In a school the size of mine, there are bound to personality clashes. When that clash happens between a teacher and parent, the one person who usually suffers most is the student. When a teacher on my staff and one of our parents clashed, I needed to step in...
A parent and one of my teachers -- who runs and after-school tutorial program -- do not see eye to eye. They seem to hold little, if any, respect for one another. The parent was making sounds about pulling her child from the program because of her disdain for the teacher. The teacher considers the parent "off the wall," negative, argumentative, and "beyond salvation."
I decided to set up a meeting between the parent and teacher. I would be present to serve as the buffer that was needed.
When meeting time arrived, both the parent and the teacher toned down their rhetoric and their feelings of animosity as I worked to keep the meeting focused exclusively on the needs of the child. With the child as the focus, the parent and teacher were able to agree that it was in the youngster's best interests to continue in the tutorial program.
I also got the parent and teacher to agree that all future meetings between the two would include the child's classroom teacher, who is an extremely positive person and someone both the parent and teacher respect.
Another issue, a side issue -- the child's test anxiety -- came up during the meeting. I recommended that the parent consider setting up an informal conference with our school psychologist -- another very positive person -- to discuss that issue.
Although it is too early to tell, this might have been one of my best "saves" ever. The parent and teacher both have high-voltage personalities. If push came to shove, neither was likely to back down and compromise or apologize. My efforts to bring them together on neutral turf seemed to do the trick. Both sides were well behaved and even somewhat conciliatory. I doubt that would have happened if they had tried to hold a one-on-one meeting; that meeting would simply have served as an opportunity for each to air mutual grievances. By keeping the focus of the meeting on the child, the child was sure to win. In this case, by keeping the focus on the child, everybody was a winner!
I believe that this parent/teacher combination will continue to need an intermediary to survive, but that's OK because the child will be the beneficiary of reduced tensions between the family and the school. In addition, if the parent takes my advice and conferences with the psychologist, the youngster will likely learn some valuable relaxation techniques.
About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. How I Handled team members are anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.