Dealing with Difficult Parents
Course Outline

Course Fee: $180
Course Numbers: EED x701 24106, SED x701 24151
Standard Course Time: 30 hours
Semester Credits: Two (2) academic credits at the post-baccalaureate level (available for an additional fee)
Credit Issued by: Cal Poly Humboldt (refer to our Graduate Credit page for credit pricing and details)
Subject Area: Special Topics
Authors: Todd Whitaker, Ph.D. and Douglas J. Fiore Ph.D.

Introduction/Course Description:

One of the most challenging and potentially unnerving tasks that we as educators deal with on a regular basis is interacting with parents. This may not be true of all parents, or maybe even most parents, but there is always that parent who is a special challenge. The parent who is bossy, volatile, argumentative, aggressive, or maybe the worst—apathetic—can even make us question our abilities and ourselves. As educators, we are often taken aback the first time we deal with a hostile parent. We might be uncomfortable, intimidated, or just caught off guard. However, if we do not figure out effective and appropriate ways to interact with these parents, we may become apprehensive about communicating with other parents. Eventually, this may lead to a general discomfort or fear any time we have contact with parents.

Being able to successfully interact in these situations is essential. Developing phrases to use, being able to control the dialogue, and being sensitive to trigger words to avoid are skills that are learned through experience. However, it is valuable to have specific language that is appropriate for multiple situations that allows us to accomplish our needs—and hopefully even allows us to develop a more positive relationship with these parents for the future.

Another tough situation that all educators face is delivering bad news to good parents. Being able to do this effectively and in an appropriate manner is critical to developing needed support from parents. This is true whether telling parents about a discipline situation, recommending placement in a special needs program, or informing them about a child's struggles with grades. Establishing and expanding a repertoire of tools is a critical need for everyone in education.

This course will help teachers, principals, superintendents and all educators increase their skills in working with the most challenging parents you come in contact with. Additionally, educators can learn and develop specific strategies to help deliver less than positive news in an appropriate manner to all of our constituents. We will also provide tools that can help you build credibility with all parents. This can increase the level of trust and support that is imperative in building the needed parent–school relationship, which will allow greater success for all students. Initiating positive contact with parents is essential in this process. For all educators, if we do not initiate positive contact with parents, then the only contact we may have is negative. When we get into this pattern, then we become very hesitant to inform or even interact with the adults in our students' lives. Being able to comfortably and effectively make educator-initiated contact with parents is a skill that all of us must learn and practice.

Many of the situations we face are challenging. This course will provide you with specific language, understanding, and resources that you can immediately use in interacting with every parent in your community.

Course Objectives/Program Outline

This course is broken into major parts called modules. Each module contains content sections. Within each section, we cover one or more of the outlined learning objectives for the module. At the end of each module, there is a quiz. Some modules include a project. The breakdown for modules within this course is as follows:

Module One : An Overview

Learning Objectives:

  • Explore the term "parent" and define its meaning when used throughout this course.
  • Understand that parents are doing the best they know how, and our positive outlook as teachers can be productive when dealing with them.
  • Determine whether you argue or speak sarcastically to difficult parents.

Quiz: Multiple-choice questions that pertain to objectives above.

Module Two : Today's Parents

Learning Objectives:

  • Explore family configurations of previous generations and identify ways that the current generation of parents differ.
  • Identify how modern day family configurations and wealth contribute to family stress.
  • Develop an understanding of the most typical behaviors of difficult parents.
  • Examine the relationship between a parents perception of school and the message that many in the current media are delivering.
  • Define the differences between the child-centered household and the adult-centered household.
  • Illustrate how past negative experiences and culture can shape attitudes toward our schools.

Project 1: Difficult Students and Difficult Parents
Project 2: Child-Centered Families versus Adult-Centered Families
Quiz: Multiple-choice questions that pertain to objectives above.

Module Three : Communicating with Parents

Learning Objectives:

  • Illustrate how developing trust can create a positive first impression.
  • Introduce elements of positive contact that can result in productive parent relationships.
  • Explore methods of positive communication with parents.
  • Identify the five elements of effective praise.
  • Develop a consistent method for positive contact with parents.
  • Define the importance of healthy relationships and their influence in the creation of positive school-home relationships.
  • Illustrate the importance of positive methods for greeting parents and visitors.
  • Develop an understanding of the comfort zones of parents versus your own.

Project 3: Positivity Protocol
Project 4: Social Media Tools
Quiz: Multiple-choice questions that pertain to objectives above.

