Character traits like trustworthiness, integrity, authenticity and respect are like "money in the bank" when it comes to dealing with unhappy parents. But dealing with a parent on a power trip takes special care. Here's how to identify and deal with three common types:
BULLDOZERS come rolling into your office ready to run over and flatten anybody in their vicinity. Listen and let them tell their stories. If you need to interrupt to get them to sit down and stop swearing, do so. Remember the tricks that hikers are advised to use on mountain lions. Look them right in the eye and make yourself look big and powerful. Be firm and forceful, but not hostile or demeaning. Talk to a bulldozer not as you would a child but as if you were a slightly bigger bulldozer. Show them respect (once they calm down), and they will turn into kitty cats.
JACKHAMMERS never come in with their hammers up and running; they operate undercover, breaking up what you believed were solid relationships and effectively destroying a school community's culture and climate with just a few jabs. Bring them out into the open so other folks can hear and see the damage they are doing. Confront their behavior in quiet but forceful ways. If they are sarcastic with their damaging comments in front of an audience, don't let their inappropriate behavior pass.
DUMP TRUCKS are often acting out a more grown-up version of a toddler's temper tantrum. In most cases, a parent who dumps a load of garbage at your office door actually feels threatened or powerless. First get them calmed down, raising your voice several decibels if necessary. If you're meeting with a parent and you feel a tantrum coming on, stand up, grip the table and say, "Let's stop right here for a second. I have an idea that might work." That may shock the parent enough to forestall the tantrum. Then try to address the underlying issue or problem.
Adapted from How to Deal With Parents Who Are Angry, Troubled, Afraid or Just Plain Crazy, Second Edition Corwin Press, by Elaine K. McEwan. www.corwinpress.com, $29.95
Promises Kept: Sustaining School and District Leadership in a Turbulent Era
by Steven Jay Gross. www.ascd.org, $25.95
How do leaders in change-oriented schools and districts work through disruptions to uphold a vision of learning? According to this book, it's when leaders understand that success is based on collecting, conveying and supporting education ideas rather than on status, power or charisma. This approach allows change to be planned, implemented and sustained. The book includes case studies, strategies and charts and covers four challenges: dealing with leadership succession; keeping the learning agenda alive; sustaining a culture of innovation; and steering an honorable course through external upheavals.
Class and Schools
Teachers College and the Economic Policy Institute
by Richard Rothstein. www.tcpress.com, $17.95
Subtitled Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap, Rothstein argues that it's misleading and dangerous to assume children should be able to learn regardless of their family income or skin color, provided teachers are prepared and schools emphasize the importance of learning. Instead, he points toward social and economic reforms--such as stable housing, school-community clinics and summer programs--to give all children a more equal chance to succeed in school. Where appropriate, the per-pupil cost estimates for these reforms are included.
Setting the Record Straight: Second Edition
by Gerald W. Bracey. www.heinemann.com, $21
Featuring the latest data and a new chapter on No Child Left Behind, the second edition of this book (originally published in 1997) offers responses to misconceptions about public education in the U.S. From poverty's effects on achievement to "plummeting" SAT scores, essays explore the alleged shortcomings in schools and offer data and talking points to silence the misinformed. Each chapter starts with a statement you might commonly hear and a brief rebuttal. For example, someone who says schools won't improve until private companies run them like businesses might get the response, "Oh, like Enron, Imclone and WorldCom?" That can be followed by a statement about how privatized schools are faring.