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How Can You Deal With Angry Parents?

Very carefully.

By Alain Jehlen
Dad and Mom, eyes wild, barge into your room screaming, "How dare you give Ashley an F?!"

Ashley smirks. The class cheers. The principal walks in.

OK, that's probably not going to happen. But furious parents can do a lot of damage, whether or not there's any basis for their anger. So in case Dad and Mom ever do show up mad, here are some ideas on how to cope, and maybe even turn the encounter into an opportunity for everybody—parents, kid, and you—to do better.

Our advice comes from experienced teachers we contacted, from NEA members who posted their ideas on an nea.org discussion board, and from Jerry Newberry, head of the NEA Health Information Network, who used to train teachers to work with parents.

Success, they agree, depends on moving from confrontation to problem-solving. That may not always be possible. "Sometimes parents are angry about other things in their lives and choose to take it out on teachers," wrote Leadville, Colorado, sixth-grade science teacher Peggy Pothast. "In that case, there is nothing you can do but let them vent."

But these techniques can greatly improve your chances of moving beyond the venting.

If possible, before meeting with the parents:

"I document every time I talk with a parent or a student and keep enough details to answer questions," says Leavenworth, Kansas, elementary school counselor Janice Troyer.

If you want parents to help you get the homework turned in, you need to tell them how often it hasn't been, because their child is not likely to 'fess up.

"A lot of kids, if they are not doing well, will hide information from their parents," says Newberry. "So the parent is missing information. The parent's tendency is to defend the child and assume the teacher is wrong. Then the teacher gets defensive. The solution is concrete evidence."

"Never ever reply immediately to an angry e-mail," says Linda Robb, a high school English teacher in Indianapolis. "Wait. Do not delay more than 24 hours, but give it time. And then call them instead of writing an answer."

Often, a student with academic problems in one class is finding success in other subjects. If so, you want to be able to let the parents know. That may help them feel less defensive when you describe their child's performance in your class.

Decide what you want to come out of the meeting.

"Don't let the only goals at the meeting be the parents' goals," says Newberry. "They may just come in and yell at you because they think you've been unfair. Your goals should be child-centered—a clear plan of action.

At the meeting:

"Robert is doing really well in ______."

Remember? That's why you talked to other teachers beforehand.

"Many parents come to a conference highly defensive," says Newberry. "Year after year, for 12 or 24 conferences, maybe all they've heard has been bad news. You have to be different: 'I'm here to help your child be successful.'"

If the teacher lays out a plan, there's a good chance the parent will come back with, "We tried those things and they were an utter failure," says Newberry.

Instead, he advises, ask the parents to explain what's been done in the past and whether it worked. "Often a meeting fails just because the teacher talked first," he says.

"I hear you saying ______. Is that correct?" That's how Diane Postman, an early childhood special education teacher in Gloucester County, Virginia, summarizes this very effective technique, which lets the parent know you're sincerely listening. It also makes sure you understand.

"Often, the angry person is part right and part wrong," notes Postman. "If you begin by agreeing or acknowledging what they are saying, they will calm down."

"Robert is not turning in his homework."

"Janet is distracting the students she sits next to. She argues with me and won't follow rules."

If the parent is upset, it's better to work that out before the child is in the room, says Newberry. "Children need to see their teacher and parents singing off the same song sheet."

Pick two or three practical steps each of you can take. "Perhaps you and the parents can use a school Web site to communicate about schoolwork," says Newberry. "You will post the assignments, and the parents will check the site to see what's due and sign off on each completed task. You'll follow up with them when something isn't handed in."

If you're going to find something out for the parent, tell them when you'll get back to them.

After the meeting:

Agree to meet again, or at least to talk, in a few weeks. Don't wait half a semester to find out how your plan needs to be adjusted.

If you're unable to get information that you promised by the date you set, call them anyway with a progress report.

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Solution Preview

This is very good information in my opinion. The techniques described are techniques that have been documented to work. However, I would like to go through the list of techniques and give my opinions and experiences with each.

