Knowing that a tough meeting is scheduled for the next day may lead to sleepless nights and edgy mornings. Although there are generally few explosive meetings, it is those few that make the job of site administrator much more stressful than it needs to be. Fortunately, a few simple strategies can be helpful in making those Maalox moments more manageable.
Communication is a two-way street. Let parents share their perspectives about their children. Listen to what they have to say. Let them talk until they have said it all and are looking for you to respond. And tread lightly – judge whether you can ask clarifying questions.
If you are meeting face-to-face, listen to what their body language is saying: are they closed off to a solution or are they willing to work through the problem? Use body language and nod your head to acknowledge you are hearing what they are saying.
Take notes during the conversation. It will help you maintain focus and be able to capture the key points, as well as respond to the one or many issues they may raise. You might want to let them know in advance that you’ll be taking notes so you can address all their concerns, thus also signaling that what they say is important to you.
GET TO THE POINT
What does the parent really want? You might need to get some background information if you are meeting with a parent about a student/staff related issue to see if you can wade through the issues to hit on the relevant points.
Sometimes, you need to say it very directly: “What would you like to see happen as a result of this meeting?” Having an answer to this question may prevent you from spinning your wheels.
When it’s your turn to talk, ask the clarifying questions: who? what? when? where? You may have generated many of these when you were taking notes. By asking more questions and even trying to involve them in solving the problem you are able to:
• Establish a relationship with the parent
• Uncover hidden agendas
• Obtain information to share with other staff if you need to follow up
• Slow down the conversation if it’s particularly heated
SOME GREAT ONE LINERS
When all else fails, you may want to go into a meeting with a handful of one-liners that can be used when you need them:
• I’m not sure I understand. Can you help me see why this issue is important to you?
• Might it work this way?
• If you were in my shoes, what would you do?
• Do you think that is a fair solution to all involved?
• What if we tried it this way?
• Would X be a fair solution to you?
• We’re reaching an impasse here. Can you give me any more information that might help me assist you/your child?
You or your staff may have done nothing wrong, but the simple apology goes a long way. You don’t have to apologize about anything specific. Often times the comment, “I can see this has been an upsetting situation for you and I’m sorry that this has brought on stress to you and your child.”
You can even use a comment like that to support a decision to suspend a child. Yes, the suspension may have been a stressor to the family, but you can then go into the discussion as to how the child violated a major school/district rule and why that is the appropriate consequence.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Put a dozen administrators in a room, and we could all come up with a thousand ideas of what not to do, having had the time to reflect upon situations that we didn’t handle as well as we could have. It’s a learning experience for us all, and managing challenging meetings helps us build confidence for the next time. There are some basic suggestions of what not to do:
• Don’t interrupt.
• Don’t bring in your own agenda.
• Don’t take the conversation elsewhere: the meeting about a child’s problem on the bus shouldn’t be turned into a meeting about bad grades in a teacher’s class unless the parents brings it up.
• Don’t overexplain or be the know-it-all.
• Don’t try to convince someone that she or he is wrong.