I am blessed. Even though we serve nearly 2,000 students representing 1,200 families, I have few disgruntled or complaining parents. This is a reflection of God’s great blessings on the school and a tribute to our fine teachers, coaches, and administrators.
Nevertheless, at the end of every school year I inevitably hear from a few parents who wait until school is out to express “a concern they have had all year.” My first question to these parents is, “why haven’t you shared your concern with the teacher this year?” The almost universal and unfounded response…”I was afraid the teacher would take it out on my child.”
In all of my years in school administration, I am unaware of any teacher ever “taking it out” on a student because the parent expressed a concern. The opposite is more likely. To avoid conflict, teachers are more apt to be overly cautious when dealing with the student of a complaining parent.
Anticipating that you may have a few of these “end of year meetings,” here are a few tips that may help you achieve a positive outcome, one that deepens the parent’s commitment to the school, lessens your stress, and is honoring to the Lord.
Pray: Pray for wisdom and a teachable spirit. Even though the parent’s approach may be wrong, there still may be information that you need to hear.
Actively Listen: Our natural tendency is to be defensive of the school and the teacher. It is far wiser to follow the biblical command to “be quick to hear, slow to speak,” (James 1:19), which was paraphrased by Steven Covey who said, “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Click here for quick tips on how to actively listen.
Take Notes: This will help you listen actively and shows genuine interest and concern. It also promotes accuracy and provides a written record of the meeting.
Maintain the High Moral Ground and Self Control: No matter how rude, inappropriate, angry, or offensive the speaker may be, the Christian professional, controlled by the Spirit, will not respond in kind. Instead, turn the other cheek. Take the abuse. Bless those who “curse you.” And remember, “a soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1)
Give Assurance: Give assurance that you genuinely care (make sure you do!) and that you will prayerfully and carefully investigate the matter and will respond appropriately. Your assurance must be full of integrity. Do not say you will deal with the matter and then fail to do so.
Wait Before Indicating a Decision: Depending on the situation, it is tempting to being closure to the matter during the meeting. For example, if you prematurely conclude that the concern has no merit you may be tempted to dismiss the concern during the meeting. Or, if you believe the concern has merit, you will be tempted to explain how you will address the matter. Both responses are usually premature in this first meeting. It is far better to assure the parent that you will look into the concern, take time to investigate the facts, pray for wisdom, and then and only then decide on a course of action. Most of the time, there is more to the story than you are hearing. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Prov. 18:17)
Reinforce the Matthew 18 Principle: I have found that even when parents are aware of the Matthew 18 principle, they almost always have an excuse for not following it. “I know but….” is a common response. Nevertheless, you need to inform the parent that in the future you will not meet with him or her until they have addressed the matter with the teacher. If the matter is not resolved at that level the parent must meet with the teacher’s immediate supervisor before coming to you. This needs to be said gently but clearly and then followed unless the matter is legal or immoral in nature.
Follow-up: It is very important that you do what you say and that you follow-up with the parent after you have reached a decision about your response. It is inconsiderate and unprofessional not to follow-up. This does not mean that you should disclose everything you have or will do. You must protect the privacy of students, parents, and staff but the parent who took the time to meet with you deserves to hear back from you.
By wisely, lovingly, and respectfully responding to concerns, you have the opportunity to turn a complaining parent into an appreciative one. In the long run, this is pleasing to the Lord and good for your school.