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How To Deal With A Difficult Parent

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by Terry Heick

In all of my years of teaching, I can count on one hand the number of ‘difficult parents’ I had.

Note, I don’t mean parents who advocate for their child. Now am I even referring to parents who are aggressive and even confrontational at times. I’m talking about truly difficult parents who, for whatever reason–well, they’re difficult.

But when I did have this come up, it was extremely challenging for me personally and professionally.

Difficult Parents In The Classroom

Difficult parents always mean well–and don’t always start out ‘difficult.’ But you never know what they’re going through personally and more commonly, you never know what can make a parent’s momma or papa bear claws come out.

Usually, you’d hear about this parent from other teachers. That this parent was a handful. Rude. Combative. Aggressive. Even litigious. In response, you worry, if just a little. You have enough to deal with, and butting heads with an angry parent–especially one angry just because–doesn’t sound like fun.

So you keep calm and hope to ride the year out. Maybe they won’t call. Maybe they’ll skip parent-teacher conferences. You’ve even considered grading their child a little easier just to avoid the hassle of it all.

We’ve all been there. Nothing can solve this problem (for lack of a better term, I’m going to keep calling it a ‘problem’ instead of ‘growth opportunity’ or ‘challenge to solve’; insert your own synonym as you wish) but there are ways to take the edge off so that you can open up the lines of communication and deal with the parent on equal terms so that their child has the best chance for success.

12 Ways To Deal With A Difficult Parents

1. Make sure you’re not the problem

Or even half the problem. There were times where, in hindsight, I probably was.

By being rational, you can identify exactly what their concerns are and solve them proactively–before they become an issue. Sometimes this works. Other times, it can seem like no matter how many times you ‘solve problems,’ new ones arrive.

2. Reach out first

Be pre-emptive. Reach out with a positive message to start off on the right foot.

3. Don’t patronize

And when you reach out, be authentic. Don’t pretend to be their best friend, nor should have that ‘nipping problems in the bud’ tone. Don’t worry about ‘holding your ground’ either. Just reach out as an educator to a member of your own community.

You’re not selling them anything, and they’re not selling you anything. You’re both dutifully and beautifully involved on either side of a child.

4. Stay in your lane

No matter how important the education of a child is, realize you’re simply a single cog in the life of that family, no more or less important than keeping the lights on, their job security, food and shelter, or any other reality of daily life.

5. Help them know what they’re looking at

Help them know what they’re ‘looking at’ as they try to help their child and ‘deal with school.’ Give them something–a ‘handle’ of some kind to make sense of the learning process. Something they can make sense of and understand and use when they speak to their child about education. Something less about the game of school and more about learning, curiosity, and personalization. (See here, for example–alternatives to “What’d you learn in school today?“)

5. Meaningfully involve them

Keep your friends close and your…difficult parents…closer. Ask them to take on an authentic role in the classroom. Ask their opinion. Allow them to have a voice or show leadership. Give them a role in what their child learns. The fact that a parent has approaching zero authentic role in the learning process of their children is part of our challenge as educators. Help them find one.

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6. Put them in a position to succeed

Just like a student, do what you can to put the parent in a position to succeed. They may not have had a good experience in school, either as students, with siblings of your student, etc. Give them a reason to believe that you have the best interest of the family at heart–and that includes them.

7. Meet them on equal and common ground

Meet them on equal terms. For all of our overly-glorified differences, most people are fundamentally the same. We respond to pain and threats differently and have unique ethical systems, but it’s easy to place yourself above someone even if you think you’re not doing exactly that.

You can also find something in common: sports or hobbies or music or a personal philosophy. Even your own struggle as a person. Something to humanize yourself, and establish the overlap between yourself and the parent.

8. Focus on their child’s learning

This is the opposite of teaching, where you focus first on the child and then on helping bring them to the learning. In conferences and communication with parents, you can both see the child and what’s ‘best for them’ very differently, but academic work has a chance to be more objective in cases where talking to the parents is a challenge.

When dealing with a ‘difficult parent,’ focus on the work and academic performance, and what you and the parent and siblings and other teachers, etc., can do to support the student in their growth.

Even in the midst of difficult conversations, always do your best to steer the focus back on the work and the child’s relation to it. The former is data/evidence, the latter the reason for the data/evidence.

9. Help parents see the big picture–and make sure you see it, too

This is partly the problem with letter grades: they oversimplify everything in a reductionist way.

It’s easy to look at a grade book and both start and finish the conversation there. If that’s all they see, have a look at your curriculum and instruction, and see if you’ve given them ample opportunity to do otherwise. Talk less about missing work, and more about the promise and possibility of their child. Help them see that the school year is a marathon, not a series of sprints.

10. Bring other colleagues into the room (or Zoom)

And then give them a credible ‘role’ in the meeting other than as a ‘witness.’ Do what you can to make it feel more about community than ‘protection’–and certainly never do anything that could make the parent feel bullied or ‘ganged up on.’

