By: Susan Angell-Gonzalez (President/CEO ShowMakers of America / Former Texas State University Strutters Director/Choreographer)
Establishing and maintaining a positive, professional relationship with your parents can be challenging, but it’s an essential part of education. Catering to parents’ unrealistic requests can backfire. This is why it’s important to never let parents tell you how to do your job. We all have the students’ best interests at heart. Always be confident in your dealings with parents. Never get into a public confrontation with them or you will both come out looking bad. Request a supervised appointment where you can meet with them privately. And remind them that you are constantly working on helping every student reach his or her true potential. It’s important that you deal with an issue one-on-one in a parent-teacher conference. Sending an email about a behavior problem, etc., will not always “nip it in the bud.”
One of the biggest challenges for dance directors is communicating to (and then reminding and convincing) students’ parents that quality training for their children includes technique, repetition, reinforcement, and age-appropriate steps and style moves, all supported with motivating choreography. Often, when schools participate in competition, winning becomes the parents’ priority. And many times, they compare their child’s competition results with those of other schools. Instead of focusing on what their team has accomplished, parents question the directors’ motives for teaching while challenging their ability to teach.
Part of your role as a teacher is educating parents about the importance of quality training. As a dance team director, you know that parents are valuable partners when it comes to educating their children. But even the best partners don’t always see eye to eye. What parents believe is right for their kids is not always what’s best for your program. So how can you make these differences a constructive part of your team planning? Start by having policies in place, thoughtfully listening to concerns and communicating clearly and regularly with them. Communication and establishing a positive relationship are essential. Parents must know what your policies are, and you must set boundaries.
With a team training plan in hand, you can sit down with parents and show them the realistic projected standard of the teams learning and what they can reasonably expect. Explaining why you follow a dance syllabus will help them understand the strategies and training standards you teach by in delivering age-appropriate, quality dance education to their children. Success or lack of success in precision dance does not indicate what kind of parent the student has. But having a student that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient and who tries their best is a direct reflection of their parenting. I recommend that you share this the next time you have a parent conference. Though we strive to help our students achieve at the highest level possible, it takes time to get results. Remember: Plan the work, work the plan, and teach until the teaching is done!
Form a relationship with parents from the beginning, to establish trust. Perhaps have one-on-one parent meetings at the start of each year to discuss expectations. Always have the discussion face to face (not through email). Emails can be easily misunderstood. Go over the students’ strengths, and stress that comparison isn’t wise or fair. Often people just need to be heard, and once your position is explained and reasons outlined, they will accept it as best for their child. Discuss student expectations with the parent. Stay positive! A teachers’ attitude can diffuse many situations.
Establish your policies in writing and have parents and students sign a form stating they’ve read and understand where you stand on the authority and decision-making of the rules and regulations.
Communicate regularly. “A parent meeting once a year solves most of the issues regarding money, tryouts and competitions. But what about missing practices? Schedules get busy and parents may not understand how absenteeism affects the whole team, especially if it’s preparing a performance. When a team doesn’t perform well, the students are let down (and so are you). Most dance programs have stricter absentee policies during football and competition season. Parents need to understand what these policies are, and that they’re taken seriously. You can reserve the right to make allowances in special circumstances, of course, but it is important to communicate that ultimately, to succeed, kids need to feel responsibility and ownership. Set a limit on the number of absences and institute accountability.
How to handle parents who complain about their child’s placement in choreography
How do you handle parents who constantly complain about where their child is placed in choreography?
Explain to your students (and parents) how you stage and block your routines so that they are familiar with your procedures and expectations. As the former director/choreographer of the Texas State University Strutters, my team knew that the performance block was based on “blendability.” They didn’t always understand it or agree with it, but they accepted it. I placed strong anchors (dancers) within the block and blended stronger and weaker dancers around this. I never put all of my best dancers on the front row (or my weakest on the back row). During training camp, and when it came to high kick, I challenged them to four levels by placing them in four rows according to their strength technically. Row one was the strongest kickers, row two next, then three, and four weakest. The team worked hard to be removed from their row and made it a goal to advance to row one by the end of training camp. Eventually, the team started a high kick performance in one line and everyone was front and center!
Sometimes your relationship with a parent may reach the point of no return. Maybe their child has missed several team practices without explanation. Meet with this parent and address your differences in a positive, constructive manner. Thank her/him for the time she/he and her child have devoted to your team and acknowledge that their needs have changed (and let the parent know you understand it may be time for a change). You’ll be letting them go with your reputation and dignity intact.
Finally, treat your students and their parents like pros. Demonstrate clearly how important commitment and training go hand-in-hand and that you offer students a professional experience in return.
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