Tips and Ideas / Oct 20, 2016

5 Practical Tips for Handling Difficult Conversations with Parents


Study after study reveals that parental involvement is critical to a child’s academic success. Let’s be honest – scientific data is confirming what practicing teachers have known all along – parent engagement is a foundation for child’s successful mental development. When it comes to teachers dealing with difficult parents, not as much research can be found. Still, teachers definitely have plenty of “anecdotal evidence” to share. Trying to get the parents of a student on board with participating and playing a key role in their child’s learning process isn’t always easy! Whether it’s an innocent misunderstanding or an open conflict, all teachers have a fair share of these experiences under their belt. When dealing with challenges in parent teacher communication, it takes practice, patience, and a little finesse. Here are five tips to help you to handle difficult conversations with parents.

Show empathy, offer alternatives

First, fine-tune your communication to the parents. Show empathy in your voicemail and e-mail messages, and let the parent(s) know that you understand they’re busy and you’ll try to accommodate their schedule. Acknowledge that you see and appreciate their efforts to be the best parents they can possibly be. If circumstances require it, give a time-poor parent an alternative to attending a face-to-face conference. Offer to talk through the issue in a brief phone conversation, or even to jump on a video call.

Start with the positive

Second, always begin by acknowledging the student’s positive attributes. This usually puts the parent at ease and they become more receptive to what you have to say next. Then, tell them you have some concerns about one particular area. Even while discussing child’s poor performance, do your best to stay positive. Let the parent(s) know that you are confident their child can overcome, improve, or stop a particular behaviour.

Present an action plan that involves parental support

Finally, be ready to present an action plan to help the child improve that includes the parent in the solution. Suggest how the parent can support the child at home and complement your strategies in the classroom. Remember that parents might not be familiar with “edu-speak” used by teachers – be clear, straightforward and assure the parent that the child can overcome the problem and succeed in your class if you all work together toward a solution.

Remember ongoing parent teacher communication

One of the reasons why parent teacher communication might be challenging? It just doesn’t happen often enough! Parents attending a parent teacher conference only a couple of times per year are understandably anxious about meeting the teacher, not knowing what news they can expect about child’s performance. Establishing regular baseline communication reduces the pressure and makes the teacher seem more approachable and trustworthy. It’s very challenging to jump straight into very personal and difficult discussion that has to take place sometimes. Simple solutions such as an automated weekly newsletter can help build trust and reduce the distance. Many parents these days are avid smartphone users, always multitasking and dealing with issues “on-the-go”.  Using a free mobile app such as our ClassTag app can open an important channel for direct, honest and instant communication. A win-win!

Child’s wellbeing comes first

Having gathered feedback from thousands of ClassTag users, we understand the challenges that teachers face in the classroom everyday – dealing with difficult parents shouldn’t be a stumbling block. Improving your communication skills, accentuating the positives, presenting a workable action plan and communicating more often will help to smooth out the rough edges of stressful conversations. Lastly, whatever you do, avoid imposing your point of view or passing judgement. Not all the families are perfect but an overwhelming majority of parents wants what’s best for their children, just like you want the best for your students. This shared goal is your safe meeting point and a way to build rapport with parents  -  despite the differences, you’re all acting with child’s best interest in mind.

If you’re looking for more ways to improve your communication with parents, make sure to avoid these 5 common mistakes which keep many teachers stuck and stressed. Get ahead of miscommunication today and start building deeper relationships with parents by joining ClassTag today, for free.

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