One of the hardest parts about being an educator is dealing with upset parents. Unfortunately, it is something that every educator has to deal with at some point in their career. I’m in my thirteenth year of education. Five of those years, I have been in a position where I am in charge of discipline. I can assure you, I’ve had plenty of experience dealing with upset parents. One strategy I have used many times and have had good success with while talking to parents is, “The Three A’s” – ACKNOWLEDGE, APOLOGIZE, ACT.
This first step requires us as educators to listen. Many times when parents are upset and call the school, they want to be heard. We need to make sure we are open to listening to what they have to say. When they tell us why they are upset or what their complaint is about, it is our job to acknowledge what they are saying. The easiest way to do this is to let them speak and then to repeat what we heard them say in our own words. One key to this step is to not get defensive. Many times when parents call and are upset, our natural instinct is to get defensive and defend ourselves. It is important to overcome that urge and focus on listening and then acknowledging what was said.
For example: A parent is calling and complaining because I haven’t entered grades in the grade book for two weeks. After listening to what they have to say, I can respond by saying, “I understand you are upset about not having your child’s grades updated in the last two weeks.”
The second step is to apologize. This doesn’t mean you have to admit you are wrong and the parent is right. There are many times I have apologized to a parent because I am truly sorry they are upset about the situation I am calling them about or they called me about. It is amazing the effect that the words “I’m sorry” have on people.
For example: A parent is calling and complaining because I haven’t entered grades in the grade book for two weeks. After acknowledging what the parent was upset about, I could say, “I’m sorry that I haven’t updated my grades recently …” or “I’m sorry you are upset about this situation.”
The last step in this strategy is to act. Let the parent know how you plan to proceed or what steps you will take to remedy the situation. The goal in this step is to reassure the parent that you are listening to what they have to say and that you are willing to work with them.
For example: A parent is calling and complaining because I haven’t entered grades in the grade book for two weeks. After apologizing to the parent about the situation, I could say, “I have the quiz that the class took last week ready to enter. I plan on entering those grades tonight. I also have two assignments that I plan on entering by the end of the day tomorrow.”
Try this strategy the next time you are dealing with an upset parent. This isn’t full proof, there are going to be times that it won’t work, but this is definitely something that has proven successful for me on many occasions.