Dealing with difficult parents is virtually impossible for any educator to escape. When I was in high school I remember walking into the football coach’s office and more than once he would say, “Derrick, don’t ever become a coach or teacher.” At the time, I didn’t understand why he would say that. In my mind coaching and/or teaching were the greatest possible careers I could venture into and the only downside might be the pay.
After my first year of coaching and teaching, it hit me one day what he was talking about. Dealing with a difficult parent is something that can be stressful, exhausting, and has led to many great teachers leaving the field. I saw my football coach a few years ago and asked him if he remembered telling me that. He said that he did and I told him I was pretty sure I had figured out what he had meant. When I told him it was because of difficulties with some parents, he told me that dealing with those types issues was his least favorite part of his job.
As a school administrator you can bet that you aren’t going to make everybody happy. You are in a position where it is necessary to make difficult decisions. Many decisions won’t be easy. Parents especially will challenge many of your decisions particularly when it comes to student discipline and grade retention. It is your job to be diplomatic in the decision making process thinking every decision through without being rash. I have found the following things to be helpful when dealing with a difficult parent in a school administrator’s capacity.
Be Proactive. I have found that you can deal easier with any parent if you can build a relationship with them before a difficult situation arises. As a school administrator, it is important for a number of reasons to build relationships with the parents of your students. If the parents are on your side, then you typically will be able to do your job more effectively.
I personally go out of my way to talk with those parents who have had a history of being difficult. My goal is always to be friendly and personable and to show them that I genuinely have the best interest of all my students in each of my decisions. It isn’t the end all solution to deal with difficult parents, but it can help considerably. Building those relationships take time and some people are resistant and combative to you trying for whatever reason. Being proactive isn’t necessarily easy, but it can very beneficial.
Be Open Minded. Most parents who complain genuinely feel like their child has been slighted in some manner. Although it is easy to be defensive, it is important to have an open mind and to listen to what they say. Try and understand where they are coming from. A lot of times when a parent comes to an administrator with a concern, they are frustrated and they need someone to listen to them. Listen to what they have to say and then respond in as diplomatic a manner as you can. Give them the best explanation that you can and be as honest as you can with them. Understand that you aren’t always going to make them happy, but it will help if you can prove to them that you will take everything they have to say into consideration.
Be Prepared. It is important that you be prepared for the worst possible situation when an angry parent comes into your office. You will have parents who storm into your office cursing and screaming and you have to handle it without getting emotionally wrapped around it. Anytime a parent comes into my office in this manner, I immediately ask them to leave. I explain that they are more than welcome to come back when they can have a calm conversation with me, but until then I will not talk to them. If they refuse to leave or calm down, then I call the local police and let them come and take care of the situation. In these types of situations, you better be prepared to place the school on lock down because you never know exactly how an angry parent might react.
Although I have never had it happen, it is possible that a meeting will turn combative once inside your office. You should always have some way to communicate with another administrator, secretary, or other school personnel just in case a meeting does turn hostile. You don’t want to be locked in your office without a plan to get some help should that situation arise.
Another important aspect of preparation is teacher training. There is a hand full of parents who will bypass a school administrator and go straight to the teacher in which they have a problem with. These situations can turn really ugly if the parent is in a combative state. Teachers should be trained to direct the parent to the school administrator and to walk away from the situation and then immediately call the office to inform them of situation. If students are present, then a teacher should immediately take measures to secure the classroom as quickly as possible.