|Me this week!!|
I love the holidays! Spending time with my family, shopping, and getting to lounge on the couch are some of my favorite things to do during Thanksgiving Break. However, along with the joy of the holiday season, comes the influx of end of the semester parent conferences. While the majority of parent conferences go well, there are those that completely derail me as a human being. Over the years, I have conducted hundreds of parent conferences and each one is completely different (some go great and others…well you get it). I realized early that preparation for a conference is essential and you must always anticipate the unexpected.
The purpose of this post is to give you an overview of the types of parents I have encountered in parent conferences; an overview of difficult parents who make conferences unbearable; a glimpse of some of the lessons that I have learned from working with these types of parents; and finally, some conference resources.
I hope you find something helpful from my experiences!
Types of Difficult Parents You May Experience in Parent Conferences
These are the parents who come into your office full of excuses for their student’s behavior. They are notorious for using your sympathy for their child as a weapon.
Rachel was in her senior when she began to chronically miss her classes. My goal was to call her in and find out what was causing her to miss school. When I finally caught up with her, she was non-responsive to my efforts to communicate with her about her lack of attendance. Finally, I got frustrated with her lack of communication and I decided to call in her mom. When Rachel’s mother came into my office, she looked very disheveled and like she hadn’t slept in days. When I asked her about Rachel’s attendance, the focus always came back to the mom’s difficulties and how their family situation was responsible for Rachel not being engaged in school. After about a hour of talking about the family dilemma, I tried to bring the focus back to Rachel and the importance of school attendance. Unfortunately, mom could not hear beyond her situation and started to cry. “You don’t understand how I need Rachel right now to be with me…” At this point, I understood that Rachel’s mom was using her daughter as her own support system and that mom was using the situation to excuse Rachel’s behavior.
What did I do?
First, I empathized with Rachel’s mom and showed her I cared about what was going on in her life. Next, I tried to show her how using Rachel daily as her support system would be detrimental for Rachel in the long run. The mom and I discussed different scenarios that included Rachel coming to school daily to not coming at all. Mom finally realized that Rachel may not graduate on time and that she would be partially responsible for Rachel’s failure in school.
Deniers are not receptive to any notion that their child would do ANYTHING wrong. They want to prove that their student is a “good” child even by providing character references from former teachers.
John was taking an online course in the computer lab at his home high school. The lab monitor called me one afternoon and complained that he was off task and not showing up after lunch. The next day, I went to the lab to speak to him about his course and off task behavior. He agreed that he had not been doing what he should and told me that “hated” his online course. I told him that I understood that he did not want to be in the course, but that he had three months to go to complete his course successfully. His expectations included: returning back to class from lunch, showing respect to the lab monitor, and communicating with his online teacher. He told me he understood. The next week, I received a call from John’s mother, a school employee. At first, John’s mom was able to appropriately communicate about John’s class, but something changed in her voice. “What you are telling me is not characteristic of my son! You can ask any teacher who knows him that he is a good student and respectful.”
What did I do?
Although taken aback by her change in demeanor, I acknowledged John’s strengths and past accomplishments. Once, I acknowledged his potential for success, I pointed out that those same behaviors would be beneficial for him to be successful in this course and that there was a reason that he was not showing those same characteristics in the lab. After pushing back and standing my ground, mom and I made a plan for him to move forward.
This parent can be the most difficult to work with as a school counselor. The angry parent is verbally combative or will have a defensive posture. They will typically ask questions like, “What did the teacher do for my child to act this way?” These parents lack the skills to fight fairly for their child.
I always dreaded when Norman’s mom and dad requested a parent conference. Norman’s mom would often be combative while his dad would come into my office with his shades and arms crossed. Norman was a senior who was failing his math class and was more interested in gaming than doing his math homework. The teacher, a no nonsense guy, was at his wit’s end with Norman who constantly wanted to talk about the latest game instead of polynomials. As usual, mom started her verbal assault of the teacher’s character and the dad sat in the corner with arms crossed and donning his Versace shades.
What did I do?
When mom and dad came in, I politely greeted them and then escorted to the round table in my office and sat with them (moving from my desk was a sign that I was open to hear them). Next, I outlined how the conference would be structured so that they would be heard, but then we would invite the student and teacher in for a conversation. Having the parents come in first to “vent” allowed them to be more open to listen and move to problem solving.
This is the parent that is beyond the point of reasoning and will not listen, cooperate, or communicate no matter what you do. This is the one that I dread the most!!
Michele was often disruptive and constantly getting into trouble with staff and teachers. When confronted by her behavior, she was unapologetic and would often say, “Wait till my mama comes up here…she will straighten you out!” In fact, everyone dreaded Michele’s mom as she was known for terrorizing the school district for years. When I learned she was moved to my caseload (mom requested a counselor move from her original counselor), my heart sank. Then the day came where Michele, her mom, and I met to talk about her graduation plan. As predicted, she they came in like a storm blaming the school, the teachers, and anyone else who may have caused Michele consternation.
What did I do?
I realize that these parents will try your professionalism and I want to keep my job. As Michele’s mom began her verbal tirade, I had to consciously avoid being pulled into a debate. My job, as I explained, was to look at the facts, keep the conversation moving, and focus on Michele’s success. Although mom’s behavior did not change, I felt good about not enabling Michele’s mom behavior.
Preparing for a Conference With Difficult Parent Types
Ultimately, you may come into contact with one of the four types of parents so it is imperative to have a strategy in place for meeting with them.
Step 1: Prepare for the conference by taking these pre-conference steps
- Find out as much information about the parent’s concerns before the meeting. Do your homework.
- Create a potential plan for success for student and parents.
- Greet parents outside of office whenever possible.
- Remove your desk as a barrier-consider using a circular table.
- Ask for the student to be present.
- Be aware of your non-verbal behaviors (tone of voice or body language) as a barrier to communication.
Step 2: Conducting the conference
- Ask the student to sit in the center of the circle.
- Set parameters of the conference for those in attendance.
- Introduce yourself and your role in the conference.
- Observe non-verbals of participants and address any issues early.
- Bring data!! The cumulative folder is your best weapon for students you do not know.
- Point out to a parent that the lack of a discipline history can tell a story about a significant change in the student.
- Ask student to speak on his or her behalf.
- Don’t be afraid to address the “elephant” in the room.
- Document, document, document!!
- Focus on the future…look to help the student and parent create academic and personal goals.
- Always end on a positive note-find a way to inspire the student!
- Let parent/student know you will be following up (set a date before leaving).
- Plan for a follow conversation.
- Measure progress of each goal from the conference.
- Discuss what is going well and what needs to be improved.
- Set up an additional time together.
Do you need some forms for preparing for parent/student conference? Here are some forms that may be helpful for future conferences.
Audit Form-form to use to show parent and student their progress toward graduation.
Conference Forms-editable conference form for notes.
Rising Senior Action Plan-great form for showing parent/student where student stands in term of meeting goals.
Senior Meeting Google Doc-editable Google doc for documentation.
Also, check out my post if you need and love forms!
Ultimate List of School Counseling Forms-over 1000 forms!!