How To Respond When A Teacher Threatens To Go Over Your Head To The Principal

It's not uncommon for an upset parent to "threaten" to go over your head to the principal, superintendent or even the school board.

It's perfectly understandable that a teacher so threatened would feel attacked, disrespected and have a tendency to react with anger, which only makes things worse.

Two Types Of "Over Your Head" Threats

There are two types of threats of this kind:

  1. The parent is trying to leverage the threat to get you do cave in. For some, it's an attempt to manipulate or pressure you. With these situations, the parent isn't all that serious, and since it takes time and effort for him or her to escalate the complaint often those that are using it only to manipulate will NOT pursue that path, UNLESS the teacher shows s/he is afraid or reacts emotionally.
  2. The parent has what he or she sees as a legitimate concern, isn't getting anywhere with the teacher, and wants to speak to someone "up above" in the hope that the concern will be addressed the way the parent wants.

The parent HAS that right.

How Teachers Should Handle These Situations

Fortunately, regardless of which "type" of threat is being used, the solutions -- how you respond, work for BOTH situations.

  • Since parents have the right to escalate their complaint, AND you can't stop them from exercising that right, the best path of action is to acknowledge they can do so if they choose, and even provide the information to help them do that (provided that's acceptable in your school). For example:
    "Mr. Smith, that's certainly up to you, and if you'd like the contact information for my principal, I'd be glad to provide it for you."
  • Never say things like "My principal is just going to say the same thing.", even if that's probably true. It sounds weak, and that you are trying to discourage the person from going to the principal because you are afraid, and that will not help you in future interactions.
  • While you may feel disrespected by a parent who threatens this way, don't get into an argument about it OR show you are fearful or emotional about the parent doing so. It IS their right.
  • When a parent indicates s/he wants to go over your head to the principal, it's always good to give the principal a heads up that the parent is upset, and to prepare the principal with your account of the issue, including what you've already said.
  • Finally, by taking the path of least resistance, and not trying to convince the person NOT to "go upstairs", you will weed out those that are using this threat as a means to get to you, or manipulate you. Many times these threats operate like "bluffs", because, as we said earlier, it means more effort and time for the parent. Encourage them to exercise their right to do so, and many will not go ahead anyway.