How to manage difficult conversations with parents

Astrid Schön

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The vast majority of parents want their children to get the best out of their education. They will support teachers with managing their child’s learning, behaviour and progress, and will continue the care from school to home seamlessly.

When teachers ask for parents’ support, most parents are more than happy to provide it. They will implement strategies at home to ensure that their child functions in lessons and treats members of staff with the respect they would want to see from their child at home.

On some occasions, parents are unable or unwilling to support their child’s behaviour in school. This could be for a number of reasons, from having had negative experiences with teachers at school themselves, to issues with authority, from wanting to please their child who might be domineering or not wanting to rock the boat at home.

A great number of teachers have been accused of ‘picking’ on a student, by the student themselves and by their parent who chose to believe their child without having heard both sides of the story.

Most parents will be happy with your personal account of concerns you might have. For some, this will not be enough and you need evidence.

When dealing with these parents, it’s essential to be prepared. Your account of the student’s behaviour or attitude towards you will not be enough for the defensive parent.


Depending on what you’re addressing in the meeting, you must have data from either the school’s MIS system on behaviour incidents over a period of time, as well as your own records, from your lessons only, with dates, times and a brief description of the incident.

Depersonalise your dealings with the student – make sure the parent understands that their child’s behaviour is preventing them from learning and making progress in your lessons.

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Describe the behaviour, in detail, if need be. The parent must understand and be able to visualise, even recognise their child’s behaviour.

Let the parent know that you care about their child’s progress and that you need their support in ensuring that learning takes place in lessons, not just for their child’s sake but also for the benefit of the other students, as they usually tend to be affected.

Ask the parent for support and advice on how to get the best out of their child. Any teacher who wants the best for their child will be hard to argue with.

Don’t be afraid to defer the meeting or get help if you feel unable to resolve the issue in that particular meeting or if it becomes clear the parent is unwilling to support you.

Stay calm and insist on your mantra of learning and progress if the parent is unwilling to accept that their child’s behaviour or attitude is an issue.


Tell the parent that you will keep them informed but make sure you get your line manager to support you in a follow-up meeting should the student’s behaviour and attitude not improve.

The best follow up is to ring the parent when the student has been behaving well or if they completed some pleasing work in class. This will show the parents that you also recognise good behaviour and when their child is trying.

Having a good relationship with a challenging student’s parents is essential, and in order to avoid conflict and get support, we need to nurture it.

Having a good relationship with a challenging student is equally important – it’s well worth the time and effort as they will trust you, work for you and follow instructions for you.

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About our Community Expert

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Astrid Schön
Community Expert

With 15 years of experience in mainstream schools and over four years in alternative provision, Astrid has worked with the most able as well as the most disadvantaged students in London.

She is currently the Deputy Head at London East AP, the pupil referral unit in Tower Hamlets, one of the largest in the UK, leading on many teaching and learning initiatives to address underachievement of students in both mainstream and AP. Astrid also leads on curriculum development, assessment and strategic development of the pupil referral unit.

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