Module Four : Soothing the Savage Beast

Learning Objectives:

  • Recognize the appropriate time to use either an email or phone call to start a conversation.
  • Outline various techniques that you can use to diffuse difficult situations.
  • Explore situations where the parent is right and describe ways to help resolve the issue.
  • Introduce the phrase "I am sorry that happened" and its ability to satisfy even the most aggressive parents.
  • Discover that being in touch with our feelings can help us to correct things before we put ourselves in the position of having to defend our actions.

Project 5: Admitting Your Mistakes
Quiz: Multiple-choice questions that pertain to objectives above.

Module Five: Dealing with Parents in Difficult Situations

Learning Objectives:

  • Analyze difficult situations and provide the tools necessary for generating positive outcomes.
  • Idenitfy various approaches to delivering bad news to a parent.
  • Explore the basic concept of treating others fairly and with respect, and the result of "getting a good deal".
  • Integrate the methods of effective salesman when dealing with difficult classroom situations.
  • Introduce the "F" word - Fair, and develop an effective approach to working in fairness with students and parents.
  • Demonstrate that having a focus on the future can provide a point of view that student, parent and teacher can agree on.

Project 6: Giving a Good Deal
Quiz: Multiple-choice questions that pertain to objectives above.

Module Six : Increasing Parental Involvement

Learning Objectives:

  • Examine the importance of parental involvement in promoting the social, emotional and academic growth of children.
  • Identify various programs that can increase parental involvement within your school.
  • Recognize and learn to work through many of the obstacles to involving parents at school.
  • Illustrate the importance of communication in parental involvement.
  • Discuss ways parents can support school from home.

Project 7: Parent Involvement Plan
Quiz: Multiple-choice questions that pertain to objectives above.

Final Exam

Multiple choice questions taken from each module

Final Learning Statement

Learning statements should be in a narrative format – as opposed to an outline format. Depending on individual writing styles Learning statements should be 2-3 pages. The learning statement can vary according to individual style. Your learning statement should answer the broad question of "what did you learn?". To help get you thinking, here are some suggested questions:

  • What are the major concepts of the course that you have learned?
  • What new professional language have you acquired relating to the topic?
  • What teaching techniques for implementing new strategies in the classroom did you come away with?
  • Thinking back to your project reflections, were you surprised at the outcomes?
  • What new resources did you find in the study of the content?
  • As an educator, what new concepts will you now integrate into your teaching?
  • Are there any ideas that presented themselves as enlightening and useful?

--- Sample Course Project ---

Difficult Students and Difficult Parents - Project #1 Overview

The authors of this course state that if you have any students that you just cannot tolerate any more, you feel like your patience bucket has run out, you can barely stand the thought of them walking into your classrooms tomorrow, there is one thing that you can do. There is one simple thing you can do that will give you a whole new perspective on that child. That is...

Meet their parents.

This simple strategy can help you stay positive about your most difficult students as the school year unfolds.

For this project, think about your current population of students, particularly those who give you the most challenges. In addition, think about the most difficult parents. Then take a moment to:

  • Make a list of your five most difficult parents.
  • Make a list of your five most difficult students.

Now that you have made your lists, move on to the project submission as stated below.

For Your Project Reflection Submission

Take a moment to reflect on your findings for this project, using the following questions as a guide:

  • Do you see any similarities between student/parent in this list?
  • Of the parents you have met, whether in passing or formal, has meeting them helped you better understand their child?
  • Typically meeting their parents relieves your stress about the child themselves. Do you feel that there is some universal truth to what the authors say on this topic?

Visit the "Module Projects" section located within the Course Dashboard, and take a moment to share your findings by submitting your project reflection.

Cal Poly Humboldt Credit Specifics

  • Academic Credit at the Graduate Level through Cal Poly Humboldt (CPH) is offered after successful completion of this course.
  • The 700 series semester credit is post-baccalaureate level appropriate for credentialed teachers which do not require admission to a graduate program.
  • 700-level classes are graduate level classes meant specifically for credential purposes, and are appropriate for license renewal or recertification.
  • Courses are letter graded on official transcripts from CPH.
  • CPH is the northernmost and westernmost institution in the 23-campus California State University (CSU) system.
  • CPH is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), a regional accrediting agency serving a diverse membership of public and private higher education institutions.

Summer Option

If you are not currently teaching (ie. Summer break, you are a substitute teacher, etc.), each class offers you the ability to complete coursework independent of a classroom assignment.