11. If all else fails…

If you have to, call for reinforcements, and document everything. As mentioned above, never feel bad about having another teacher in the room (or Zoom) with you if you feel like a parent will be aggressive and you’re simply not comfortable with it. Better to depend on solidarity and hope than your own personal strength.

And document everything. Stay on top of grading, feedback, behavior management, missing assignments, your tone, sarcasm, etc. Document every call and email. Save exemplar work. Document differentiation, personalization, and other individual efforts in pursuit of the best interest of the student.

Whatever you do, no matter your analysis of the proximity between apples and trees, don’t hold the difficult parent ‘against’ the child, even subconsciously. You’re the professional, they’re their parent who almost certainly has their child’s best interests at heart.

12. Take it personally, then don’t

If you have a ‘difficult parent’ and in spite of your best efforts it all falls apart, I’d say don’t take it personally but it’s hard not to. So fine–internalize it. Own it. Talk to colleagues (better than a spouse, whose emotional reserves you may want to save for other challenges in your work). Cry if you need to.

And then let it go.

Dealing With A Difficult Parent; 12 ways of dealing with a difficult parent. Created by education expert Terry Heick.

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Teaching

The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

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denisekrebs

The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

by Terry Heick

It’s better to give than to receive–something that holds true for gift-giving and education.

In fact, the act of giving isn’t just a matter of ultimately receiving more, or even an act of altruism and selflessness. It has more to do with seeing the big picture itself — a healthy, robust, functioning system of careful human performance — that becomes the goal. It’s in this simple paradigm shift that we, as teachers, can find a new level of performance as professionals, contentment in our craft, and changed lives in the communities we serve.

So how might we focus on that service not as a characteristic of my job, but as the goal itself–the most macro product of all? For teachers, this would obviously be built around the idea of service-oriented teaching, where we gain strength and perspective from serving others. It would lead to ‘other growth,’ including, on a broader level, the formation of a personal and professional ecology than can sustain us through the challenges of teaching.

What would this look like?

Other teachers who need us, and who we need

Parents who need us, and who we need

Students who need us for something other than clarifying instructions, providing credit, and letter grades

The community of our school, including grade levels above and below ours, that needs us for our performance, collaboration, and ideas, just as we need that community.

In a word, this looks like interdependence. So what can I give to begin?

They give themselves.

Teaching is martyrdom. So often, educators feel the need to give themselves up to be feasted upon until there’s nothing left. Giving yourself is a different kind of gift, though. Here, it means truly putting your self aside — your need to be the best, your insecurities, professional goals, need for affirmation, and so on — and instead give in to the act of teaching.

But more crucially, this giving of yourself implies that you give your whole self to the act of teaching — your creativity, affection, background knowledge, contacts, networks, dreams, hopes, and so on — in the whole merging of you and your work.

They give others the benefit of the doubt.

As a teacher, you’ll see a lot moving upstream and down — struggling readers that always seem to come from that school; that family that doesn’t seem to care; that co-worker who seems to challenge you at every chance; that administrator who always seems to find a way to poke holes in your teaching. That assessment. That law. That policy.

Never, ever stop questioning the things happening around you. Be a critical educator, ask tough questions, and ring the bell when you’re concerned. Just do so from a position of positivity — give others the benefit of the doubt. Use positive presuppositions, such as: “We’ve always been strong supporters of literacy here, so I’m confused why. . . ”

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They give themselves the opportunity to learn new things continuously.

Okay, perspective change to first-person: I’m going to give myself the gift of learning. As a teacher, it makes sense to learn endlessly, not just to model it for students, but to keep my own curiosity and tendency for play stirring and alive.

I may learn a new set of literacy strategies. Maybe it’ll be a variation on the Socratic Seminar, or I’ll mash Fish Bowls with Agree/Disagree. I may bring new education technology into my classroom, or reach for new learning models such as project-based learning, sync teaching, or self-directed learning. I may throw out my desk and go paperless, mobile, or completely back to basics.

But I’m never going to stop learning. That is my gift to myself.

They give students a chance.

Maybe that’s a chance to surprise themselves. I want to give the gift of inspiration. Who doesn’t? And what better way can we inspire than by designing learning experiences that let students do things they didn’t think they were capable of? My gift would be giving students opportunities to surprise themselves through their own skills, critical thinking, creativity, and deep understanding of important ideas.

They give parents authentic opportunity to get involved.

It’s tempting to complain about parents that aren’t involved in their child’s schooling. Who on earth wants to be involved in schooling? Learning is a different matter — that’s something with a foothold allowing parents to engage meaningfully. This isn’t grades and homework, but rather understanding and the need to understand.

You may or may not get anything more from parents, but at least you’ve given them more tempting access than they’ve ever had in the past.

