When faced with a parent or caregiver who wants to raise an issue related to their child, whether they are upset and angry, tentative and unsure, or even calm and assertive, listening is a primary and pivotal element of our response. Listening to someone – genuinely and carefully – can be a simple and effective tool that helps to defuse an emotionally fraught or potentially explosive situation.

Parents and caregivers who feel someone has listened and tried to understand may be more likely to collaborate to resolve a situation involving bullying or exclusion. Their motivation to play a constructive leadership role or to participate in school activities may increase when they believe that their feelings and experiences have been seen, heard, believed and understood.

Of course, listening is often not a simple process. If someone approaches us in an aggressive fashion, listening and remaining open-minded can feel near impossible, and even undesirable. Naturally, one’s typical reaction is to defend oneself; stepping out of one’s skin to feel the other’s concerns may be too difficult at that moment.

Empowerment listening requires calm and confidence. It is an interactive process in which we seek to both understand and ensure that the parent or caregiver feels understood, and has a real role in problem-solving. Engaging with parents and caregivers so that they feel heard and understood requires a level of comfort, awareness and authentic openness.

Reflecting about listening to parents and caregivers

Over the coming week, try to observe your interactions with your students’ parents and guardians in different situations you encounter. Afterwards, take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much time did I spend listening?
  • What stopped me from listening?
  • How did I show that I was listening?
  • Was I listening carefully?
  • Did parents and caregivers respond differently to the situation when I listened?
  • Did I provide real space for others to share and contribute their wisdom?