How I got Parent Emails to Stop and How I Build Emotional Resiliency in my Classroom
Posted on February 14, 2019

We all have that dreaded moment as a teacher; getting an email from an upset parent.  I instantly feel defensive and an urgency to fix the situation so there is no conflict with the parent.  As much as I try not to, I have taken these emails personally in the past.  They tend to consume me and interfere with my evening and I lose precious time to doing other things or simply being present with my family. 

Since employing the concepts from Brave Teaching into my class, this has all dramatically changed.  I’ve learned that when we teachers jump in and respond to fix it, we take responsibility.  It is sort of like helicopter parenting.   It is not our responsibility to fix the situation, it is our responsibility to partner with parents to work together and address the concerns.  If we respond with haste and insensitivity, we tend create more issues. 

In co-authoring Brave Teaching and working with parent coach Krissy Pozatek, I’ve learned to use a new lens.  Parents are scared.  Most of the time an email is sent as a reaction to a fear they just encountered listening to their child.  Instead of listening to their child’s feeling, parents react because they do not want their child to struggle.  It becomes a chain reaction: upset child, reactive parent, reactive teacher. 

Luckily there is a simple and powerful way to address this which is to listen and validate.  Simple, though not easy.  As a teacher this involves separating yourself from the feeling that they are attacking you and really listen.  Once you do that, you will hear the actual need and not the judgment.  Then, you can come up with strategies that will not “fix” it but instead are ways to empower to the child to take responsibility for the problem (with support from the parent and the teacher).  It is an invitation to work together and collaborate.

For example, I received an email in the beginning of the year from a mom who was upset because her child shared that she was struggling with a group that she was assigned to.  This mom continued to explain that her daughter would never share this directly with the teacher and so mom felt it was necessary for her to email the teacher, so the situation can be fixed.

Here is how the conversation went (phone)

Teacher: That must have been a heartbreaking for you to listen to your daughter struggle.  (Validate)

Parent: Yes, and I want her to be successful, but she can’t with these partners.

Teacher:  It sounds like your daughter being successful is very important to you and you feel she is unable to be successful because of her group?  Is that right?  You are wanting assurance that your daughter will find success in the activity being done in the group she is assigned. (Validate and confirm need)

Parent:  Yes, that is exactly what I am trying to say.

(Believe it or not, when a parent feels heard, they will stop)

Teacher:  Due to the activity already being halfway through, a new group would be a new challenge for her.  I am happy to connect with her and give her some strategies to work with her present group. (Offering a strategy)

Parent: Yes, that would be great, thank you.

You have not fixed it.  You have listened, validated, and offered strategies.  The responsibility will still land on the child.  This process can be uncomfortable at first, but through practice it will feel more natural.  Parents will appreciate being listened to and know that they will not need to email you with every problem in the future.

Steps for Responding to a Parent Email:

1)Validate parent’s feeling

2) Validate again and confirm the need of the parent (the need is not a strategy, it is what the parent would want for her child-assurance of success vs. child changing the group)

3) Offer a strategy (strategy for the child that pairs with need)

4) Keep the responsibility with the child (with support from parent and teacher)

As I’ve shifted my perspective to promoting emotional resilience in the classroom, I also knew that his was an opportunity to work on problem-solving with this student.  So often as teachers we want to remove struggle and fix problems, always trying to create success.  But all these little “boulders on the trail,” (struggles) are really important opportunities for skill development.  Skills such as problem-solving, being with discomfort, taking ownership, delayed gratification and emotional regulation. When we highlight the importance of developing these internal skills, we can further validate the process when we see kids struggle as an opportunity to practice these 5 skills listed above.  

With a teaching emphasis on promoting emotional resiliency, I now set the tone of the importance of struggle in the beginning of the year.  I let parents know that I will work collaboratively with parents and students to solve issues that are popping up during the school year.  But ownership of problems will land on students.  Ultimately parents want this.  This shift has dramatically changed the volume of parent emails I receive but it has also diminished any reactive triggers I may feel when that parent email does show up in my inbox. 

By, Krissy Pozatek, MSW Parent Coach and Sarah Love, MA 4th Grade Teacher

Krissy's lighthearted, humorous, gentle, and especially non-judgmental nature never failed to lift our spirits. I always appreciated her many stories and her use of metaphors to simply illustrate concepts which she felt we needed to deeply understand and begin to implement. I have worked in the medical field for almost 30 years now and have met many people along the way, but Krissy Pozatek stands out as one of the most gifted and talented people I have ever met. I wholeheartedly recommend her to "everyone" because I think that anyone would be lucky to have her as their therapist! We are forever grateful to her for her brilliant insights, her amazing skill at teaching us more appropriate responses, and most importantly, for helping us to heal our family. Susan P. (Parent of adolescent boy)
Having to send a child to Wilderness and then on to Therapeutic Boarding School was one of the lowest points of our lives and yet we realize now that we were truly blessed to have met Krissy. With her vast experience, eclectic knowledge, and abiding wisdom, Krissy has guided us through darkness and deep despair into the light and an ultimately successful outcome for our family. It has been an 18- month journey so far. During this time, she helped us “stay the course” when every fiber of our being wanted to “rescue our child.

 

Susan - California USA
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