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“I have been using BehaviourOnline with students throughout the term with great success. It gets across important points about their behaviour and attitudes.”

Francis Johnson,
Gladesmore School,
London (8th Dec 2008)

Testimonials
29 Oct 2009

"I am dreading telling parents about their daughter's behaviour."


"I am dreading telling parents about their daughter's behaviour."

*Meeting Parents. The Polite Art of Diplomatic Persuasion…..

It can sometimes be a difficult meeting when a parent is asked to come into school because their child’s behaviour is unsatisfactory. I remember the occasion of my first ever Parent/Teacher meeting during my first year of teaching. I felt the anxiety growing and as I saw the first parents approaching my door I quickly ran from the room, barged past them and vomited in the staff-room sink. This is not a course of action I would recommend to other teachers about to have a discussion with a child’s parents.

On that occasion it was a general parent-teacher evening to discuss pupils’ work, but there were many other times when, as a Head of Year, I had to call parents in to school specifically to discuss their son or daughter’s poor behaviour.
Such meetings can be an anxious time both for the teacher and the parents. This, of course, will also depend on the current ongoing relationship between the teacher and the parents of that child.

Some parents may find it hard to accept that their child’s behaviour is anything other than perfect. They may have heard only their son or daughter’s point of view at home and may be unprepared for what the school may be about to tell them. They may face the meeting in a hostile manner, determined to support their child against the school.

There are incidents when some parents have become aggressive and have used or threatened to use violence against the teacher concerned. They fail to understand that the teacher is acting in the best interests of both the pupil and the other pupils in the class. Many parents see it as a confrontational rather than a collaborative approach and become hostile and defensive from the start. Perhaps such meetings conjure up in their minds being called into the Head teacher’s office when they were children and reprimanded. Many come prepared to fight back!

It is important for the teacher to greet the parents in a warm and understanding manner. We would advise against sitting behind a desk; the semiotics of this immediately suggests a barrier. The whole purpose of a meeting to discuss a child’s behaviour in school needs to be based on a collaborative approach with both the school and the parents agreeing to work together. If a child is receiving one message at home and a completely different message at school then very little authentic change can be achieved.

The school will usually know the parents they are meeting. There may be cultural or class differences. The parents may be facing their own hardships and difficulties in their lives. Alcoholism, drug taking, unemployment may all be causing them problems. They may have had to take time off work to attend the meeting. The last thing they may now want to hear is that their child’s behaviour is causing problems at school.

It may be good to begin such a meeting by asking the parents how things are going in their own lives. It is a great advantage if the teacher knows the family and can ask about specific events or about other members in the family. For example, “Sagita tells me you’re going on holiday to Rhyll?” Or…. “Danny tells me that your mother is moving in with you shortly?” This immediately indicates to the parents that the teacher knows them personally and there is an immediate bond between them. The meeting will then not begin with the parents hearing negative news about their child from a perfect stranger. Our message is to find out some family background before they arrive to show them that you know them and their lives. If the teacher has a good working relationship with the child, then the teacher may be already aware of personal information about the family because the child has chosen to share it with the teacher.

The purpose in calling the parents into a meeting in school will be to
(1) Inform them of a problem with their child’s behaviour. This may have been alluded to in the initial letter they received. (2) To look at ways to help the child to improve their current behaviour. (3) To listen to the parents and engage them in the process.
As we mentioned previously, the child needs to receive the same “messages” at home and at school about what is acceptable and what is not.

Working out a contract or way forward with the child and their parents maps out a clear route forward. It may encompass rewards and sanctions along the way. The parents may be happy to provide tangible rewards as the child begins to change their behaviour. For example they may be able to buy something the child has wanted. As a sanction they may stop the child from watching a movie they wanted to see or from visiting a leisure centre they enjoy. These are only examples, of course.

The parents will also want to hear what the school is doing about helping the child to think through their behaviour and to learn better, more positive ways of behaving.

This is where the Interactive Conduct File materials can have a valuable role to play. The pupil is able to sit at the computer, watch dramatised scenarios of others behaving in a similar way and then think through their own actions and the consequences. At the end of a topic the child is able to print off a certificate that sets out what they have achieved and the skills they have used in thinking through their behaviour.

It is important not to dwell on the negative side of things in this first meeting with the parents. Of course, the teacher will have to set out how the child’s behaviour is less than satisfactory, but it is important to indicate to the parents that there is a clear route for all parties to follow that can lead to a more positive outcome in the future.

Some parents may be in a state of denial, unable to accept that their child would behave in such a negative way. For example: “ I can’t believe she would hurt someone like that…” “I can’t believe he would speak like that to a bus driver…..”.
It can be useful to show the parents the child’s responses to the questions and tasks completed in the Interactive Conduct File. They can then see that the child has taken responsibility for their actions and can read their thoughts on the matter.

It is important for the teacher to show the parents that they have not been brought into school simply to hear the teacher saying negative things about their child. They have been brought in to hear what the problem is and that the school has developed a framework to help their child to improve their behaviour. They will hear that they, too, have a role to play.

It may be that the school suspects other more fundamental difficulties may be the cause of the behaviour problems. It may suggest further tests be carried out. A psychologist may be called in. There may be a more deep-seated reason for the behavioural problem. The parents need to know what is being suggested, what they themselves can do to help and what the school is suggesting as the way forward.

The teacher may have asked the Head of Year or the child’s form teacher or form tutor to be present at the meeting. Perhaps it is the Deputy Head, Head Teacher or Behaviour Support Coordinator who has called the meeting with the parents or perhaps they have been asked to be present as well. Whatever the situation, it is important for the parents not to feel confronted by a huge “army” of school experts all sitting facing them.
In rare cases, the teacher calling the meeting may have been advised by colleagues that one or more of the parents can become quite agitated and aggressive. It is important for the teacher to put in place carefully thought through strategies with colleagues for his/her own safety. This may include careful thought as to where to hold the meeting and which extra members of staff may need to be present.

It can sometimes be useful, following the meeting, for the teacher to record in writing what has been decided. A copy should be sent to the parents setting out what they discussed at the meeting and clarifying the way forward. The child may actually be quite bewildered at the way he/she is currently behaving and so it is important for the child, too, to be reassured that the adults around him/her are formulating plans to help them move forward in a more positive way.

From this meeting onwards, it is very important to contact the parents when the child is acting in a positive way to also let them know that you don’t only contact them when the child is in trouble. The child will also appreciate the positive feedback from the school to their parents.

As violence and threats of violence towards teachers by parents grows, it is important to recognise the collaborative role between the school and the home. Parents may also need to be educated about this role. When they start to see their relationship with the school as collaborative rather than confrontational, the child will begin to receive clearer messages and a route to more positive behaviour can be mapped out together.

By David Allaway (BehaviourOnline) BA, Cert Ed; Grad dip (Ed Couns)