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4 Tips for Dealing with High-Demand Parents
Sooner or later, all educators have to work with high-demand parents. I’ve found a few basic strategies can defuse tension and help teachers and parents find common ground when these situations pop up.
Effective schools always have a healthy tension between hard-working and dedicated teachers working diligently with children and the attentive parents who support the work of the school at home. This balance is essential as teachers help develop the educational potential of the students.
But we cannot deny that there will be a few exceptions — parents with seemingly unreasonable expectations of your work and the work of your school. They might make large demands on your time or hyper-analyze every grade that goes home. Sometimes the parent will show great concern about situations that seem, to the teacher, to be typical child-development issues like occasional disagreements with another child. Here are several suggestions to help mitigate these situations:
1. Communicate Effectively
Very often, parents are reacting to a perceived lack of effective information coming from your classroom. As a general rule for quality communication, it’s always best for the parents to have too much — rather than too little — information. Email blasts to parents, paper copies and posting information on your website are just three ways that you should consider when relaying information to parents. As an added layer of preparation for when these parents eventually come your way, you might want to have them sign and return an acknowledgment of your information.
2. Give Administrators a Heads-Up
One aspect of my job as an administrator is that I need to take a holistic, 360-degree view of the school community. One byproduct of this approach is that I’m fully aware of all kinds of parents, including the high-demand variety. From a communications standpoint, it’s always better to inform your supervisors of any concern about a parent before it becomes and an issue. My superintendent when I became an administrator had a simple rule: “No surprises.” I suggest you follow that same philosophy.
3. Create a Paper Trail
It’s important that you accurately and effectively capture the essence of your communications with high-demand parents. As with my first suggestion, definitely keep track of your communication with parents, but you should never get into extended arguments with parents via email. I have one hard-and-fast guideline I call the “Three Email Rule.” Once an email conversation with a parent passes three exchanges, teachers are expected to pick up the phone and/or invite the parent in for a conference.
4. Practice Your Professionalism
I once worked in a district a fair number of parents were not just high-demand — they were downright combative. Our superintendent would never allow himself or any of his administrators to be anything but professional when dealing with these parents. We were all expected to always take the high road, no matter what the parents did.
An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.