One of the unwritten rules of education is that the parent is always right. No principal wants to hear from board members that they didn’t treat a parent well. However, always supporting parents will ruin your ability to lead effectively. Veteran principals know that when dealing with parents who are going on a social media rant there are at least three things they have to remember.
Communicate and Diffuse
If a parent believes that they are always right, regardless of rudeness, they can and often will ask for just about anything. They will demand that Sally be moved from one room to the next or that a teacher change a grade or extend a deadline. It also means that these oppressive parents are getting better treatment and more attention than their easy going polite counterparts. That just isn’t right. Unfortunately these parents aren’t shy about complaining on social media. When that happens it’s time for us to diffuse the situation, even when we know they’re being unreasonable.
A good first step is to bite the bullet and make the call to the parent. Let them know another concerned parent forwarded the message to you so you would be able to address it. Once you’ve heard them, ask if they’d mind taking down the post.
Supporting Staff is Key
In conflicts between aggressive parents and teachers it’s okay to consistently side with your teachers. They have to put up with and be great in the face of parents’ complaints, societal judgements and unrealistic expectations on a daily basis. Treating staff like quality members of the team provides them with the value that they’ve earned and deserve. It shows you have their back. If you don’t support them in the face of an overwhelming parent, smaller things will cause huge resentment and inhibit your ability to lead. Of course there are ineffective teachers who don’t communicate well or appropriately with parents, but in a conflict, that is not the time to coach those behaviors. In fact this could actually leads to worse parent teacher communication.
In the event that a conflict like this get recounted online in an unfavorable manner sometimes a good choice is to just ignore it. Veteran principals often have a good sense when this would be the wiser course of action. If you’re new, run the scenario by a colleague and get their perspective.
Every Night has its Dawn
Parents will talk crap about the school and the teachers. Those are often easier to deal with because it’s not necessarily a direct assault on us. There will be occasion, however, when parents will insult us and call into question the decisions we’ve made. Maybe we’ve cancelled a school dance or end of the year ceremony where all kids are affected because of the choices of a small group. If you make the choice that you need to further explain your choice and the reasons for it a good idea is to wait until the next morning.
If you’re like me by the end of the day you’re often physically and emotionally drained. This is not the best time to send out an email responding to a parent’s attack. The tone in an email response cannot be easily interpreted and is often read with the recipient's emotional lens. Wait until the following morning and write your response. Again if you have a trusted staff member have them preview it before you send it out.
Veteran principals know of at least three strategies to use when dealing with parents that are online, ranting about school. They know they must communicate and diffuse the situation as best they can, support the staff member who may be caught up in an awkward situation and possibly just ignore the online chatter and finally, if it’s a personal attack wait until the following day to address the situation and have a trusted colleague review your message. These three strategies can help make it through a school year relatively unscathed by social media vitriol.
What are your strategies for dealing with a parent’s online mayhem? Share your strategies in the comment section below.
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I'm a Principal and an Entrepreneur. I'm the former owner of a food venture Hustling Hoagies, the author of the children's picture books Detective Dwayne Drake and the Alphabet Thief, Detective Dwayne Drake and The Case of the Mathematical Misfit and the ebook Making it as a Male Model in Michigan. I've worked professionally as a model and commercial actor......