They give others chances to create new measures of success.

Teaching — properly done and measured as we do today — is impossible. It can’t be done. You cannot bring every single child to proficiency in every single standard while, at the same time, meeting their needs as human beings and helping them both see and reach their full potential. If this is your goal, you’re only going to disappoint yourself endlessly until you either burn out or realize that you’re lying to yourself.

Teaching, though, with new metrics of success — well, that’s suddenly a whole lot easier.

They give themselves a break.

The preceding represents a lot of giving, and also a lot of complexity, interdependence, opportunity, work, and chances to fail. So above all, I’m going to give myself a break.

I will give all of myself. I will give the benefit of the doubt. I’ll learn new things, promote self-discovery, connect with communities, and establish new measures of success. And when things go wrong, I’ll have a short memory. I’ll give myself a break and push on, excited about what tomorrow might bring.

Image attribution flickr user denisekrebs and cloudboard; What Every Good Teacher Gives

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Teaching

How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

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How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

contributed by Vicki Collet

Making teaching a shared and public practice supports improved instruction.

When teachers have opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and inquiry, they “can find better ways to answer the learning needs of students” (Lieberman & Wood, 2002, p. 42). Teacher inquiry makes us question practices that have become stale, generate innovation, and create dynamic learning for ourselves and our students.

Over the past decade, I’ve participated in teacher inquiry using a process called Lesson Study. I’ve seen scores of teachers engage with authentic professional learning through this work. Lesson Study is a structure for teacher inquiry that is as straightforward as it sounds: the study of a lesson. However, Catherine Lewis, who learned about Lesson Study in Japan and has been instrumental in spreading its use in the United States, points out that during Lesson Study,

(Teachers) improve the lessons not as an end in
itself, but as a way to deepen their own content knowledge, their knowledge of
student thinking, their understanding of teaching and learning, and their
commitment to improvement of their own practice and that of colleagues…Lesson
study is not about discovering the one right way to teach a lesson, but about
building knowledge of many teaching strategies and habits of observation,
inquiry, and analysis of practice (Lewis & Hurd, 2011, p. 24).

When participating in Lesson Study, you will collaboratively plan lessons that become the focus of inquiry on effective teaching practices. Then you’ll observe one another teach lessons and collaboratively revise and refine your instructional plans, as shown in the figure below.

How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

Inquiry is the essential element of Lesson Study, so the clear focus you identify for a Lesson Study cycle should propel your desire to investigate, to analyze and study together. Pursuing the questions your group has identified provides challenge and authentic purpose, which will increase your team’s motivation and engagement. Because you have identified the problem for yourself, the process will have immediate value. 

The goal of Lesson Study is not to create the ideal lesson that is universally useful. During teacher preparation and professional development, you have doubtless been taught and encouraged to use ‘best practices.’ Although it is true that some practices are more effective than others (and research has much to teach us), it is also true that there is no single, perfect lesson. This is true because you and I, and the students we teach, are diverse in so many ways. Lesson Study focuses on “the why of teaching: why teaching methods work in particular ways in particular settings” (Smagorinsky, as cited in Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 5). 

Grow your school with TeachThought PD Collaborative Lesson Study Workshops.

In our quest for better ways of doing things, Lesson Study can help us identify places where we are frozen in old practices and can help us warm to new ones. Lesson Study uncovers new approaches that are informed by the examination of evidence gained through our professional inquiry. Collaboration with colleagues who share similar contexts and concerns makes the insights gained especially helpful. By being the guides to our own professional learning, teachers resist stagnation and become mobile, active agents of change. With our colleagues, we take a learning stance by asking questions, taking risks, and reflecting on both successes and failures.

Lesson
Study uses knowledge you gain from your own classroom to stimulate professional
conversations about teaching and learning. Shared experiences through joint
planning and observation support the conversation, helping you develop your own
understanding and share it with others.

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If you are eager to investigate and improve instruction and increase your understanding about teaching, I invite you to learn more about Lesson Study. Lesson Study creates continuous learning cycles that put teachers in the driver’s seat of their own professional development.

———————

Book: Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional
Development

Website: vickicollet.com

Request to join Collaborative Lesson Study Book Club on Facebook est (next book study begins January 13, 2020)

Vicki’s blog: mycoachescouch.blogspot.com

Vicki on Facebook: facebook.com/mycoachescouch/

Vicki on Twitter: @vscollet

References

Garcia,
A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally
proactive approach to literacy instruction. Teachers College Press.

Lewis,
C. & Hurd, J. (2011). Lesson study step by step: How teacher learning
communities improve instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lieberman,
A., & Wood, D. R. (2002). From network learning to classroom
teaching. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 315-337.

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Teaching

18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

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18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

by Terry Heick

I. In terms of pedagogy, the primary purpose of an assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction. It should provide an obvious answer to the question, “So? So what? What now?

