By Jennifer Foster (@goodmorningmsfoster)
One thing I am always asked about is how on EARTH do I approach a parent whose child I believe to be the Horrid Henry or that mean girl with the braces from Finding Nemo in real life? Ok no one has ever said that. But you know, similar vibes.
You have a child in your class who is displaying behaviour that has got you scrunching up your face in bafflement. Teaching really is the worst form of wrinkles am I right? Maybe it is physical, maybe it is verbal, maybe it is continuous low level behaviour. Whatever it is, it is something you would prefer not to tell to their parents, face to face, because let’s face it. It’s awkward.
It’s weird because it is not something that you are taught in University, or even during CPD when you are a fully-fledged teacher with parents left, right and centre. So you just get dropped in the deep end. Sometimes you swim, sometimes you sink, or sometimes, just sometimes you find a life boat. I am here to float you to safety. Are we done with this analogy? Ok here are my 10 top tips for nailing a (would be) awkward parent meeting and doing a celebratory boomerang mic drop.
1. Check your tone
Tone is everything! The first few sentences and gestures you make are so important to the success of the meeting. I normally say ‘Hey, thank you so much for taking the time to come and meet me, I hope it was not far too travel?’ something like that. It immediately eases them and they feel like I am not the enemy. I will then lead on with some riveting small talk about how the stairs in this building are my main source of cardio and the wonderful British weather. Do not, I repeat do not, walk to the place of the meeting in silence. Ergh, nothing worse! Even if you need some small flashcards ready, do it!
2. Say nice things
Obvious, but often overlooked. When you are setting up a meeting in your head you are like OH MY GOD THIS CHILD IS SO WILD HOW? HOW DID THIS CHILD BECOME SO FERRAL? IT MUST BE YOU! I BLAME YOU! This needs to be locked away into the cupboard, preferably the one where Narnia is. You need to completely detach your negative emotions with this child and any negative behaviour that this child has displayed. Before your meeting, think of at least 2 or 3 good things to say once you have sat down. ‘How do you think xxx is finding school at the moment? I know there are some behaviour issues but I am so impressed with xxx writing/contributions/team work etc’ There is always something positive to say and it is absolutely your job to highlight that.
3. Get a bit intense
Look, they don’t know you. They know they are probably here for a bad reason. You need to drop some truth bombs on them. I normally go with ‘I know xx has had a few behaviour concerns/difficulties in other year groups/not always found school easy etc you choose your opener. But this year/term is going to be different. I really care about xxx and I know how special xx really is. I want xxx to flourish at school and I am honestly not going to give up on xxx. But I will need your help to get there. Can we work together on this? That’s it, they are ease, they feel like they can talk to you and the meeting can fully begin.
4. Know the facts
You were going in to a meeting without evidence? Are you crazy? Get your CSI self together! If a teacher has said this child has hit another child you need to know when, who else was there, talk to witnesses, where did it happen etc? Does it take a long time? Yes. What is the alternative? Oh hey parents, yeah, your child hit someone. When? Erm not sure? Did anyone see? Ahh good question. Even though you know, I know and they probably know, if you don’t have the facts it is pointless. When I start noticing repetitive bad behaviour I start to keep a behaviour log. When, where, what happened, possible triggers and how I dealt with it. That way you have a clear reason when you do hold a meeting. Now I am not saying go in with a 60 page bound behaviour evidence book because that is just going to really impact the tone of the meeting! I would mention 2-3 incidences that have led to this meeting and be ready with the facts!
5. Propose possible triggers
It is also your job to try and figure out why this is happening. You cannot come into a meeting and say a child is constantly talking during Maths and only Maths and it is unacceptable. It is your job to think hmm if a child is only talking in Maths is it because it is too hard? Too easy? The person they are sat next to? The time of day? Are they hungry? Tired etc? You need to come with some ideas. I would share whatever your ideas are and then on to the next part…
6. Don’t leave them out
Ask them what they think! There is nothing worse than you making assumptions about their child without asking them if they have an opinion. The amount of times I have gone into a meeting and got to this point and I swear you could hear the penny drop. ‘We have just moved house.’ ‘He is saying he is getting bullied.’ ‘She isn’t sleeping at the moment.’ They are so important. They have a perspective of this child that you cannot see and you need them to shed that light. Sometimes this part of the meeting can be the end of the meeting. Be open minded, be concerned and value what they have to say.
7. Provide solution paths
If it is not the end of the meeting and they either agree with you or are unsure. This is where you come in with a plan. Preparation is the key to elevation at this point. Discuss with your mentor, manager, leader etc what this should be in line with the school. Is it a behaviour plan? Is it a change of seating? Is it a now and next board? A timer? Fiddle toy? Honestly there are multiple solutions here because I have absolutely no idea what your context is. But, make sure you have a plan ready. This, also, is part of your job. This meeting is not about sitting down these parents and having a whine over a glass of wine…see what I did there? It is about you, yes you, a professional, identifying an issue and coming up with a plan to solve said issue.
8. Don’t leave them out…again.
Think of this like a chorus to your meeting, keep checking in with them. What do you think of this plan?
9. Set your next date
You, the child and the parents need to feel accountable for this plan. Set a date to which you will all work to. This gives the plan more momentum. Depending on the context I generally give 1 – 2 weeks. Now you can choose to meet up again, call them, email them, contact them through Class Dojo but the point is, you are not going away. You care about their child and you are going to come back with plan. Do not say anything formal like ‘review’ or ‘evaluate’, they will run for the hills. Just say you can all get together/touch base and see what is working and what is not so we can move forward in the best way. Then I would get them to sign something (meeting notes write up is best) just so you have evidence that they have agreed.
10. Mail trail
When the meeting is done you should have come up with a plan they have agreed to and a date to review (forbidden word) this. It is not time for your mic drop. Listen, you do not know how the next weeks are going to go. It is always best to have some digital back up in your favour. The parents may turn on you, argue the meeting didn’t happen, say something happened that didn’t, I know these sound crazy but they are all examples from experience! My suggestion is to follow it up with an email. Even if it is not to them, maybe it is to your deputy head or line manager. Just write down the outline of the meeting, main highlights, the plan involved and when you will review. Take a photo of the signature and scan it in. Yeah I don’t know how to scan either. Why is it this mysterious task? Just email the photo to yourself and attach it to the mail trail email.
VOILA! Mic drop, slow mo catwalk and get back to your classroom to finish your marking your glamorous thing you!