Creating partnerships with parents is sometimes extremely challenging. I’ve upset a few parents in my career as an educator, often inadvertently. When we think that we are “right” as a teacher or school leader, we sometimes push back trying to prove our expertise. After all, we are the ones with multiple advanced degrees, right? We worked hard to become experts in our field, right? We are the experts then, right? Wrong. What we really do is drive a major wedge into a relationship that we should have with our parents and our students get caught in the middle of a battle over [whatever issue].
Time after time, the following three issues frustrate parents and drive that invisible wedge between us and our parents. While I know that there are more frustrations out there, here are three that always seem to appear at the top the list:
Frustration #1: Misinformation or the lack of information can frustrate parents.
Shelley Burgess wrote a powerful blog about her experience with her child’s school when trying to get some information about the school calendar and assessment schedule. Through a maze of phone tag and poor customer service, this can be extremely frustrating for parents. They might need information to better help their children. Does your school website include as much information about any issue that parents may need to know about? Does your website have updated information and not old phone or e-mail lists that expired three years ago? Do you disseminate information in more ways than just using “web-ways”? Have you created a team of parents to help you brainstorm what they might need to know and why? If you don’t fine tune your customer service palate for parents, the beast of misinformation and the lack of information will surely put you behind the 8-ball with your parents. And, frustration can lead parents down the pathway of mistrusting the school or feeling that you could care less about helping them when they need to simply just know something.
Frustration #2: Disrespect or the lack of sincerity can frustrate parents.
This is pretty straight forward. An educator who looks or sounds uninterested probably is uninterested [or just tired, overworked, etc.]. Sincerity and active listening goes a long way, though. Wearing your heart on your sleeve goes a long way too. Chatting with parents, conversationally, and paying close attention to your conversation is a cornerstone of all human activity. So, be human.
Frustration #3: Building walls and moats.
Walls that are built to separate parents from educators [or the school, in general] can frustrate and anger parents, but walls may actually enrage parents because of the off-standish or aloof vibe that they may be getting as they are always trying to advocate for their child, not give you grief. Parents don’t wake up in the morning and think: Boy, I am going to carve out some time in my day just to mess with the school.
So, how are we off-standish? This category includes stuffiness, political hoops that parents are asked to jump through, bureaucracy, or waving a school policy document at a parent in order to prove a point or support a position that you feel you have to defend. Parents want you to know about their perception of what happens with respect to their children. They don’t want to fill out lengthy forms, listen to circular logic about why you are doing something a certain way, or why other school districts are doing [it] the same way too. They want to interact with a human being, first, and an educator, second. So ask yourself: Are you placing walls between you and your parents without even realizing it? Do you meet with parents by sitting behind your desk with your degrees hung on the wall behind you? Do you use educational jargon and acronyms that parents don’t understand? All of these things create a formal, stuffy environment that parents just don’t need.
The good news is that you can reflect on everything that you are doing, change what needs to be changed, and move in the direction of loosening up and enjoying being the great human being that you are, first, before resorting to the stuffy, politicized educator or school leader that we all know you don’t really want to be anyway. That is the platinum spirit within all of us and a spirit that ultimately can build incredible alliances with parents that goes beyond these three bronze, silver, and gold award winners of frustration.
Rick Jetter, Ph.D. is the author of various books in education and the co-founder of the Dunk Tank series.