It’s that time of year again: time to meet with the parental units for your students.
As the culmination of the report card season, the parent-teacher interviews are both a symbolic milestone for the year and a cathartic experience after weeks of built-up expectation.
In my experience, even after the most challenging of interviews, I have felt the experience to be worthwhile. Even when there is little or no common ground, I come to understand the parents’ position better, and at the very least gain some insight into my students’ home lives.
Of course, the reality is that for most parents all they want is reassurance that you truly know and care about their child. The rest is all secondary to this.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind going into your appointments, to make sure that you can minimize energy-depleting conflict or self-judgement:
1. Lower the Tension: Make Them Feel HeardFor many parents, one of the most stressful aspects of being in the school system is concerns around the loss of control over this area of their child’s life. The sense of institutional powerlessness is a real and legitimate fear. Even though parents have huge powers over deciding things like special education interventions, there really are many things they have no control over, from how you deliver the curriculum to how other students in the class treat their child. Validating the normalcy of these worries can go a long way to lowering any sense of defensiveness.
To be clear, you don’t have to agree with them; simply mirroring back what you hear can be a powerful tool. This also doesn’t mean tolerating overly aggressive or abusive behaviour directed at you. Rather this simply means that in most cases, acknowledging parents concerns can go along way to creating a sense of openness and collaboration.
2. Remember That the Parents Aren’t the Only Ones You are Talking to.When you sit down to talk to parents or caregivers, you are also sitting down with all of those individuals’ past experiences. This includes past parent-teacher interviews and their own memories of school: whether they felt included and supported or not. Furthermore, the self-identity of parents is intimately connected to their children. Perceived criticism of their child, therefore, can be experienced as criticism directed at them.
All of this is likely unconscious on their part, nor do you have any control over this dynamic. Just try to remember that whatever reactive behaviours do come up, it likely has infinitely more to do with them, their histories, and their own sensitivities or insecurities than it does with you. Hard as it may be, try not to take it personally.
3. Stay RealisticChildren are much more resilient than we often give them credit for. Just because you are unable to convince a parent of a need that needs addressing, doesn’t mean that you are now responsible for any resulting challenges in that child’s future. The fact is that in many cases, it can take years for parents to finally recognize and accept difficult truths about their children. While this can be difficult to witness, attempting to force an issue can lead to entrenching the other side in their position and can exhaust you in the process.
You are not superhuman, and 15 or 20 minutes is a very short time to ‘fix’ anything of consequence. Give yourself the gift of accepting your limitations and giving yourself credit for acting with integrity within them.
4. Ensure You Have an OutletMeeting with dozens of families in quick succession – often on emotional topics – is an incredibly intense experience. Often we finish one round late in the evening and are right back at it the next morning. As such, it is vital that you have an outlet to process all of this so that you do not carry it home with you.
What works best for you will depend on your disposition. Incorporating a walk into your return home, doing a few quick stretches before leaving the school, making a point to have a quick debriefing conversation with a friend or colleague can all be helpful. Also, taking 10 minutes to jot down some main impressions can be satisfying and help you process and integrate the experience more quickly. Feel free to post to our Parent-Teacher Interview Sharing blackboard.