Surviving That Difficult (parent, administration, IEP) Meeting

We have all had those meetings that we dread.  The ones that keep us up a night for days leading up to it.  The ones that make your stomach hurt and your head ache.  Whether it is a meeting with a parent, an administrator, or an IEP team, you can survive and here is how.  

Before the Meeting

Know The Purpose

Do you know the purpose of the meeting?  Knowing the purpose of the meeting may allow you to relax or may inspire you to collect data and artifacts to get yourself prepared.  Whether you're meeting with an administrator or a parent, it is best to know what is going to be said before they actually say it in the meeting, if at all possible.  

Know Who Will Be There

Knowing who will be in attendance will give you the advantage of being prepared.  You will prepare for a 1:1 meeting with a parent a lot differently than you would for a meeting that includes a parent, administrator, and an advocate.    

Collect Data

After you know the purpose of the meeting, you'll be able to collect the data and artifacts to bring along to the meeting.  Make sure your information is organized and clearly labeled so you can easily reach for it during the meeting.  I like to make copies of necessary data so I can share with the other meeting attendees.  I have found that having extra copies makes you look transparent and helpful which is appreciated.  

Bring Backup If Needed

You should never go into a hostile situation alone.  If you are meeting with a parent you are having difficulty with, ask an administrator or a team member sit in on the meeting with you.  Also, if you feel the need, you might want to ask a union representative to sit in on a meeting you might be having with administration.  

Plan For an Endpoint

Set a time limit for the meeting and make the other parties aware of your need to be someplace else at that end time.  Sometimes I schedule parent meetings before school because having the kids arrive can be my exit plan.  

Be like Elsa  

When my co-teacher and I were about to go into a particularly impossible meeting with an administrator present for additional support, my co-teacher began to quote Elsa from the Disney movie, Frozen.  She put on her imaginary gloves, and said "Conceal.  Don't Feel.  Don't let it show." What she meant was that she was putting aside her own feelings and was going to stick to factual information.  

During the Meeting

Start Positive

Beginning a meeting with positive thoughts sets the tone for the entire meeting.  It will put the other attendees at ease.  Thank the others for attending the meeting with you.  Find something, not matter how small, positive to say to them.  

If you're in a CSE or parent meeting, remember what the topic of the meeting is.  The child you are discussing is the most important and greatest love of that parent's life.  Even if you're having a difficult time with the child or with that parent, remember that you are discussing their most precious possession.  Keep that thought in mind and in your tone when you discuss the child.  

Listen First and Validate Concerns

You can learn so much when you listen.  As much as you might want to jump in, it is important to listen first.  Validate the other party's concerns by saying something like, "I can understand how ______ can make you feel ______" or "I can see what you're saying".  After you validate their concerns, then you can share your point of view.   

Take Notes

A lot can happen during a meeting, especially one with high emotions.  If you take notes throughout the meeting, you'll be able to go back and reflect on what was said and by whom after it's over.  Your notes can also serve as proof of what was said in case that proof is needed in the future.  Documentation is so important! 

Stay Calm & Relaxed

One of the most helpful things I learned in Crisis Intervention training was to remain calm.  When your emotions become elevated, the other party's will become even more elevated.  If you remain calm, not only will you be able to keep a clear head and have better explanations, but your level of calm may help keep the other person calmer.  

Part of this is also remaining professional.  Be aware of your facial expressions and body language.  The things you say in silence are louder than any words that come out of your mouth.  

Do Not Take Things Personally

This is probably the most difficult thing for me.  I put so much energy into my job that is hard to not take things personally when a parent or administrator does not agree with me or appreciate my efforts.  Take your own ego out of it, and it will be a lot easier to listen to the other side's point of view.  

Find A Solution

If at all possible, come up with a solution at the end of the meeting with action steps for each party to complete moving forward.  For example, you may have to increase parent communication with a daily communication log and the parent will be expected to alert you when the student had a rough morning before coming to school. Whatever you decide on as the solution, make sure it is something you can commit to and complete with fidelity.   

Agree to Disagree & Discuss Further Later

At times, a solution is not going to be found in the time allotted for the meeting.  That's okay.  When dealing with humans, especially children, you may have to come back time and time again before coming up with a solution that everybody can live with.  Do not be afraid to "table" the meeting and come back at a later date.  If possible, created tasks for each party to complete before the next meeting that may help with the decision making next time.  

After the Meeting

Follow Up 

Whether there were actual tasks for you to attend to leaving the meeting or not, it is important to follow up with the other people that attended the meeting.  If you did leave with tasks, be sure to honor your agreement and complete those tasks.  

Remind Yourself of Your Purpose

Teachers do amazing things.  A difficult meeting will not change your passion, dedication, or talent.  You are a strong teacher.  You can do just about anything you put your mind to.  Do not let somebody else knock you down!  Keep a positive mindset and dive back into your job and you'll feel empowered.  

Remember YOU

Teaching may be your passion, but it is also your job.  You have so many things going for you outside of your job.  Separate yourself from your job and focus on those things you love.  Whether it is spending time with your family, getting a massage, or taking a walk by the lake, do what makes you happy and recharge your batteries. 

It is a fact that difficult meetings are a part of teaching.  Hopefully these tips will help you get through them.  

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