Administrative Guidance for Working with Challenging Parents

Wed, Jan 23, 2013

Administration, Uncategorized

By Dr. Amy Burkman
Program Director, M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision

Partnering with parents to provide the best education for a child can be one of the biggest challenges for a teacher, especially when the parent is hesitant to join forces. As a teacher and as an administrator I experienced two types of parents that have difficulty maintaining positive relationships with teachers: parents who are hesitant to come to schools and interact with educators and parents who are over-involved and fail to see teachers as professionals. I firmly believe that we need to work with all types of parents, including the two challenging types.

Working with these parents can create additional strain on a teacher’s job. I have compiled a list of simple things that can greatly enhance home-school relationships with challenging parents:

  1. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” This simple phrase has saved my skin many times. When a parent came in with a complaint or an issue I took time to validate the parent. This statement does not assign blame and parents feel that you are not being defensive. It can help carve through difficult conversations.
  2. “What do you think we should do to fix this situation?” If you pair this with #1 you have a sure fire way to diffuse a tense situation. The “we” indicates that you want to work with the parent, and that the parent is a valuable part of the learning environment. There is no “I” in team!
  3. Don’t wait for a parent to contact you with a problem. If you see a child doing something really well, contact the parents and let them know. Parents are conditioned to believe teachers will only contact them when there are problems. Surprise them and show you are looking for the good in your students.
  4. Send personal invitations to school events. There are parents who do not believe that the school welcomes them. This could be because of bad experiences, cultural differences, or just not wanting to bother the teacher. When there is an event, don’t just send home a generic invitation or announcement. Personalize the invite. Address it by name and/or refer to the student specifically.
  5. If there are issues in communication, such as a deaf parent or one who doesn’t speak English, make the effort to find a translator. This could be an app on your phone or a live person. Do not rely on the student to translate and do not require the parents to find their own translators. Take the initiative and show you care.

While these steps seem simple, these tools can greatly enhance the communication process with parents. As the professional, it is the teacher’s job to make sure all parents are welcome and that communication is effective.


About the Author:

Amy Burkman is the Director of the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership at APUS. Prior to moving to higher education she was a school administrator, a teacher, and a school librarian. She received her Doctor of Education degree from Texas Christian University and she holds educator certification in Texas, where she resides with her family.

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