Parent-school communication tips:
★ Stay optimistic: Despite your best efforts, it’s tempting to get and stay negative. Negative posturing with teachers, counselors and school officials stagnates the process and injects emotions into an already complicated teenager-heavy world. Do your best to enter the situation with a belief that a solution is possible, and be willing to compromise along the way.
★ Check your tone: Email has become the primary mode of communication for busy school professionals. Tone in email is very hard to discern and defense teachers tend to interpret parent message with a defensive posture. Be careful to read your emails and screen for statements that can be misconstrued. Again, if your end-game involves a resolution that you will like and benefit your student, all parts of the process matter. And besides, being polite and gracious is better than being a mean-emailing parent.
★ Respect the hierarchy: No, you can’t go straight to the top. And while some parents email school board presidents or the superintendent—they ultimately end up back at the beginning of the process, going through the motions, but having offended the very people they need to meet with in the process. You will get to the top of the hierarchy if you want or need to, but patience and following the process is part of the process.
★ Make appointments: Nobody likes a drive-by parent who swoops in and unloads with an unorganized and rushed delivery. On the off-chance you do get seen without an appointment, chances are you will have a short window to deliver your message, perhaps not enough time to correctly outline your case or situation, and end up seeming unorganized and frantic. After the drive-by, when you do get an appointment, it will be put to the back of the line as they won’t want to see you again right away (or at all) based on your first frenetic interaction. So, make an appointment—it will make you look better and allow time for all parties to be more prepared for and productive in the meeting itself.
★ Be direct, but respectful: Being direct is commendable—say what you came to say, but avoid overly-antagonistic statements. Even if you have a totally warranted claim to introduce (let’s say against a teacher who is 100% at fault) do so in a manner that leaves you above board. Once you say something that is a low-blow or mean (and irrelevant) the meeting becomes about you and what you said, not about the issue at hand. Say what you need to say, but mind your manners—that is, if you truly want a resolution that favors your student.
★ Hold your teenager accountable: In any meeting, about anything, you will most likely encounter a rebuttal of some sort, and that will almost certainly entail a less than appealing fact about your child. Blindly defending your child and dismissing any negative feedback as baseless will serve you little in a school meeting. Be willing and able to listen to feedback and accept that your student has some skin in the game. Parents who can accept accountability for their child receive markedly different decisions and responses than those who are seemingly unwilling or unable to fathom that their child is anything less than a perfect human. Kids are humans, yes, but mistakes are their pastime—it’s okay.
★ Consider your threats: Hurling threats, specifically legal threats, in a meeting is a wonderful way to end a meeting. There’s nothing wrong with seeking legal representation when warranted, but that representation needs to be introduced thoughtfully and minus the pomp and circumstance. School districts are used to litigation and equipped with legal reps either in-house or out-sourced. When you bring an attorney unannounced, the meeting will end immediately. Legal representation has its place in the edu-lanscape—but it slows down the process tremendously and injects levels of scrutiny that handcuff a principal’s ability to communicate freely and openly with you. So, pick your battles.