When you meet with parents you need some basic ground rules to guide your behaviour, and stop you from being reactive to their agendas and moods (yours as well as theirs).
This list of ground rules is NOT exhaustive but it may prompt you to embrace your own.
1. 1.Work ‘from the best interest of the child’ when meeting with parents. The child’s best interests are often lost when there is conflict between the school and family. It’s replaced by winning the day, which is largely about ego. Who’s side are you on? The child’s.
2. 2.Separate your person from your position. Your relationship with a parent is first and foremost a professional rather than a personal relationship. When you work from your person the meeting you may think “I hope they like me?” When you work from your position you will think “I hope I’m effective.”
3. 3.Prepare yourself with the facts, figures and documentation. It’s not always possible to have everything you want at your fingertips but do your best to produce documentation to support you if conversations become difficult. Produce the proof to negate denial.
4. 4.Match the time, place and format to the requirements of the meeting. An informal meeting with a parent at drop-off time may be ideal to give some good news about a child’s learning break through. However it’s probably not the best time or place to talk about a child’s difficult behaviour. Better that type of conversation occurs during an arranged meeting. Get the match right.
5. 5. Find out what the parent knows. Whether you or a parent calls a meeting, let the parent fill you in on what he or she knows about a situation before you give your take on it. Get the parents’ viewpoint first.
6. 6.Remember that parents won’t always follow your rules. Teachers by nature are rule-oriented, procedural people. Education generally demands adherence to policy and procedure. Parents aren’t necessarily bound by adherence to the same rules of conduct and behaviour as you. Be alert, but not alarmed.
7. 7.Look for the educative moments. There are many times in meetings and other interactions with parents that you can educate parents about children in general, good teaching and learning practice and school protocols and procedures. Remind them what they know rather tell.
8. 8. Make it the best experience possible for parents. Will parents leave a meeting or interaction with you saying that that was enjoyable experience? Will they leave feeling listened to and valued? Will they tell others of the professional way that they were treated? A bad experience travels a lot faster and further than a good experience.
9. 9. You can’t be a free agent for a parent. There are times when parents may want you to go way passed what’s reasonable for their child. While special circumstances require specialised responses you can’t operate outside normal protocols and procedures. You represent a school that represents a system.
1010. Every parent wants the best for their child. If this is your default mechanism until proved otherwise you’ll come across as empathetic and understanding of what life may be like for the parent. What’s their world view like?
1111. There are many ways to be right. Many parents think outside the proverbial square and, like kids, resolve problems using weird and way-out methods. If it’s not harmful and the problem is solved then why not?
1212. Be careful what you promise. In the interests of creating good feelings in a meeting it is easy to promise more than you can deliver in the classroom, playground or learning centre. Know when to fold them. Know when to hold them.