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How I Handled...

A Parent Who
"Snuck" Into School
To Observe a Teacher

One of the new teachers on our staff was concerned about a boy who was doing poorly in her class. The boy's parent blamed the teacher's inexperience for the child's difficulties. In spite of a policy well known by parents that prohibits unannounced classroom visits, this parent "snuck" into school to observe the new teacher in action.

The Problem:

One of the new teachers on our staff was a science teacher. She was concerned about one of her students. The boy was a good student who usually earned good grades, but he was not doing well in science. The boy's parent admitted that the child did not test well, but that had not stopped him from earning good grades in the past. So the parent blamed the teacher for the child's difficulties. He said it was the teacher's inexperience, and perhaps even her lack of familiarity with the material, that was the cause of the boy's poor grades.

The parent also felt that I, as principal, had not done everything I could do to step in and "help out this new teacher" so her child could do well. So the parent decided to drop in unannounced to "observe the class."

I should mention that our school has a written policy that states that parents must arrange classroom visits in advance through the administration. Unannounced visits to classrooms by non-faculty members are not allowed. That policy was put in place after a few unannounced visits in prior years had turned confrontational. Parents were well aware of the policy.

The Solution:

At first appearance, the solution seemed a simple one to me. I would call the student into my office, contact the parents to remind them of the school's dress/hair code, and -- voila! -- the problem would be solved. Another faculty member, not knowing what was going on, let the parent into the building. Then that faculty member reported to me that what he had done, and told me the parent was headed to the science teacher's classroom.

Fortunately, I knew of the situation between this parent and teacher. I also knew that I had penciled in our monthly fire drill for the next day. Since I have flexibility in scheduling the required fire drills, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to do the drill. I pulled the fire alarm. Within a few minutes, the school was evacuated.

During the fire drill, I "happened" to run into the concerned parent. "I didn't know you were here," I innocently told her. Of course she was caught off guard; she hadn't planned on bumping into me. She told me that she had come to observe the science teacher's class. This gave me the perfect opportunity to remind her of our policy, which she said she did recall. I told her she could call me anytime to schedule an observation.

The Reflection:

In our school, we take fire drills very seriously. I must plan to do unannounced drills on a regular basis. Even the fire department is not told when many of these drills will occur. This was one moment when I was glad I'd been putting off doing our monthly drill.

Would I pull a fire alarm again if another situation like that arose? In retrospect, I would do it again, because in this situation it worked out for the best for everybody involved -- except maybe for the parent's plan. The fire drill had spared us a potentially explosive situation. I let the parent "save face," but he was not allowed to skirt our policy and unfairly attempt to gather ammunition against a faculty member. Calmly and creatively, this fire was extinguished before it got out of control.

And did I mention? It's funny, but the parent never did contact me to reschedule that observation.

See our How I Handled Archive to read about problems that other principals have solved.

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.