It happens to all of us at some time, we have a problem with the school and we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. This applies equally to public and private schools, as well as primary and secondary schools.
It would be unusual if your child went right through his or her schooling and never once had a problem. It is possible but unusual. So what is the best way to tackle it, when it does occur? Many parents try the age-old solution of ignoring it and hoping that it will go away. This can sometimes work, but often doesn’t. You’ll need to overcome your fears and tackle the problem head on.
First of all, why solve the problem? Why not make the far easier choice to change schools? The answer is that if you change schools your child suffers. It is far better to find a way to solve the problem.
If you ask many parents they feel that if they do raise a problem with the school their child will inevitably suffer a backlash. The children themselves also share this fear. For the sake of your child you must overcome this fear and face up to the problems.
The solution offered in most books, and by most parents is to go up to the school. But who do you talk to at the school? And what do you say when you get there? Here are some suggestions.
Be known at the school
In my experience people who are successful in solving a problem with their local school are already known at the school. Imagine how you would feel as a teacher or principal when the first time you meet a parent is when they arrive at the school with a ‘complaint’, or at least what the school sees as a complaint. You are off to a bad start before you even begin. Let the school know you first as a co-operative parent, you’ll find it much easier when you do want to talk about something. So, go up to the school and be known. You do not have to become the president of the parents group, just be a known friendly face. Also, if the school knows you as a supporter they will try harder not to get you offside. If you want to take out some insurance against having a problem in the future then this is the thing to do, be known.
Be prepared, or in other words have a plan. Most people spend 90% of their time in the discussions and 10% in planning. You have got to do the reverse, if you want to get things done smoothly and easily. Talk the issue over with your child. Remember that while they usually tell the truth, our children don’t always tell the whole truth, or even know the whole facts of a situation. So gather all your facts first. Then work out exactly what you want to achieve. Also think about what you would like as your perfect solution and what as your minimum.
Talk to the right person
Often even the best plans don’t work out because the parent has gone away all prepared and then approached the wrong person. If your child is in a primary school then you should start by talking to their class teacher. Make a time that suits them and sit down and go through your concerns in detail. Give them some time to respond. There are often two sides to a story, and you need to listen to theirs. If your child is at high school then you should probably start with the year adviser. Only if your first approach fails should you consider going to the principal.
Know who you are talking to
It is an old saying that you should know your enemy. Parents and their school certainly are not enemies, however they sometimes find themselves on opposite sides in a dispute. Therefore do a little bit of research. Schools are like any organisation. Not everyone gets on with everyone else. Don’t let someone feel that you have gone over their head. Even if you have a good case you can end up not solving the problem because you have put someone’s nose out of joint. Don’t end up with a larger problem than you started with. How does the person you are talking to usually handle parents? Do they like a formal interview? Do they like to be called Mr or Mrs rather than by their first name? Do you think that they like your child?
Start positive and stay positive
Remember that most problems have a solution. You will find a solution by talking to the right person (after you are clear in your own mind about what you want). However, you must expect to be able to get a result. Start with a phone call. Be pleasant and don’t try to solve the problem with a simple phone call. You miss too much in a phone call. The aim of your phone call should be to set up a meeting, not to solve the problem.
Be aware of what impression you are making. You should aim to leave them with the idea that you are a concerned parent who is willing to compromise but that you do want to get a solution. Ignore any negativity from them. You are interested in a solution. Don’t be put off by comments about your child. Stay positive and stay on the topic at hand. Often teachers and principals focus on what they don’t like about a student, rather than what is good about them. You have to keep the focus on the positive and ignore the negative.
It is only when someone realises that you are not going to go away that they start to listen to your problem and try to address it.
It is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, which may be a shame but it is true. It is only when someone realises that you are not going to go away that they start to listen to your problem and try to address it.
Sometimes both sides in a parent interview sit there talking around the issue, trying not to offend each other. In the end both go away dissatisfied. At some stage you will have to confront the issue and ask for what you want. If both sides remain on their best behaviour then you will never get to the nub. You may need to go to the school on several occasions and talk to several people before you solve the problem.
Let’s take an example to see how this approach might work. Sandra was quite happy with the way her son Joshua’s school was going in general but she felt that her own son was talented and that there was no effective gifted and talented program for him. She had raised this at a parent meeting and felt that she had been fobbed off. She was very serious about this and had even considered changing schools. What should she do?
The first thing that she needed was a plan. She must think through exactly what it is that she is after. She also had to consider exactly what she means by that important but vague term ‘gifted and talented’. After thinking it through she decided that what she wants are the following:
- Some recognition by the school that gifted and talented education is important
- An idea from the school of what they will do
- A program for Joshua especially in music where Sandra feels that he is particularly talented
Now that she had a plan it all became a bit easier. She was able to work with other parents to get a program going in the school. After several meetings at the school she was able to get the music education extended although this means extra fundraising, for her and other interested parents. She also got after school music lessons for Joshua, even though this is not her first choice. Moreover, he is able to play at school assemblies, thus giving him the recognition he deserves.
So it took some time but she was able to achieve a compromise that meant she could get a lot of what she wanted (not everything) and keep Joshua at the school.
Published in byronchild/Kindred, Issue 5