Finding the right words and setting the right tone can make difficult conversations with parents constructive and allow you, the parents, and the student to benefit.
When a student’s behavior, development, or academic progress has become a concern that a teacher must discuss with the child’s parents, just thinking about having that conversation can be very uncomfortable. The following strategies can be a guide to help you plan for any difficult conversations with parents and lead to a good outcome.
1. Serve a Compliment Sandwich
Snacks will probably not be served at your teacher-parent conference (although who doesn’t like snacks?), but opening and closing any difficult conversations with parents with positive comments provides for a good start and conclusion. Starting the conversation with “You have a really special daughter and she is an important part of my class” helps parent relax and know that you like and care about their child. Ending by thanking the parent for taking the time to talk with you conveys your appreciation for the parent’s concern for this problem. Sandwiched in between is the discussion of the issue you must bring to the parents’ attention.
2. Emphasize Teamwork
Assure the parent that parents and teachers are a partnership, and both of you want the best for their child. After clearly identifying the problem, be careful not to sound accusatory. Including the parent in a two-way conversation shows that you want to know what they have observed and think about the issue, just as you want them to listen and value your insights.
3. Ensure It’s Not All Bad
It’s important that parents know you care about their whole child, and your concern goes beyond the specific issue that has brought about the difficult conversation. If you have have shown concern about them at other times, such as when the student has missed school and you called to check on them, the parent will know that you do care about their child, not just the problem they are having. Showing the parent how the issue is detracting from what you know will allow their child succeed turns difficult conversations with parents into productive ones.
4. Ask What’s Happening at Home
The parents’ observations of their child at home can be very helpful in identifying and dealing with your concern about school behavior. Knowing how they react to similar situations away from school, or learning of a special situation that may be causing an issue at school may be a key to understanding and resolving the problem. Listening and finding a way to work together promises a good result from those difficult conversations with parents.
5. Keep Talking
Don’t avoid the difficult conversations with parents. Keep talking or communicating with them as often as possible. As with most things that get easier the more you do them, using all means available to talk with parents about their child allows you to become a better communicator. Make use of school folders, personal notes, phone calls, emails, or conferences to let parents know how their child is doing in your class. Don’t call them only when there is a problem. Let parents know the good things their children do, too. This will build trust and help parents be more receptive if a difficult issue does arise.
Learning how to have difficult conversations with parents is an important part of becoming a good teacher. Identifying a problem, discussing it with parents, and together finding a solution allows your student to succeed because you cared enough to have that talk.