Teacher's Guide to a Productive Parent Meeting
Meet with your Principal
You may start by visiting with your principal or administrator about your concerns. During this meeting you may be able to determine how much support the principal will be able to give you. It will be very important for the principal to support you through this process. Administrative support is crucial because you may very well receive opposition from Student's parents when you meet with them for the purpose of expressing your concerns and trying to figure out how to help Student. Some parents whose children are exhibiting learning, behavioral or emotional problems may think that their child is being "picked on" by teaching staff or classmates and may consequently be somewhat difficult to work with for the purpose of helping their child. This can be a normal reaction from parents. Frustrated parents may make a teacher's job very difficult. Having your administrator support you as you work through this problem can take a lot of pressure off of you, which in turn may make you more effective in managing the situation and helping the student.
Have a Staff Meeting
It may be important to have a meeting with staff who have contact with Student, and support staff (school psychologist, school counselor, etc.), prior to meeting with Student's parents. At this meeting, several things may be accomplished.
*It will allow all of Student's teachers, and other staff who have contact with Student, to discuss their concerns and share their views. It may be important to have a school psychologist, social worker, special education teacher, and/ or counselor at this meeting.
*Consulting with your colleagues about difficulties that arise during your career is a very good practice. It provides you with a degree of legal protection because you are actively seeking assistance from your professional cohort. It demonstrates that you are open minded, are acting in the best interest of Student, and recognize that no one person has all of the answers needed to successfully manage a teaching career. This is best practice.
*Consulting with your colleagues will help you better understand if your concerns are warranted. It provides staff with the opportunity to examine multiple views for explaining and understanding Student's behaviors.
*It allows the staff the opportunity to predict how Student's parents may react to being talked to about Student's learning, behavioral, or emotional concerns.
*It allows the staff time to plan for the best way to talk to Student's parents about concerns. This way, you can present your concerns to Student's parents without offending or scaring ship with them.
them, and can maximize the chances of developing a good relationStaff may be able to develop a tentative plan for helping Student.
Have the Parent Meeting
The purpose of the meeting with Student's parents is to:
- tell them about Student's learning, behavioral, or emotional difficulties
- tell them things that you have done to help Student thus far
- discuss ways that Student may be helped in the future, and
- determine how Student may be managed in the event s/he poses a threat to the safety of self, others, or property
In order to keep the meeting as productive as possible, it may be helpful to keep the following in ind:
Setting the Mood: The Key to Having a Good Meeting
1) When you contact Student's parents and invite them to the meeting, let Student's parents know who you will be inviting. This will keep them from getting surprised, scared, or angry when they show up for the meeting and see staff members other than you waiting to meet with hem.
2) Recognize that Student's parents may feel intimidated, especially if the meeting will be with a large group of people, such as a school psychologist, school counselor, teachers, and a principal. Take steps to make them feel welcome and comfortable. For example, offer them a place to sit down when they arrive. Offer them water, coffee, or a snack. Smile a lot, especially when you are talking with them. The point here is to make them feel welcomed and liked.
3) Be sure to talk to Student's parents in a nonconfrontive, and sensitive manner. Be aware of your voice tone, volume, and speaking rate. That is, people who are nervous or excited may speak quickly, loudly, or occasionally use a sharp tone without being aware that they are doing so. If you speak this way to Student's parents, you may appear angry, blameful, resentful, or nervous to them even though you do not know it and do not intend to do so. Appearing this way may make the meeting run less smoothly than it could if you appear calm and happy to see Student's parents. So, in short, monitor how you present yourself while you speak.
4) Recognize that parents who are concerned about their children may become easily offended and may react by doing such things as refusing to work with you effectively, blaming you for heir child's problems, and complaining to school administration about you.
5) It can be helpful to start the meeting by letting Student's parents know that you like Student. You may tell them a humorous story about something funny or cute that Student did in school. Or, tell them how smart Student is. Parents love to hear teachers brag about their kids! It lets the arent know that you have something in common; you both like their child.
6) Give Student's parents a chance to tell a humorous story about their child. It is important for them to feel accepted within the group. Letting them make the group laugh or chuckle can facilitate this.
7) Now, after you have built some rapport with Student's parents, it may be a good time to tell them why you have called the meeting.
8) Tell Student's parents that you like Student and are concerned about Student. Because of your concern, you have called this meeting.
