How to Complain While Still Building Relationships

Something has happened …

You need to complain …

How does that make you feel?

For some people, that is an easy prospect; for others, it is a terrifying prospect; for few, it is an opportunity to enhance relationship with the person you are complaining to.  This post is aimed to help as many people as possible move into the few.

Is complaining even the right word?

Maybe complaining isn’t the right word.  Raising issue?  Suggesting alternatives?  Drawing attention?  These may be better ways to express and think about what we are doing.

  • Roman has asked for help in class and is still struggling;
  • Olivia is having friendship issues with some of her peer group;
  • Harry is finding the work too easy and isn’t being challenged;
  • Summer struggles with her hearing and not all of her teachers are taking this into account.

All of these situations can be challenging.  They can make parents like us get really protective and want to wade into situations and protect our child.  At the other extreme, they could have us encouraging our children to be more resilient in situations when we could help them and others positively.

The reality is that a teacher may not be aware that there is an issue or that, if a student has mentioned it once, it is still ongoing.  A primary teacher has up to 32 students in her care throughout a school day with all of their needs and a secondary teacher can be in contact with upwards of 200 students per week.  Something being missed is not a sign of incompetence or lack of care but could just be an oversight for a very committed and caring professional.

How to do complaining well

  • Speak directly to the person you have an issue with and start from a position of partnership.  Professionals in education work really hard and often go above and beyond in ways that you may not be aware of.  Being in a mindset of being on their side will help the conversation go much better.
  • Find something positive to thank the person for – the diligence of homework setting, the quality of the lessons, the atmosphere in lessons – hopefully there is something you can point to.
  • Talk about the reason you are there, sticking to the facts of what happened and the effect that those actions have had on your child.
  • Try hard not to make assumptions about what the person was thinking, feeling or expressing.
  • Suggest some ways of moving forward, things you can be doing at home to support and ask for how you might follow-up later on.  This could be face to face, by phone or email.
  • Wait to see if things change.

I’ve had parents complain to me in this way and, while being challenged, I’ve felt affirmed by the interaction and looked forward to encountering these parents in future.  Followed in this way, there is space for change and it is happening in a non-confrontational, supportive way which is helpful for enhancing the relationships between home and school.

What if it doesn’t work?

If things don’t change, then it can start to be a worry.  At this stage, some people will go straight to the headteacher but the reality is that a headteacher is likely to pass it back down to the teacher’s line-manager.  It is more constructive for you to contact the head of year, head of subject or head of Key Stage as appropriate.  These email details should be available on the school website and, if not, an email to the school office could with the subject line expressing FAO: <relevant person>.

Once you have done this, if there is still no change then it is worth involving the head and detailing all that has happened so far, all you have tried to do and the outcome of those interactions.  Again, try to follow the above guide to ensure that the headteacher feels you are coming from a place of support rather than attacking one of her staff – they care for their students and their staff and want to protect both.  If this is still not effective, though in almost all cases it is, there will be a more formal complaints procedure which will involve governors.  The school are obliged to give you that policy if you request it.

Over to you …

Have you any tips that would help others?  Are there things that have worked or that haven’t worked?  What things have you complained about and seen real change?  Which things have you seen less than great response from?

If you think this might be useful/interesting to someone else share below and if you’d like to make sure you don’t miss any posts here then sign up to my mailing list.

Leave a Reply