Tania Farran, EdD, has 25 years of experience in education, consisting of 14 years of teaching and 11 years as an administrator. During this time, she has been both an elementary administrator and a high school administrator. Having great conversations with parents and creating partnerships for the benefit of the child is something Tania is passionate about. She loves her career working with children and adults and feels as if she learns something new each day. She recently wrote a book ‘Raising The Well-Adjusted Child: A Parent’s Manual’. Tania holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Missouri St. Louis, a Master’s in Administration from Lindenwood University in Missouri, and a Doctorate of Education from Missouri Baptist University.
“Help! I am not sure why my child is acting this way! I don’t know what to do.”
I have heard this many times from parents of children during my time as an educator. Throughout my 25 years of being an educator (14 years as a teacher and 11 as an administrator), I have learned that having courageous conversations with parents can be challenging and rewarding all in the same breath.
Conversations with parents about students’ challenging behaviors and varying academic abilities requires a strong skill set in communication. In order for solutions to be presented and improvements in student outcomes to be made, conscious and courageous conversations are crucial.
I have found that teachers who are just beginning their careers have minimal experience with providing solutions to the problems that parents are experiencing with their children. As an administrator, I’ve had to guide many teachers through a process to help them work with the parents and provide a positive outcome for everyone involved.
I believe that teachers who are new to education do not have the confidence in guiding a parent on certain topics, such as improving behaviors, encouraging academic growth and handling regression, discipline, routines, and other behaviors. Some new teachers think parents should know how to help their own child and that the teacher should not intervene. That is simply not true; there are many parents who need support and guidance on parenting their child. They will often look to educators for that assistance. Even though new teachers have skills in teaching academics, they do not always have the skills to talk to a parent about tips and strategies to help their child succeed in school or at home.
Many times, new teachers are much younger than the parents they end up working with. This age difference can make them feel less confident in providing solutions to parents. When I have worked with new teachers, they have come to me with a problem and even with a solution, but they are worried about calling a parent and delivering the support. Teachers are sometimes intimidated and afraid to point out academic or behavioral problems because they are not armed with the tools on how to have these conversations.
There are many great topics that colleges and universities use to help future educators prepare to help their students academically. I have always thought there needs to be a class titled, “What You Really Need to Know About Being a Teacher.” Courageous Conversations could be one unit. This course would allow the student to learn how to talk to a parent, use the appropriate tone of voice, mind their body language and facial expressions, suggest effective strategies, provide written notes to the parents, follow up with the family, and celebrate the successes.
The first time a teacher is confronted with a negative conversation from a parent or has to call a parent about a negative situation in the classroom can be very intimidating. Practicing and learning how to have courageous conversations with parents can make all the difference.
Here are some of the tips I use to guide my new teachers when they begin the school year.
They are also great reminders for all of us who work with children:
- Pick Two – Prior to having a difficult conversation, come up with one or two aspects that the child/parent could work on so as not to overwhelm the parents. Don’t focus solely on the negatives because there is always good in every child. Make sure you are looking for the good too.
- Build Rapport – As important as it is to build a relationship with the students in your school, it is also important to build a positive relationship with the parents. Making sure that your first interaction with a parent is positive requires you to reach out early in the school year.
- Call the Parents! – It is critically important for teachers to have the courage to call parents when they have a concern about a child’s behavior or academic progress. I promise you that parents would prefer to hear from the teacher before the situation escalates to the level of principal involvement.
- Listen to the Parents – Take the time to listen to them and hear what they are saying. Try to truly understand their side of the story.
- Their Child – Don’t forget that, ultimately, the student is their child. Always remember that you are talking to them about their child who they love and care for. Choose your words carefully and make sure they understand you care about their child too.
- No Judgments – Check your judgments at the door. Do not judge the person you are talking to; you do not really know their situation. Be kind and compassionate to their needs.
- Be Kind – It is hard to be a parent, so treating them with kindness is always a good idea. Emphasize that you are working for the betterment of the student, their child.
- Chunking – Break suggestions into small, manageable chunks. Think of a few ideas for the parent to implement, so you don’t overwhelm them or make them feel inadequate. Bombarding them with a laundry list of things their child is doing wrong will send a negative message.
- Follow-up – Set a follow-up meeting with a parent to reconnect and check in on how things are going. At the meeting, determine next steps for all parties. Consider another follow-up meeting depending on the situation.
- Celebrate – Recognize the student’s and family’s successes! No matter how large or small. Working together and watching a student learn and grow builds a great foundation for teachers and families.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg, but it is a very good starting point for courageous conversations with parents. Helping teachers learn communication skills allows them to work with parents to implement effective interventions. In turn, our society and the next generation of children will become more well-adjusted.