Use Behavioral Descriptions
Try to describe your concerns in terms of Student's behaviors. That is, describe the actions that you have seen Student do at school that you are concerned about.
For academic concerns, be very specific about the learning difficulties that Student is experiencing. Use words that directly describe the learning difficulties that Student is having. This is important because it is easy to make the mistake of describing the learning problem using global terms and general statements which may not help the parents understand the type of learning difficulty that their child is having. For example saying "Student is really struggling in reading." provides a nice introductory statement to discussing Student's reading struggles, but is not in itself a sufficient explanation of the trouble that Student is experiencing in reading. An example of a specific statement may be helpful here. "Student is having difficulty sounding out letters when he reads." This provides the parents with specific information about the type of reading difficulty that Student is having. Specific statements are also important because they provide clues about the types of interventions that may be useful for remedying the situation. Providing samples of Student's work can also be useful in helping you "paint a picture" so that the parents form an accurate view of Student's struggles.
BEHAVIORAL AND EMOTIONAL CONCERNS:
It is even more important to use behavioral descriptors when talking about a student's behavioral or emotional concerns. For the purpose of illustration, we will use the name Tom in the following examples. So, instead of saying that "Tom is having problems with his temper." you could state "I saw Tom get mad three times this week in my class. While angry, he shoved his books off of his desk onto the floor. He swore at me, and he punched a classmate in the arm." Here's a second example. Instead of saying that "Tom is oppositional." you could say "On Tuesday, I told Tom that he had to finish his work or he would not be able to go outside for recess. Tom told me that he was not going to do his school work, and then he sat at his desk with his arms crossed." A third example may be helpful. Instead of saying "Tom has too much energy in class." you could say "Tom moves about and wiggles in his seat almost nonstop. He plays with his pencil and erasure during almost every class, pretending that they are such things as race cars and airplanes. While playing with the pencil and erasure, Tom makes loud noises which distracts those sitting nearby." As you can see, using specific behavioral descriptors provides much more information to parents and provides them with a "mental picture" of what their child is doing at school.
Last, after you have described Student's problematic or concerning behavior, be sure you tell the parents how, or in what way, the behavior is having a negative impact on Student's learning.
The Benefits of Talking about Behaviors
Talking about Student's behaviors in this way may do several good things for you:
- It may help you to appear unbiased to Student's parents and to your colleagues.
- It may help the parents form a "mental picture" of the problems that Student is having at school.
- It may help the parents share the same concerns about Student that you have.
- It may make it difficult for Student's parents to simply dismiss your concerns because it is difficult to "explain away" or minimize your concerns when you have provided specific examples and descriptions of Student's problems in behavioral terms.
If other staff members have similar concerns about Student, have them use the same behavioral method to describe their concerns to Student's parents.
Team Decisins and Parent Decisions
All people at the meeting form a team which is getting together on behalf of Student. The team should discuss possible courses of action for helping Student. One possible course of action that should be discussed is the possibility of conducting a special education evaluation to assess for the presence of a disability which may make Student eligible to receive special education services under one of your state's special education categories.
If Student's concerns appear to have a medical basis, Student's parents may volunteer to have their child examined by a physician, or other qualified health care professional, for the purpose of trying to figure out why Student is experiencing difficulties. It is important to acknowledge that such a decision is solely the parents to make, and not that of the educational team. Parents usually know what is best for their children. Since schools do not typically make referrals for students to visit health care professionals, it will be very important for you to avoid making such a recommendation. But, this does not mean that you cannot visit with a parent about a student's medical needs. You should also be careful not to provide Student's parents with medical advice. Many teachers make this mistake and put their careers at risk. Only a qualified medical professional can provide parents with medical advice. You should be aware of, and follow, your chool district's policies and procedures as they pertain to Student's situation.
Should Student Attend the Meeting?
It is very important to determine the appropriateness of having Student at this or similar meetings. Ask yourself the following questions to help determine if Student should attend:
Will Student feel "forced" to attend the meeting if s/he is asked to go?
The meeting will be focusing on Student and her/ his problems. If Student is at the betrayed, angry, self-aware, anxious, etc.?
How may attending the meeting help Student?
How may attending the meeting harm Student?
Does the potential help outweigh the potential harm of Student attending the meeting?