Making Your Voice Heard with Your Child’s School
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Asserting their point of view with teachers or principals does not come easily to many parents. The prospect of speaking to a teacher or principal may stir up old anxieties connected with their own experiences as a student. Additionally, parents may believe that school staff have little interest in knowing their views. In reality, teachers understand that they can be more successful with your child if they know what’s on your mind.
How you express your views is just as important as your willingness to express them. The response you get from school staff will depend largely on your style of communication. Parents often fit into one of three communication styles: aggressive, non-assertive, and assertive.
Aggressive parents express their views in a hostile, dominating, manner. This approach is rarely effective with educators and may even make them more determined not to budge. Nonassertive parents express their views tentatively or may not express them at all. Lacking confidence in their views, they often agree to whatever the school proposes. In contrast, assertive parents express their views in an honest, straightforward, and calm manner while respecting the rights of others. When you speak assertively, you have a greater chance of being heard, understood, and respected.
Parents who assert themselves effectively on behalf of their child are more likely to:
- gather key information before a meeting ask questions when confused
- offer their own ideas about how to solve a problem
- state their views as opinions rather than facts
- restate their viewpoint to ensure understanding
- respect others’ viewpoints
- focus on understanding the problem and looking for solutions
- express appreciation to school staff when appropriate
- avoid fault-finding
- disagree, when necessary, with the school’s viewpoint
- not accept vague reassurances when they have genuine concerns
- follow up a school conference with a letter summarizing the meeting
Give thought to your own style of communicating. Do you become angry and demanding when you do not get satisfaction? Or do you cave in quickly? If asserting yourself does not come easily, rest assured that you are like many other parents. Speaking your mind to authority figures while maintaining your poise can be a formidable challenge. Fortunately, people can learn to engage in assertive behaviors and unlearn their more aggressive or nonassertive behaviors.
Parents and teachers are particularly prone to miscommunication when talking about a child’s problem. The parent may become distressed and say something which the teacher interprets as criticism. Communication breaks down and the likelihood of cooperation decreases. Parents have a better chance of engaging in a cooperative problem-solving discussion if they react in a supportive way to what the teacher is saying. This may not come easily to an angry parent but it will help maintain open lines of communication.