Magazine article Techniques

Happy Parents, Healthy Schools

Magazine article Techniques

Happy Parents, Healthy Schools

Article excerpt

Does your school have "heart failure?" Does your administrator have "lockjaw?" Find out and much more in this winning-if sometimes cutesy-book from Elaine McEwan.

How to Deal with Parents Who are Angry, Troubled, Afraid, or Just Plain Crazy

By Elaine K. McEwan

94 pages, $20.95

How's this for an in-your-face title? So all right, it isn't likely to win praise from mental health officials or perhaps the PTA. But my bet is that teachers, school administrators and counselors are doing some quick categorizing of parents even as I type these words. Sure, parents only want what's best for their children, and many are thoughtful and reasonable. But, then there are the others-moms and dads with chips on their shoulder so huge you wonder how they can stand upright, those who believe so fervently in educational conspiracy that they make Oliver Stone look like a cheerleader for the established order, those whose grasp of reality seems as tenuous as your students' attention span on the last day of school.

The author knows these "others" well-as an educational consultant and, before that, a teacher, librarian, principal and assistant superintendent for instruction in a suburban Chicago school district. In this compact, to-the-point book, she wastes no time identifying and addressing the key issues involved and steps required for successful rapprochement with upset parents. But McEwan can hardly be accused of parent bashing-in fact, she's quite sympathetic to their concerns, concedes that educators aren't always masters of rationality and tact themselves (adding her own mea culpas), and stresses at the outset that, "One of our key responsibilities as instructional leaders is to maintain positive attitudes toward students, staff and parents to ensure that all children can learn." The author focuses on where parents are coming from and offers strategies for earning their trust and defusing potentially explosive situations.

Shake hands. Sit eye to eye. Listen. Open your mind. Apologize. Get to the point. Ask questions. Redirect. Lower the boom lightly. Welcome constructive criticism. Focus on problems, not personalities. McEwan's advice seems the right mix of therapy, courtroom strategy and good, old-fashioned etiquette. But she acknowledges, too, that on rare occasions educators encounter truly "challenging" parents-like the "mother straight out of a B movie"-. …

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