DOCUMENT THE CHILD'S PROBLEM BEHAVIOR AND YOUR CONVERSATIONS ABOUT IT - This is very important. So often parents see their children as snowflakes. They are unique and special, which they are, but generally this comes with the idea that the child can do no wrong. Parents don't want to acknowledge that their child is the problem so they blame the teacher. But parents need to see when it is their child misbehaving. When I substitute teach I have to leave very detailed notes because the teachers are documenting misbehaviour.

DON'T TALK TO A PARENT—OR WRITE—WHEN YOU'RE MAD - This is a very good rule for life. Talking to ...

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The expert examines dealing with angry parents for information.

See Also This Related BrainMass Solution

You work in the shipping and logistics department for Beast Buy, an American mail order company that specializes in pet food for very exotic pets. Beast Buy has four warehouses/distribution centers that provide product to each of four different regions in the US; Atlanta services the southeast, Boston services the northeast, Cleveland services the midwest, and Denver services the west. Your manager has recently asked you to analyze the efficiency of these distribution centers.


You work in the shipping and logistics department for Beast Buy, an American mail order company that specializes in pet food for very exotic pets. Beast Buy has four warehouses/distribution centers that provide product to each of four different regions in the US; Atlanta services the southeast, Boston services the northeast, Cleveland services the midwest, and Denver services the west. Your manager has recently asked you to analyze the efficiency of these distribution centers.
The attached file contains data from each of the last 26 weeks for each of the four distribution centers. The first column simply denotes the week in which the data were collected. The second column indicates which warehouse the data are from (1=Atlanta, 2=Boston, 3=Cleveland, 4=Denver). The third column contains the distribution cost (in thousands of US dollars) associated with the particular warehouse in each week, and the final column contains data on the number of orders routed through each warehouse each week.

Problem 4.1

The first issue your boss has asked you to address is whether or not there are differences in distribution cost between each of the four warehouses. Use the 0.05 level of significance to:
a) Perform a one-way ANOVA to look for differences in distribution costs between warehouses.
b) If the results in (a) indicate that it is appropriate, use the Tukey-Kramer procedure to determine which distribution centers differ in mean distribution costs.
c) Briefly summarize (in plain English) your procedures and the results of (a) and (b) for your manager.
Excel Tips: When using the Data Analysis ToolPak, Excel requires that your data be formatted differently for ANOVA than for regression. The data as downloaded is formatted correctly for regression analysis, so you will have to transform your data prior to estimating the ANOVA.

Problem 4.2

In addition to looking at differences between distribution centers, your manager also wants to know the relationship between the number of orders routed through each center and the distribution cost. Thus, the number of orders is your independent variable and the cost is your dependent variable.
a) Construct a scatter plot of the two variables.
b) Estimate a simple linear regression between these two variables.
c) Interpret the meaning of &beta 0 and &beta 1.
d) Predict the mean distribution costs of 500 orders, 1000 orders, and 1500 orders. Are these appropriate predictions?
e) Comment briefly on the predictive power/statistical significance of your estimates.

Problem 4.3

Here, your task is to combine 4.1 and 4.2 into a single multiple regression model using dummy variables. To put the data in an Excel-friendly format, you will first need to create dummy variables for each of the different processing centers. a) Estimate a multiple regression model, again using cost as the dependent variable, however for your independent variables you will want to use orders AND your set of dummy variables (see technical note below).
b) Comment on the results from (a) in light of your results in 4.1 and 4.2. Does the coefficient on orders here match your results from 4.2? Do the coefficients on your dummy variables, and differences between the coefficients on your dummy variables, match up with your results from 4.1?
Technical note: For technical reasons owing to matrix calculus, you cannot estimate a regression with an exhaustive set of dummy variables. One of your dummies will have to be omitted from the model. For ease of interpretation when answering the question, I would suggest that you look at your results from the Tukey-Kramer test in 4.1: if your results there are such that one of the centers was significantly different from most/all of the rest, choose that one to omit in your regression. For example, if you find that 2 of the differences were significant, Boston/Atlanta and Boston/Cleveland, do not include the Boston dummy in your regression.

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