In my teaching experience, I've found that children come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have traditional families, others non traditional, and still others might have parents who are divorced. Within the group of divorced parents, I have encountered ones who did not get along with each other. When it came to conference time, I had to come up with a plan to make sure I didn't have to meet with them separately, and make sure that everything ran smoothly. Here are some techniques I came up with to handle these situations.
The first thing to do is to come up with ground rules for the meeting, and discuss them with the parents. For example, you might ask them to remember to speak positively about each other during the meeting. I like to start the meeting off by saying something positive about the student, and about each parent's relationship with their child. This may be hard to do in every situation, but even a small compliment can set a positive tone. Once the tone is set, be very clear about the intention of the meeting. Tell them that the meeting is for their child's benefit, and that in order to do that you need their cooperation. You should also remind parents not to interrupt each other. Don’t let this happen. If it does, remind them of the ground rules for the meeting and move on quickly. If they want to speak to you individually about issues they may be having with the other parent, they need to save those issues for another time. Address the parents as a unit; they are still working together to raise their child, and need to work together and communicate positively when it comes to issues relating to their child.
At these types of meetings it is important to have someone else in the room. Having the principal or school counselor at the meeting is always helpful and is sometimes necessary. Chances are, the principal and school counselor have had meetings with these parents in the past. It shouldn't be a surprise if they attend the conference.
Many parents also see their child’s teacher as someone they can vent to. I have had many instances in which parents have brought up issues they were having at home that were not related to their child's classroom performance. If this happens, it is important to be a good listener, be objective, and be professional. You don’t want to engage in the conversation for too long, because not only are you only hearing one side, but there may be many more issues at hand that you don’t know about. Just keep in mind to always put the student’s best interests first when discussing issues with parents.
As always, it is important to give each parent respect, time, and be a good listener. When dealing with parents who don’t get along, keep the child’s needs first before those of the parents. And hopefully, you can come to conclusions that work for everyone. What follows are lessons on effective communication that everyone can learn from.
Effective Communication Lessons and Activities:
Students read a book and discuss the importance of getting along with other people that are different than they are.
Students discuss and identify positive character traits in people that get along with each other.
Students investigate non verbal communication and the affects it has on relationships.
Students complete a worksheet in which they link communication words together.