II. It’s an extraordinary amount of work to design precise and personalized assessments that illuminate pathways forward for individual students–likely too much for one teacher to do so consistently for every student. This requires rethinking of learning models, or encourages corner-cutting. (Or worse, teacher burnout.)

III. Literacy (reading and writing ability) can obscure content knowledge. Further, language development, lexical knowledge (VL), and listening ability are all related to mathematical and reading ability (Flanagan 2006). This can mean that it’s often easier to assess something other than an academic standard than it is knowledge of the standard itself. It may not tell you what you want it to, but it’s telling you something.

IV. Student self-assessment is tricky but a key matter of understanding. According to Ross & Rolheiser, “Students who are taught self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, be more confident about their ability, and take greater responsibility for their work.” (Ross & Rolheiser 2001)

V. Assessments of learning can sometimes obscure more than they reveal. If the assessment is precisely aligned to a given standard, and that standard isn’t properly understood by both the teacher and assessment designer, and there isn’t a common language between students, teacher, assessment designer, and curriculum developers about content and its implications, there is significant “noise” in data that can mislead those wishing to use the data, and disrupt any effort towards data-based instruction.

VI. Teachers often see understanding or achievement or career and college-readiness; students often see grades and performance (e.g., a lack or abundance of failure) (Atkinson 1964).

VII. Self-evaluation and self-grading are different. ‘Self-evaluation’ does not mean that the students determine the grades for their assignments and courses instead of the teacher. Here, self-evaluation refers to the understanding and application of explicit criteria to one’s own work and behavior for the purpose of judging if one has met specified goals (Andrade 2006).

VIII. If the assessment is not married to curriculum and learning models, it’s just another assignment. That is, if the data gleaned from the assessment isn’t used immediately to substantively revise planned instruction, it’s at best practice, and at worst, extra work for the teacher and student. If assessment, curriculum, and learning models don’t ‘talk’ to one another, there is slack in the chain.

IX. As with rigor, ‘high’ is a relative term. High expectations–if personalized and attainable–can promote persistence in students (Brophy 2004). Overly simple assessments to boost ‘confidence’ are temporary. The psychology of assessment is as critical as the pedagogy and content implications.

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X. Designing assessment that has diverse measures of success that ‘speak’ to the student is critical to meaningful assessment. Students are often motivated to avoid failure rather than achieve success (Atkinson 1964).

XI. In a perfect world, we’d ask not “How you do on the test,” but “How’d the test do on you?” That is, we’d ask how accurately the test illuminated exactly what we do and don’t understand rather than smile or frown at our ‘performance.’ Put another way, it can be argued that an equally important function of an assessment is to identify what a student does understand. If it doesn’t, the test failed, not the student.

XII. The classroom isn’t ‘the real world.’ It’s easy to say invoke ‘the real world’ when discussing grading and assessments (e.g., “If a law school student doesn’t study for the Bar and fail, they don’t get to become lawyers. The same applied to you in this classroom, as I am preparing you for the real world.”) Children (in part) practicing to become adults is different than the high-stakes game of actually being an adult. The classroom should be a place where students come to understand the ‘real world’ without feeling its sting.

When students fail at school, the lesson they learn may not be what we hope.

XIII. Most teachers worth their salt can already guess the range of student performance they can expect before they even give the assessment. Therefore, it makes sense to design curriculum and instruction to adjust to student performance on-the-fly without Herculean effort by the teacher. If you don’t have a plan for the assessment data before you give the assessment, you’re already behind.

XIV. Every assessment is flawed. (Nothing is perfect.) That means that the more frequent, student-centered, and ‘non-threatening’ the assessment is (here are some examples of non-threatening assessments) the better. It’s tempting to overvalue each assessment as some kind of measuring stick of human potential. At best, it’s an imperfect snapshot–and that’s okay. We just need to make sure teachers and students and parents are all aware and respond to results accordingly.

XV. As a teacher, it’s tempting to take assessment results personal; it’s not. The less personal you take the assessment, the more analytical you’ll allow yourself to be.

XVI. Confirmation bias within assessment is easy to fall for–looking for data to support what you already suspect. Force yourself to see it the other way. Consider what the data says about what you’re teaching and how students are learning rather than looking too broadly (e.g., saying ‘they’ are ‘doing well’) or looking for data to support ideas you already have.

XVII. Assessment doesn’t have to mean ‘test.’ All student work has a world of ‘data’ to offer. How much you gain depends on what you’re looking for. (Admittedly, this truth isn’t really inconvenient at all.)

XVIII. Technology can help make data collection simpler and more effective but that’s not automatically true. In fact, if not used properly, technology can even make things worse by providing too much data about the wrong things (making it almost unusable to teachers).

The Inconvenient Truth About Assessment

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