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The angry parent's email

Several teachers have already received an email from an angry or upset parent. Our collaborator, Alexandra Coutlée, presents the winning conditions to re-establish the link with the parent.

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By Alexandra Coutlée, elementary and secondary education advisor, founder ofProfspace

It's happened to all of us before. The bell will ring in a few minutes, we take our emails and boom! An angry parent accuses us of not having given a clear explanation or even worse, of not loving their child. If we took the email in the evening, it can even eat up all our family time, because it goes through our heads…. and keep us from sleeping.

I personally don't know any teacher who wants a parent to think he doesn't love their child and who gets up in the morning to go teach and think he's going to do his job badly. We all care about helping students succeed and act in a professional manner. So what to do when you receive this kind of email.

Note: A small clarification here, however. In this post, we'll cover strategies for responding to emails from angry parents. I am talking about emails where the tone is accusatory (eg my son tells me that you did not explain this work…), but is not inappropriate or does not contain insults. If this is the case, we invite you to contact your school administration, before doing anything, to jointly establish a strategy to re-establish more harmonious communication with the parent in question.

Choosing the right way to communicate

First, for this type of email, it is best to set aside a time and speak by phone or video conference to the parent. It can be difficult to distinguish the tone used by email, and the situation can quickly escalate if the parent perceives your response as sarcastic (when it wasn't), for example. Despite the crying shortage of time in your schedule, taking the time to speak to the parent face-to-face will save you a series of emails that could make the situation worse… which would eat up even more time.

Create a caring relationship

The first winning condition to reestablish the bond with parents is of course to create a caring relationship. It involves developing a state of mind that helps create the openness necessary for the bond of trust to be built towards one another while respecting each other's role, spheres of action and specialization.

It is important to remain calm even if the accusations have upset you and to be open and listen, despite the emotions. If necessary, simply reply to the parent that you would like to arrange a time for a phone call. This call will likely take place after a few hours or the next day, giving you time to “settle”.

Avoid sarcasm or return attacks, which will only make the situation worse. The parent may have written emotionally, had to deal with a crisis, and found the only solution to write to you blaming you for the situation. In hindsight, the situation may have diminished in magnitude. It is easy these days, with technology, to write on the edge of emotion, at 10 in the evening, after a particularly difficult evening with your child. Don't do the same by responding impulsively. You risk breaking a precious bond with the parent.

Team up

Team up around the common positive intention; this is the second winning condition for coeducation. Always orient the exchange around the well-being and success of young people. This is the goal that each party cultivates according to its role.

Start the conversation by letting the parent know that you appreciate being able to talk to them and discuss the situation TOGETHER. Thank the parent for taking the time to let you know something was wrong and name your intention to work in co-education mode to find a solution. Make sure the parent is listened to and feels heard. Sometimes just feeling heard can work things out with the parent.  

If you really made a mistake, admit it. The error is human. In a spirit of co-education, we take into consideration the perspective of each one: teacher-parent-student as being the truth of the situation. This is the starting point to reframe and adjust towards the common positive intention. No one is lying, everyone has their own perspective on the situation and invalidating it doesn't lead anyone to a solution-mode state of mind. An exchange of perspective is necessary to then find, by mutual agreement, what will be the most effective as an intervention depending on the student.

Do not accuse the child of lying, but discuss with the parents by naming the facts (Maxime received the explanations in class on Tuesday, a document was given to him, I then met him in recovery on Wednesday to review everything with him…) and question the parent to understand his perspective and that of his child. Quickly decide with the parent on a way to involve the student, “Maxime seems anxious for this work from what I understand, because he is verbalizing you for not having had the explanations. I propose to meet him tomorrow before class and open a dialogue with him in order to better understand his questions and his perceptions. I also suggest that you write to you following this discussion to keep you informed. ”

End the conversation by thanking the parent for keeping you informed of their observations. This is the best thing that we can do together, on both sides, to intervene in a continuous and concerted manner and thus have the best possible impact on the well-being and success of the student. question. And why not end the conversation on a positive note by sharing something positive that you observed about the student in question!

The third winning condition: Communicate and listen!

There is no guarantee that you will not receive this kind of email. In a mentality of coeducation, people are not to be managed, they are to be known, recognized and accepted. You just have to find a way that is unique to each of the people involved in order to work well together.

"There is no resistance, unmotivated, uncooperative person, there are just people with their unique way of cooperating with us." Fletcher Peacock, solution oriented communication

Sometimes, you may need to call on colleagues or your management to assist you in certain situations. 

We don't know what some parents go through in their personal lives. Sometimes these attacks really don't belong to us. That doesn't mean it's easy to receive and that we should tolerate verbal abuse. I reiterate that you MUST ask your management for help if the tone rises and becomes abusive. No one should tolerate this kind of abuse.

Informing parents regularly is beneficial. Introducing yourself at the start of the year, giving our contact details, explaining how the class works, the class rules and the evaluations help the parent guide their child and avoid "But the teacher never explained it!" Regular, positive communication with parents builds teamwork and parent support. Despite our busy schedule, taking 10 short minutes to write to all parents to keep them informed could save us an hour-long conversation on the phone to set the record straight! It is also important to invite parents to do this as regularly. Co-education involves creating two-way communication. It suffices to frame and define the kind of supportive communication desired on both sides. After all, we all work for student success, why not do it together!

This is the second edition of this post. It was produced in collaboration with Stéphanie Dionne, facilitator in the digital age and member of the École branchée family team. Magazines, conferences, articles and capsules on co-education in the digital age are available: www.ecolebranchee.com/famille

Source: Coeducquer article: a school-family link to weave published in the Magazine École branchée edition H2018, free for download

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