Teachers: Pick Your Battles With Parents And Resist The Urge To Fight Pointless Battles

When confronted by parental opinions that seem unfair, or based on very inaccurate perceptions, it's easy to get caught by the desire to "set the record" straight. Unfortunately, that desire can actually interfere with your ability to teach the students, and get parents onside.

If you look at some of the comments from parents on the CNN article, What Teachers Really Want To Say To Parents, you initial reaction, is to offer up reasons why unfair criticisms, are in fact unfair. It's perfectly understandable. Before you do so, whether online, or in discussion with a specific parent, consider these points:

Things To Remember Before Jumping Into The Parent-Teacher Wars

  1. Everyone can have an opinion. The thing about opinions about teachers and schools, is they are often based on past experiences--experiences people have had as children, and that they are often tinged with negative emotions. They aren't fact based, so you can't "fight" those opinions by offering up facts that disprove the criticism. That means that in many cases, unfair criticisms aren't worth trying to correct.
  2. We know that when opinions have emotions attached, and you actually can provide factual evidence to disprove the opinion, people get ANGRIER. People don't like being proven wrong, and will argue, even when they have no basis for their opinion. It's just how it works. You cannot WIN these arguments. What you can do is drive yourself crazy trying to win.
  3. When faced with general criticism about teachers, coming from a parent, determine if their negative opinions are germaine to the purpose of the meeting. Often they are not germaine. For example, if a parent, during a parent-teacher conference, complains that teachers are over-paid, that particular opinion has nothing to do with helping the child learn. It's a red herring. Or, as we say in our book, it's bait. Responding and trying to convince the parent otherwise is not only bound to fail, but it's NOT relevant. Don't even try.
  4. So, pick your battles. Resist the temptation to argue about opinions expressed that do not directly impact on the reason you are meeting with the parent. Go the "agree to disagree" strategy. Refocus the conversation on the purpose of the meeting -- the specific things you and the parent can do to help the child learn at school.
  5. Ask the definitive question: Will arguing about this particular topic benefit the child? If not, don't do it, and use the REFOCUS technique from our CARP model to get the conversation back on track.