Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this advice from Communication and Motivate: The School Leader's Guide to Effective Communication by Shelly Arneson. This piece provides school leaders with strategies for mediating parent/teacher conferences.
What better opportunity to role model the kind of communication skills we want to have with our teachers than to ask to sit in on parent/teacher conferences? Even though it might seem like a burden of time, we need to always be ready, willing and able to attend conferences, especially if the teacher anticipates difficulty or tension with a parent.
Sometimes having that one objective person in the meeting (and that would hopefully be you) can help smooth out rough edges and encourage everyone to be on their best behavior. A few years ago, a teacher asked me to attend a conference with her and the parents. She was worried that, after some past experiences, the parents might become confrontational. Of course I was happy to do so, but I told the teacher to be sure to let the parents know that I would be attending to answer any questions they might have.
I wanted to make sure that the parents didn’t feel like we “school folks” were ganging up on them. This is a necessary step because parents do feel ganged up on sometimes. In honestly and openly asking parents what they fear most about having multiple attendees at parent/teacher conferences, the response sometimes comes out, “I’m afraid you’ll just take the teacher’s side.” How can this be, we ask ourselves, when teachers are sometimes afraid we’ll do the same with the parent’s side?
It is a thin balance beam upon which we walk when we mediate to ensure the trust of both parties. The role in mediation, therefore, is not to pass judgment on either teacher or parent but instead to set the stage for an effective dialogue between them and reflect back what each party says. A simple problem-solving process works well in this case:
A counseling professor in graduate school passed along some very sound advice about facilitating and mediating. “Trust the process,” he said, “and step out of the way the best you can.” Why is it so hard for us to “trust the process” as instructional leaders? Look at us—we have budgets to balance, positions for which to interview and hire, discipline to deal with, facilities to maintain. This job forces us to take the reins, sometimes seven days a week (faulty air conditioners and deaths in families know no difference between weekdays and weekends).
“Trust the process!” we cry out. “You must be kidding!!” But trust it we must if we are to build and maintain relationships with our teachers and parents and ultimately model what we want our teachers to do. Here are some tips to mediating that can be very effective:
Pre-conference, as necessary, with each party to assess their willingness to come to an agreement. No good can come from meeting with parties who have clearly stated an unwillingness to work out a situation. A little pre-planning never hurts.
Lay some norms or ground rules right up front. If we say out loud, “We’re going to hear from Parent, then we’ll let Teacher speak, then we’ll find some commonalities between the perspectives,” we all know what to do next and what to look for.
Trust the process. Allow the healing to happen without jumping in every moment.
Copyright © 2012 Education World