You don’t need to be in teaching for very long before you get one: the angry parent email. BUT, whether the parent is right or wrong, you need to take the high road and be professional. Sometimes these mails are quite rude, because there is some pretty strong emotion behind them. But resist the reaction to send an anger-fuelled message back. Parents come and go, but your reputation will follow you forever. As soon as you start to feel the anger (or whatever kind of hurt you are feeling), you need to stop. Yup, stop right there.
Breathe. Next, remind yourself that this person is not attacking you. It’s simply a parent who is trying to do the best for their child.
Now start over, but read through the lens of the parent, or a friend of the parent. And read it slowly.
You’re done with the mail now, and you’re still hurting? Walk away. *Literally* walk away. You know this already: Do NOT respond immediately, when you are still having an emotional reaction. Get up from your desk and get some fresh air. Change your environment. Get the happy chemicals going by taking a five-minute walk. It is totally reasonable to take up to 24 hours to reply, and you certainly shouldn’t be expected to reply to emails that land in your inbox in the evening. (Hopefully this is something that your school communicates to parents at the start of the school year. If not, you may wish to do that when you introduce yourself at your open house or whatever introduction you have with parents.)
Now that you have established that you don’t need to hit “reply” yet, there are a few more steps.
When you are finally ready to reply, be sure to start by thanking the parent for taking the time to write to you. Acknowledge their concern and express that you want to work with them to have a shared understanding of the issue.
“Thanks for your mail. I understand that you…” or “I hope this mail finds you well. Thank you for sharing your concerns about…”
This doesn’t have to mean you cave to every complaint; it may be that you will clarify a misunderstanding or provide some context to justify an action.
“With a limited number of instruments and rehearsal spaces, our program currently only has capacity for one drummer and one guitarist.”
Of course, it may also be that you have made a genuine mistake–it happens! In that case, be humble enough to admit it. Apologize and commit to following up to solve the problem. If it is complex, you may wish to ask for a face-to-face meeting, or even just a phone call. Don’t be afraid to invite a colleague or administrator into the process if you feel it’s needed. And I would highly recommend this, if you are dealing with a very angry parent.
“I suggest we sit down, together with the vice principal, so that we can find a solution that will best support your child’s learning.”
In some situations, you might want to give your principal a heads up even if you don’t need their support just yet. Sometimes an angry parent will go to admin to continue their rampage, and you will probably benefit from having your perspective heard first.
One thing you want to avoid is getting emotional or defensive. Justify your actions and choices clearly and professionally. An emotionally-charged response would most likely just fan the flames. Clarify the parent’s confusion, and calmly provide clear and factual information. Refer to school policies and curriculum documents if you can.
“As part of the school policy on attendance, your child’s participation in the concert is required as part of the course. While excused absences can be made up with an alternative assignment, unexcused absences cannot be made up and affect the final semester grade.”Avoid getting emotional or defensive. Clarify the parent’s confusion, and calmly provide clear and factual information. #edchat #parentcommunication Click To Tweet
After you have gone over the issue specifically, be sure that you finish on a constructive, positive note. Express to the parent that you keep the students at the center of all that you do, and you look forward to working together with the parent and/or student to support them in their learning.
“As you know, I am committed to supporting your child’s learning journey, and I look forward to working with you in encouraging her continued progress in the orchestra.”
A great closing is to keep the communication open and remind them that you are willing to work with them.
“Please feel free to contact you if you have further questions or concerns.”
After you’ve drafted your response, get up and take another walk. Distance yourself a little bit. When you come back to it, try to read it how the parent will read it. Do you sound defensive? Do you sound calm and rational? Does it sound like you really care about the student, or like you are just trying to win an argument? At this point, you’ve probably done some editing. Next step, ask a trusted colleague to read it.After you’ve drafted your response, distance yourself a little bit. When you come back to it, try to read it how the parent will read it. #edchat #parentcommunication #emailetiquette Click To Tweet
Rinse and repeat as needed.
Dealing with parents can be difficult sometimes. Be a professional, and put the students first. What other advice do you have for having difficult conversations with your students’ community?