Working with angry parents is a part of the job of all school administrators. There are few things more anxiety producing in the profession than working in your office and hearing “I need to speak to the principal now” being yelled loudly from the lobby of the main office. Many of these intense meetings are unplanned and spontaneous in nature. Principals must be prepared to engage with an angry parent on a moment’s notice in order to defuse and resolve the conflict in the most appropriate manner. If they don’t, that parent is most likely headed to the district office or the media.
Here are five ways to handle an angry parent:
- Listen First
Parents who are upset about a situation want to be heard. They want to tell the whole story, not just fragments. Do not make the mistake of interrupting them to disagree or to correct their interpretation of the situation. Their perception of the situation is their reality. Make sure you hear their whole story before speaking. By listening up front, you are working to gain their trust.
- Ask Clarifying Questions
After the parent is done explaining their complaint, always clarify their concerns. For example, repeat their concerns back to them so that they know that you were listening and understand the situation. For example, “I heard you say that your son was pushed in the hallway by another student after lunch recess and the yard supervisors didn’t address the situation. Is that right?” Ensure that you have all the details and parties involved.
Principals can never act upon a complaint with just one side of the story. Parents will appreciate a thorough investigation into their complaint. If you can’t resolve the issue without interviewing other staff members or students, let the parent know that you are taking this matter seriously and will investigate their claim right away. Be sure to tell them that you will follow up with them as soon as you are able to speak to the other parties involved. However, always ensure that you are complying with student confidentiality laws. Never use the names of other students in your conversations with the angry parent.
- Follow Up
After completing an investigation, always follow up with the parent. Student confidentiality laws prohibit school officials from divulging consequences bestowed upon a student to anyone but their parent or guardian. However, you can let parents know that you appreciated them bringing this matter to your attention and that you do take these matters seriously. You can tell them that their concern was fully investigated and that measures were taken that were appropriate and match the school or district’s discipline matrix.
- Follow Up Again
Parents want to know that you care about their child. You can show them this by following up with the parent a second time after the situation has been handled to check in to see how the parent and child were doing and if they had any other concerns. By doing so, you are showing the parent that the issue is still prevalent in your mind and that you want to confirm that it has been resolved to the best of your abilities. This helps to build more trust. Also, if another situation arises again, they will feel comfortable and confident in your ability to resolve the matter quickly and professionally.
Dr. David Franklin, CEO of The Principal’s Desk, is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.principalsdesk.org.