It’s that time of year for parent-teacher conversations and that means you’re probably meeting – or speaking in-depth – with some parents for the very first time. As the learning guide for their children, these first impressions are important…and sometimes stressful.
What makes a parent-teacher conversation successful isn’t based on how great a teacher you are, how much you’ve prepared or how snappy you’ve dressed on the night.
It’s about the parent. How you respond to their questions, comments and concerns will make or break you in their eyes. Unfortunately, there’s no blanket approach to pleasing parents – you must adjust based on their personality.
While most parents will (hopefully) be a delight, there are 5 personality types you should prepare for:
1. The Blamer
They live by a simple philosophy: Blame first, ask later.
Their child is having issues? Your skills as a teacher are lacking.
They’re acting up in class? You’re not giving them enough attention.
They fail to complete tasks? Your lessons aren’t engaging or challenging enough.
Explanations are taken as excuses, and they’re more than prepared to let you know their thoughts.
Solution: Be an active listener, and above all else, let the parent get their feelings out before responding to their concerns. It can hurt to have accusations thrown at you, but remember: it’s not personal, they’re scared for their kids.
You might not be able to solve it in one sitting, but you can begin building trust by asking questions to clarify concerns and avoid miscommunications. Have examples of their child’s work and their results handy so you can go through it together an offer optimistic suggestions for improvement.
2. The Homework-er
At first, you were impressed by your student’s expansive vocabulary. Did you have a child genius on your hands? It became notably less impressive when you realised their in-class assignments looked very different. We’ve all met this specific brand of helicopter parent, and while they’re usually well-intentioned, you know they’re not doing their kid any favours.
But you also know telling them off won’t help anything.
Solution: Start the conversation by trying to understand why this is happening. Are there concerns that are driving the parent to complete homework assignments? From there, you can begin a wider discussion about the benefits of learners completing tasks for themselves. Give concrete examples of how any perceived ‘failures’ and frustrations are often valuable insights for you as a teacher and help personalise instruction for the student.
3. The Know-It-All
These personality types are often very intelligent, but they harness their energy in a patronising fashion. It can feel like they’re waiting for you to fail so they can correct you.
Again, this isn’t personal. It might stem from their experiences with previous teachers or their past schooling; they might even feel they need to prove something to you.
Solution: Start by finding things you both agree on – the success of their child and your student. From there try to build a partnership. Assign specific responsibilities for both of you. Making it about teamwork, rather than competition, can help these parents feel more in control and will reduce their focus on you.
4. The Ghost
While this parent does give you peace and quiet, it often feels worse than listening to a know-it-all. You’ve never seen this parent; they won’t return your calls and you’re starting to think this might be a situation where the student may not be getting the educational support they need at home.
It’s important to remember that not all parents feel comfortable in a school setting. There may be communication or language barriers, or a negative experience with their schooling that keeps them at bay.
Solution: Getting a certain parent in the classroom might be impossible but that doesn’tt mean you can’t communicate with them in different ways. Try finding a touchpoint that works for this parent and is comfortable for them – whether that’s an email update, a video conference call, or regular phone call.
5. The Contender
Whether it’s on the sports field or in the classroom, competition can be useful in the right context.
But it can be taken too far. You may hear Competitor Parents loudly announcing their child’s good marks and brushing over their bad ones. They might feel victimised when another student does better than their child on a test.
Solution:The root of competitiveness is usually insecurity. When you understand that these actions come from feelings of inadequacy it can help create a more compassionate response. Acknowledge their childrsquo;s successes and never discuss any other students in the class, even if the parent brings it up. Focus on the positive attributes of their child and how these strengths can serve as cornerstones for improvement in other areas.
As stressful as the conversations can be, remember that it’s not personal, be as prepared as you can be, and that:
Our students are their children. We’re in this together.