7 Things Teachers Should Never Do in a Parent Meeting

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS



At some point, every teacher will have to attend a meeting to discuss a classroom issue (or issues) with a parent. While most of these meetings are a totally cordial, non-issue, standard part of the job, there are, of course, the outliers.

But no matter whether you’re looking forward to a meeting with a parent you’ve known for years or dreading a meeting with a parent who’s been openly hostile, here are some things that will help you have as productive a meeting as possible while protecting yourself in the process.

7 Things To Never Do in a Parent Meeting

1. Create a meeting without a clear start and end time

Even the kindest parents can accidentally get caught up in questions or socializing and turn a meeting that was supposed to last 20 minutes of your planning period into … well, your whole planning period.

Unless you’ve been told otherwise by an administrator, offer a 20- or 30-minute time slot. If parents are insistent before the meeting even happens that they’ll need more time, make sure an administrator is present in the meeting. Also, never agree to an after-school meeting with no exit strategy.

Start your meeting with a gentle reminder of the exit time. “Thanks so much for taking the time to meet today. As we discussed, we have until 4:30, but if we end up needing more time, we can always schedule another meeting.”

Have an exit strategy, even if it’s just an alarm on your phone you pretend is a phone call.

2. Come to the meeting empty-handed

At the very least, make sure to have a pen and notepad. And I know scheduling doesn’t always make it easy, but unless you’re absolutely sure that your meeting will be a breeze, bring a fellow teacher or administrator. If you do, make sure to introduce them and explain that they’re there to take notes and offer insight if needed. Other things to consider bringing to help clarify points and make the meeting move faster:

  • Samples of work, and in some cases, samples of other students’ work (with names removed for comparison). These can be helpful when a parent is having trouble understanding why a grade from a rubric wasn’t higher.
  • Documentation such as tardy logs, parent contact logs, class sign-out sheet(s), emails the student might have sent (or not responded to), screenshots from Google Classroom or other school management systems, etc.
  • Data—grades, test scores, absences, etc.

Think of yourself as a lawyer presenting a case. If you’re going to make a claim, evidence is stronger than hearsay.

3. Start on a rocky note

Starting on a positive note doesn’t have to look like rattling off a hokey list of carefully worded euphemisms. Set parents at ease by communicating that you are on their team, and that you want to work together on the next game plan.

Look at the difference between these two meeting openers from a teacher:

“Thanks so much for meeting with me today. I know between the three of us we can come up with a plan for moving forward that’s in his best interest. Does that sound good? I would love to start by listening. What do you hope to get out of today’s meeting?”

“All right, listen. My next class starts in 20 minutes, so I’ll just get right into it: Logan’s work ethic is garbage. He rarely turns in anything on time, and when he does, it’s either incorrect or only partially done. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Which teacher would you be more willing to work with?

4. Make assumptions

In the same way that we wouldn’t want a parent making negative assumptions about us or the way we teach, make sure you’re not doing the same with their parenting.

Start by assuming best intent on the parents’ part. Ask questions of parents as partners (“Abigail is very sleepy during class. Are you seeing the same thing at home? Do you know what could be causing this?”) instead of people you’ve already made up your mind about (“Abigail is going to bed way too late. What’s her bedtime? Or does she even have one?”).

5. Agree to anything you’re unsure about

The pressure to say “Sure!” can feel overwhelming in a parent meeting, especially if you tend to err on the side of people-pleasing. But you can do more harm than good by agreeing to a plan, request, or suggestion that you haven’t had time to fully think through.

There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I can’t commit to that right now, but I’ll make sure to circle back tomorrow when I’ve had time to think it through.”

6. Take the bait to react impulsively

Parent meetings can get stressful fast. Some parents may try to get you to comment on other children’s behavior or performance or what you think of school personnel or policies. Others might try to bait you into behaving unprofessionally with comments, questions, and tones they know to be reactive. Whenever the conversation edges into sneaky territory, be on guard and don’t give them what they want: unprofessional behavior or speech that they can then use against you. (This is another reason to have another person present in the meeting.)

However, if a parent moves from being unpleasant to being hostile, see my next point …

7. Tolerate abuse

If a parent ever starts yelling, using threatening language, or being physically threatening (even if it’s just standing up during a heated conversation), hopefully an administrator intervenes to end the meeting. But if they don’t for some reason, end it yourself. “It’s clear this meeting is no longer productive. We’ll reschedule for another time.” Leave immediately.

Note: Some districts will reprimand teachers for leaving a meeting without permission. If yours is this way, say, “I have a medical emergency I need to attend to immediately,” and bolt. There’s nothing they can do about that one, and they can get in big trouble if they pry about medical information.

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