When was the last time you heard someone say, “And where were the parents?” or “What’s going on with parents these days?” There’s no doubt that social mores have shifted over the years, but ultimately parents today, just like parents 50, 60, even 150 years ago, still want the same thing: They want what’s best for their child.
That being said, we’ve all encountered “challenging” parents—and that’s never going to change—so here are a few tips, courtesy of educational leadership experts Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore, to help you create parent partnerships and navigate these relationships with grace and poise.
Parent Partnerships: Are you managing challenging parents gracefully?
You don’t have to prove who is in charge
Who are the most effective teachers at your school? Think about this for a second. Chances are that these teachers share a common characteristic: They don’t feel the need to prove who is in charge. Now picture some of the less-effective teachers you may know or even have had as a student. How often do/did they feel the need to assert their authority? Constantly, right? And the more these teachers asserted their authority, the more students resisted it, yes? This idea applies to how you work with parents, too.
Resist the urge to be right. Likewise, resist the urge to be sarcastic or patronizing and most important, resist the urge to prove who is in charge. Parents already know you are in charge of your classroom and it won’t work in your favor to remind them. Instead, listen, model appropriate behavior and remember something: You may have different ideas as to how to achieve it, but they want what’s best for their child just like you do.
Allow parents to hiss—not bite
In their book, Dealing with Difficult Parents, Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore recount an old Bengali tale about a cobra who used to bite passersby as they made their way to the village temple. As time went by, more and more people were struck by the snake; eventually, people became so fearful that they stopped going to the temple altogether. When the master of the temple heard this, he used a mantra to put the snake into a state of submission. Then he spoke to the snake and made it promise never again to bite the people who walked along the path.
The snake kept his promise and life went on as usual. But it wasn’t long before the snake was being taunted and drug around on its face by mischievous boys. When the master of the temple heard this, he visited the snake and found him bleeding and nearly in tears…all because, the snake said, he had kept his promise to the master. After hearing this, the master replied, “I told you not to bite, but I didn’t tell you not to hiss.”
Here’s the moral of the story: Parents who lash out, yell or insult us are “biting”—and we should always make it clear that abusive behavior is intolerable. However, we must know the difference between “biting” and “hissing.” When parents “hiss,” they are simply questioning the way we do things—and they are perfectly entitled to do so. Drop your defenses and listen. If you can distinguish between a “hiss” and a “bite,” and if you don’t feel the need to prove who is in charge, you should have no trouble keeping your head up and making your way to the temple as usual.
If you’re looking for a few more ideas for nurturing relationships with challenging parents, we recommend that you check out two of our other blogs, Parent-Community Education Programs Impact Student Achievement and Create parent partnerships by using 5 of the best apps for educators.