Every teacher will eventually be required to participate in a meeting with a parent to talk about a problem in the classroom. Although most of these meetings are completely amicable, problem-free, and expected as part of the job, there are always exceptions.
But regardless of whether you're anticipating a meeting with a parent you've known for years or dreading one who has been overtly antagonistic. We have prepared some steps you can take to protect yourself while still having a successful encounter.
1. Arrive unprepared
Make sure you have a pen and a notepad at the absolute least. I understand that scheduling can be difficult, but unless you are positive that your meeting will go without a hitch, consider bringing a colleague teacher, or administrator. If you do, be careful to introduce them and let them know their purpose, which is to take notes and, if necessary, provide insight. Additional items to think about bringing to help with clarification and speed up the meeting include:
- Samples of work, and occasionally, examples of work by other students (with names removed for comparison). When a parent is unable to comprehend why a mark from a rubric wasn't higher, these can be helpful.
- Documents that may be helpful to include class sign-out sheets, tardy logs, parent contact logs, emails the kid may have sent (or not replied to), screenshots from Google Classroom or other school administration systems, etc.
- Grades, test results, absences, etc. are data.
2. Begin with a rough note
Take a look at how these two meeting introductions from a teacher differ:
“Many thanks for agreeing to meet with us today. I'm sure the three of us can talk about (Logan's) situation and come up with a strategy for the future. Does that make sense? He's a clever kid, first of all, I'll say that.”
“Because my next class doesn't start for another 20 minutes, I'll just get right to it: Logan's work habits genuinely worry me. He rarely submits work on time, and when he does, it's usually incomplete or inaccurate. I'm at a loss on what to do now.”
Starting on a positive note doesn’t have to look like rattling off a hokey list of carefully worded euphemisms. Set parents at ease by communicating that you are on their team and that you want to work together on the next game plan.
3. Make assumptions
Make sure you're not making the same assumptions about their parenting as you wouldn't want other parents to about you or the way you teach. As a pair, pose questions to the parents, such as "Abigail looks quite drowsy in class. Do you observe the same thing at your house? Instead of persons, you have preconceived notions about ("Abigail's bedtime is way too late. Do you know what could be causing this?"), use open-ended questions.
4. Agree to anything you’re unsure about
In a parent meeting, the urge to respond "Yes!" might seem overpowering, especially if you have a tendency to be overly accommodating. Yet if you accept a plan, request, or proposal without giving it enough thought, you can end up doing more harm than good.
Saying "I can't commit to that right now, but I'll make sure to circle back tomorrow when I've had time to think it through" is perfectly acceptable.
5. Accept the bait
Parent meetings can quickly become tense. Some parents could try to get you to offer your opinion about the conduct or performance of other kids, the teachers, or the school's policies. Some may use comments, questions, and tones that they know will make you respond by trying to provoke you into doing inappropriately. Be alert if the conversation veers into murky territory, and resist the urge to engage in impolite conduct or comments that they can later use against you. (This is yet another incentive to invite a guest to the meeting.)
However, if a parent moves from being unpleasant to being hostile, see our next point:
6. Tolerate abuse
Perhaps an administrator will step in to interrupt the meeting if a parent ever starts shouting, using obscene language, or acting violently (even if it's just standing up during a heated discussion). But if for some reason they don't, put an end to it yourself. This meeting is obviously no longer fruitful. We will reschedule for later. Take off right away.
For leaving a meeting without permission, instructors may receive reprimands from some districts. Say, "I have a medical emergency I need to attend to urgently," and run away if yours is like this. They have little control over that situation, and if they inquire about medical information, they risk serious consequences.
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