When angry emails or messages from parents land in an educator’s inbox, it’s easy to react immediately, but Jessica Cabeen, principal of Ellis Middle School in Minnesota, writes for Edutopia that taking a breath before hitting "reply" and carefully planning how to respond can defuse the situation before it gets out of hand.
Cabeen’s tips for thoughtful responses include sleeping on the message and not responding immediately if it made you upset, taking a walk to clear your head, and checking in with a trusted friend or fellow teacher — i.e., “phoning a friend before you hit send.”
Along those lines, it may make sense to call the parent directly rather than engage in back-and-forth email exchanges, but it’s ultimately best to let it go and not be offended by an email, phone message or even a social media thread.
Positive communication between teachers and parents help students thrive academically. Creating good parent communication from the start helps promote student achievement by looping everyone in. Camille Cavazos, an elementary school teacher, says face-to-face events help build that relationship. Involving parents as much as possible fosters bonding and also allows for stronger interactions with non-English speaking families.
Starting the year off with strong communication channels established also encourages parents to reach out before they reach a boiling point. A Scholastic article encourages teachers to tell parents to reach out early and often. Part of this process includes building trust with the parent and making sure they know you're on their team. Reach out at the first sign of trouble also ensures parents aren't blindsided by previously unknown issues. If they realize their child is getting a D and there are only a few weeks left in the semester, for example, they could panic.
If, and when, an angry message comes in, it's most important that educators take time to listen. If a mistake was made, own it. If, on the other hand, the message is unfair, don't allow the parent to bully. Teachers should hold their ground if they believe they aren't at fault.
In an effort to keep communication flowing between parents and teachers, Minnesota Public Schools recruited help from its minority communities. The program includes African American, Hispanic, Somalian, Native American and Hmong community members who help teachers communicate with parents.