You know the spinning wheel of death that comes up on your computer and no matter what you do you cannot stop it. You either need to wait it out, shut it down or try and escape. No matter what you do there are consequences. Lost work, restarting a project, time, frustration or an explosion of programs at start up.
This experience for me parallels those meetings with parents that just go around and around and no matter how hard you try you cannot find common ground, perspective or a solution. We had one of those this week and it was a challenge. Two hours of going around and around with a parent. It left us all frustrated and exhausted.
My Vice Principal and I left at the end of the day annoyed and exasperated. The next day we sat down and debriefed what happened and why.
Why had this happened?
We were not prepared: These parents had arrived unannounced at the end of the day with an entourage and wanted answers based on what their child had told them. We had been in meetings for days discussing students and had not had an opportunity to thoroughly complete the investigation or close the loops with the teacher and students involved.
There were some cultural beliefs in conflict. We wanted parents to have their child take responsibility for their parent in the issue and the parents wanted an apology and an opportunity to save face. They could not see their child’s part in the problem. All they could focus on was that their child was made to feel uncomfortable when a teacher called them on their disrespect and part in the situation. Our perspectives were so far apart finding common ground was not possible.
We were not in control. The meeting occurred because the parent arrived at school and demanded that we meet with them. We wanted to resolve the situation quickly and keep it from becoming a bigger issue which can happen but we were not ready to discuss it. We had not decided on a plan or resolution. We had not even had time as an admin team to talk about the situation at all.
There was a great deal of emotion. Parent were angry and upset. Mom was crying. Dad was quiet but angry and the child was turning on and off the emotions when it was convenient to get the desired result….absolving themself of any responsibility and changing the narrative.
Empathy and shared experiences were not effective . As administrators we often share our personal experiences with parents so they know that as parents we have been in similar circumstances and understand and respect that these experiences are all a part of development. We talk about challenges with with our own children and share strategies that we have used for handling them. In this case this was dismissed, unwelcome and misunderstood.
We were not going to handle the situation the way the parent demanded. Simply put these parents did not want their child to take responsibility for their part in a conflict and admit they had made a mistake. They shifted the blame to the teacher and we were not having it. The teacher handled the situation in an appropriate way based on the beliefs and values of our school and that was not something we were willing to compromise. Parents could not accept this.
So what, now what?
We debriefed some strategies that we thought might have helped in this case and allowed us to resolve the situation in a more efficient manner.
1. Always schedule the meeting. Do not take drop ins or on demand meetings unless it is an emergency and honestly there are VERY few emergencies. Chances are you will end up going around and around or scheduling a follow up meeting.
2. Complete the investigation, communicate with all parties involved and close the loop. In this case the parents demanded an apology and it turned out that after the 2 hour meeting they had discovered that they teacher had told the student they were sorry if their feelings had been hurt or they were distressed. That is all the parents wanted and in the end satisfied them. If we had had the opportunity to close this loop then we could have avoided going around and around with them for hours.
3. Stick to the facts and avoid judgments or assumptions. Present what happened from all perspectives, share the process for the investigation and the resolution/consequence.
4. Use the policies that you have in place as a basis for your decision making. Be consistent and fair.
5. Know the culture of the parents. We tried to use empathy and share our own parenting experiences but that was not effective with parents from this culture. Some parents want you to be authoritative, punish, ignore, educate etc. Have some idea of what they value so that you might find some common ground or an approach that they will understand.
6. Do not go it alone. If you have another administrator, coach, LST, or teacher. Have them sit in the meeting and take notes so that if it goes sideways you have documentation.
7. Have an exit strategy. Set a time limit. Find an escape. Shut it down if it is not productive.
8. Follow up with an email to the parents that summarizes the meeting, next steps and resolution.
9. Clean the slate and maintain a positive relationship with the child and the parent. Emotions run high when dealing with our children and parents just want the best for their child.
10. Do not take it personally!
You will have meetings that do not go well and that wish you could take back. It is inevitable. Preparation and reflection do help in avoiding frustration, misunderstanding and maintain positive relationships with parents.