At some point, every teacher will have to attend a meeting to discuss a classroom issue (or issues) with a parent. While most of these meetings are a totally cordial, non-issue, standard part of the job, there are, of course, the outliers.
But no matter whether you’re looking forward to a meeting with a parent you’ve known for years or dreading a meeting with a parent who’s been openly hostile, here are some things that will help you have as productive a meeting as possible while protecting yourself in the process.
1. Come empty-handed
At the very least, make sure to have a pen and notepad. And I know scheduling doesn’t always make it easy, but unless you’re absolutely sure that your meeting will be a breeze, bring a fellow teacher or administrator. If you do, make sure to introduce them and explain that they’re there to take notes and offer insight if needed. Other things to consider bringing to help clarify points and move the meeting faster:
- Samples of work, and in some cases, samples of other students’ work (with names removed for comparison). These can be helpful when a parent is having trouble understanding why a grade from a rubric wasn’t higher.
- Documents that can be useful such as tardy logs, parent contact logs, class sign-out sheet(s), emails the student might have sent (or not responded to), screen shots from Google Classroom or other school management systems, etc.
- Data—grades, test scores, absences, etc.
2. Start on a rocky note
Look at the difference between these two meeting openers from a teacher:
“Thanks so much for being willing to meet today. I’m confident that between the three of us, we can address what’s going on with Logan and formulate a plan for moving forward. Does that sound good? OK, first of all, he’s a bright kid. …”
“My next class starts in 20 minutes, so I’ll just get right into it: I’m really concerned about Logan’s work habits. He rarely turns in anything on time, and when he does, it’s either incorrect or only partially done. I don’t know what to do anymore.”
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
In the same way that we wouldn’t want a parent making negative assumptions about us or the way we teach, make sure you’re not doing the same with their parenting. Ask questions of parents as partners (“Abigail is very sleepy during class. Are you seeing the same thing at home? Do you know what could be causing this?”) instead of people you’ve made up your mind about (“Abigail’s bedtime is way too late.”).
4. Agree to anything you’re unsure about
The pressure to say “Sure!” can feel overwhelming in a parent meeting, especially if you tend to err on the side of people-pleasing. But you can do more harm than good by agreeing to a plan, request, or suggestion that you haven’t had time to fully think through.
There’s nothing wrong with 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.”
5. Take the bait
Parent meetings can get stressful fast. Some parents may try to get you to comment on other children’s behavior or performance or what you think of school personnel or policies. Others might try to bait you into behaving unprofessionally with comments, questions, and tones they know to be reactive. Whenever the conversation edges into sneaky territory, be on guard and don’t give them what they want: unprofessional behavior or speech that they can then use against you. (This is another reason to have another person present in the meeting.)
However, if a parent moves from being unpleasant to being hostile, see my next point:
6. Tolerate abuse
If a parent ever starts yelling, using threatening language, or being physically threatening (even if it’s just standing up during a heated conversation), hopefully an administrator intervenes to end the meeting. But if they don’t for some reason, end it yourself. “It’s clear this meeting is no longer productive. We’ll reschedule for another time.” Leave immediately.
Note: Some districts will reprimand teachers for leaving a meeting without permission. If yours is this way, say, “I have a medical emergency I need to attend to immediately,” and bolt. There’s nothing they can do about that one, and they can get in big trouble if they pry about medical information.
What do you think teachers should never do in a parent meeting? Let us know in the comments.
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