During your years as a head teacher, you will no doubt have encountered more than your share of curve balls. Tightened budgets, dipping profitability, worrying exam results, truculent students and rogue teachers (to name just a few) – all of which you have to rectify while being the calm, approachable and steadfast face of the institution. It takes a huge dose of diplomacy (not to mention, mettle) to mediate the differing expectations of board members, staff, students, and parents. Working with parents is often the most tricky to manage, given that they pay the fees and expect nothing less than a gold-plated education for their precious children.
As difficult as parents can be, there are plenty of habits to add to your arsenal of parent management strategies
When working with parents, it’s worth iterating the obvious: communication is key. You’ll already be adept at responding to parents’ queries swiftly. That said, another important part of communication is ensuring that the parents feel listened to and understood. The exact way you do this will depend on your unique way of managing these situations, and the parents themselves.
Communication can be made that much easier with a bit of administration
Working with parents becomes a lot easier with a little preparation. Keeping track of what’s going on with a handful of students is manageable. Keeping track of what’s going on with hundreds of students and their parents requires considerably more organisation. If you’re not already doing so, record all your interactions you’ve had with each student and their parents. An angry parent will only become angrier if they feel that you’ve already forgotten about an issue that they or their child voiced the previous year.
Hand in hand with communication is compassion
When managing demanding parents, a healthy dose of compassion is essential. As rude or uncomprehending as the parents can be, it’s essential to remember that they’re acting from a place of love and worry for their children. Their behaviour is in no way a reflection on how well you’re running your school. The best way forward is to acknowledge their frustrations, instead of becoming defensive and justifying your position. Make the interaction about them and their child, instead of about you or the school’s priorities.
Once you’re happy that a parent feels heard and understood, you can educate them about your school’s processes
Education and setting expectations are paramount to working with parents, especially those who are concerned about whether their child is receiving the best possible education. As well as educating the children, you need to educate the parents on your processes and how your school ensures that students are progressing towards solid exam results and a good university. A problem parent is simply a parent who doesn’t have the right information yet. As Nietzsche posited, “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how” – this often applies to parents. Manage parent expectations and you’ll circumvent future problems too.
Use your wisdom to resolve conflict, but don’t be afraid to refer parents to another support resource
You have a trove of wisdom about the challenges faced throughout secondary school by students and parents alike. Use this when working with parents to alleviate their fears and concerns. But also remember that you’re always free to refer these parents to another support resource if you feel they would benefit more from that. By providing this line to another support system, you go a long way to building a healthy relationship of trust between you and them – one that’ll preclude future conflicts.
Prevention—through community building—can be the best cure for conflict
Working with parents doesn’t have to happen following a grievance. Reaching out to parents before there’s an issue is another way of fostering a healthy connection with them. Get parents involved in school life or simply check in with them once or twice a term to gather feedback about any aspect of their child’s education.
Offer your students and their parents something that goes over and above their qualifications
As we touched upon earlier in the article, educating parents about the process involved in guiding their children from secondary to higher education, and then onto work, is an incredibly effective way to reassure them. By offering their children a platform that goes over and above their A level qualifications, you’re signaling that your students’ long term future is top priority.
Curriculo’s Industry Engagement Programme is a skills development programme that develops and advances work readiness skills (skills for jobs) in students, helping them plan their future careers. If you’d like to find out how this can benefit the students in your school, contact us today.