Look out! Here they come!
How is it possible that they could have come up so soon?
Ours start in a week and a half, at which point we begin a conference marathon and knock out 20 of our 22 conferences in two days. I don't know how everyone else does it but this will be our very first time with this schedule and I foresee exhaustion the following weekend. The toughest part for us is dealing with difficult parents. The easy ones are a breeze. They are the ones that respect your instincts and your experience, the ones that trust you and yearn to hear your perspective of their child's development and learning. Most parents are easy to talk to and communicate with but there is the minority, who are either in difficult situations themselves, struggling with anger management, mental disorders, angst, lack competent social skills or have just chosen to act out their life's struggles on you. Some difficult parents display aggressive, threatening, insinuating and even abusive tendencies while others are incompetent, anxious or denying. These parents will drain you until you have nothing left if you let them.
Dr. Michael G. Thompson has done an incredible job of identifying the typology of difficult parents. He is a wonderful resource for both teachers and administrators and holds workshops that can give you great tips on the best way of handling your most difficult parent. Maybe you are dealing with a parent who is accustomed to power, intellectually arrogant, chronically dependent or overly involved....if you find yourself dealing with a parent like this you need help and guidance. A year is a short amount of time but it can feel like an eternity when dealing with parents like this.
Dr. Thompson has so many great suggestions but the one that Alexandra and I try to remember with every parent regardless of their complaint or issue but always with the "Aggressive Parent" is: NO OFFENSE, NO DEFENSE!!
- Don't defend your actions
- Don't counterattack
- Just listen.
- Only explain your point of view when you are ABSOLUTELY certain that the parent is ready to listen.
If the parents attack gets intense, start to articulate and verbalize what is going on and what you are hearing them say..." Are you angry with me because I hear a lot of tension in your voice?" or even "You are so insulting that I am unwilling to continue this conference at this time. Allow me to call you to reschedule." Most importantly, try not to deal with the parent(s) alone and post conference - consult with school psychologists and colleagues. Dr. Thompson is also a strong believer in role playing and having practice meetings before the actual one occurs.
The "Denying Parent" denial is the other most confronted at conferences. This parent may be disengaged, incredibly busy or depressed.
- Get as blunt as possible with these parents.
- Put everything in writing and be blunt.
- Be sure to be as descriptive as possible and in the end, do not be afraid to give up. Dr. Thompson thinks that there is a time to just back off knowing that someone else will get through to that parent in the future.
Alexandra and I have dealt with difficult parents in our past and I am sure that we will deal with some during this go round of conferences. We try to avoid it by getting to know parents with quick morning talks, we also ask for questionnaires and ask about their expectations for their child. We try to keep each other calm and remind each other that in the end we are doing the very best we can for the children. It is hard to remember in those tough conferences that our job is not to please the parents but to make certain that we are true to our students, ourselves and our schools. Our goal is an open partnership with the parents but if they do not trust you or like you it is difficult to establish a viable connection. The one thing that Dr. Thompson does not mention is not taking things too personally. but that can be hard to do. When a parent has offended you or your co-teacher it can be hard to wipe the slate clean as we do with our kids each day and start again....but we have to try, don't we?
Last year, we started to begin our conferences by asking the parents what their concerns are so that we did not run out of time. We would love to hear about your techniques for dealing or even an example of your most difficult parent and how you dealt.
** The majority of suggestions that I have offered to you were taken from notes that were offered at a Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D workshop. He is highly reknowned and the suggestions here are just the tip of his iceberg. Visit his website at http://www.michaelthompson-phd.com/workshops.htm :-)