the situation
    • Create a roleplay/skit to share with the larger group (not everyone needs to be in it)
  • 31. Taking Care of Yourself Before, During and After Difficult Conversations
    • Before
      • Create a plan
      • Discuss your options with colleagues or administrators
    • During
      • Take deep breathes
      • Don’t take anything personally
      • Think about keeping your posture relaxed (ungrit teeth, lower shoulders, release clenched fists, avoid jittering)
      • Write a positive message on your notes to remind you to relax and use new techniques
    • After
      • When you are ready find someone to process the conversation with, chose someone who will listen with empathy and validate your feelings (maintain confidentiality)
      • If a group meeting debrief together after the meeting, try to end the debriefing in laughter or at least smiling
      • Do something relaxing just for you