It’s one of the least enjoyed parts of being a Teacher or School Leader … the call to let a parent know that their child has screwed up.
I dreaded it. At first, it was because I knew that the response from the parent was likely to be negative and defensive. And, in my early years of making those calls, I was annoyed with these parents for being immature, unhelpful and for misunderstanding me.
In the end … I learned that it was me being all of those things. Not them.
There’s almost nothing that invokes shame in a parent like being told, out of nowhere, that either something is wrong with your child or that s/he has fallen short of expectations somehow.
In shame, some of the most natural responses are blaming others (“That teacher is an idiot. No wonder s/he refuses to cooperate!”), turning it on yourself (“I know, I just suck as a parent. You must hate having to call me all the time”) or even withdrawing and refusing to speak to me at all. Yes, those responses are natural.
Once this dawned on me, I shifted my entire approach to calling parents and instituted my three-minute challenge. Simply, I tried to talk to the parent for three minutes before telling them about the incident at school.
- “Are you noticing anything different at home?”
- “Is there anything going on, any changes, that might be affecting her/him?”
- “You’re the expert on your kid. Got any expertise about her/him you reckon I need at the moment?”
I found that just hearing the parent out and listening without judgment soothed their shame. It allowed me to speak to their neo-cortex (thinking brain) and not their limbic system (feeling brain).
When we’re both thinking, we can handle the incident and get productive about the future. I found that three minutes is all that’s required most of the time.
Keep fighting that good fight,
PS. VICTORIAN EDUCATORS … I’m coming home! I’ve been on the road for a fortnight in Brisbane and Perth, but now I’m delivering four critically important workshops in my own back yard … NEXT WEEK! Register at this link. I’ll see you there!
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