How principals can improve school-parent conversations

How principals can improve school-parent conversations

VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) is an acronym first used by the US Military to provide a framework for the challenging world that their developing leaders would be operating in.

Michelle Loch, director of Thinking Humans, said that “in today’s VUCA world”, educators must develop their leadership skills as we as their pedagogical perfection.

One vital area of leadership required of educators, said Loch, is the capacity to communicate with, influence and manage the relationship between the parent and the school.

“This is not an easy task, and why is it so challenging? Because parents are human, and educators are human, and humans are challenging to manage at the best of times,” Loch told The Educator.

“Unfortunately, many of the interactions between parents and the school occur when things are not going well.”

Loch pointed to neuroscientist and researcher, Antonio Damasio, who said that humans “are not thinking beings that feel, but rather feeling beings that think”.

“We know from neuroscience just how much emotion affects the logical functioning of the brain,” she said.

Loch pointed to six traits of “emotionally negative” brains.

  • Generalise (...the school always treats my child differently)
  • Avoid dealing with the real issues (...but that child hit my child (regardless of why)
  • Filter through bias (...see only what they want to see or what supports their view or emotional response)
  • Resist ideas and suggestions (...but this is what ‘I' want to have happen)
  • Dig in and hold their perspective, even in the face of evidence to the contrary (...but that’s not what my child told me happened)
  • Can’t see the bigger picture (...but this is how it impacts MY child!)

Loch said the biggest challenge that educators face in this context is managing the emotional responses of the parent who is working from a “threatened brain”.

“The key to powerful and influential conversations is to learn how to recognise and manage this response,” said Lock.

Below, Loch shares three simple tips to begin developing a more masterful approach to improving the parental relationship through powerful conversation:

1. Acceptance
Essentially people WILL get emotional and irrational – it’s what makes human. So be OK with it and don’t let it take YOU to an emotional and defensive place. Feel compassion not confrontation. Two emotional people in a conversation is a recipe for disaster.
2. Validation
Do not attempt to defend or counter an emotional person’s point of view – you will only get resistance. You need to validate their experience (not their perspective – there is a difference). Saying things like…’Yes, I can see how much this is upsetting you’ or 'Yes, I agree that this is not an acceptable situation’ can start the process of calming the emotional response. Their experience and response is real for them – you have no right to question it.
3. Curiosity
Despite your best attempts, your brain makes assumptions about virtually anything. Curiosity creates clarity. What you think you hear or understand is rarely correct. Take the time to ask more questions, to suspend judgement, to really listen and feedback what you are hearing or what they are saying before deciding on the next action or response.
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