Prepping for a new school year? Setting goals for your evaluation? Reflecting upon how you can improve your teaching? Problem-solving classroom management issues? Consider making positive parent phone calls a regular tool in your teaching arsenal, especially when dealing with challenging students.
Parents are the most powerful weapon teachers can wield in the war against apathy. Contacting parents and guardians can be a game changer in terms of establishing a sound classroom management system and a warm, productive classroom culture.
Still, calling parents can be intimidating for many educators. It’s so much easier to send an email. However, phone calls are personal. Making time to call parents speaks volumes about a teacher’s commitment to her job and to her students’ success.
Unfortunately, most of the phone calls we make to home are regarding behavior problems, poor grades, and attendance issues. It’s normal to call parents when these issues arise, and it’s also a best practice. Parents can help to motivate their children in ways teachers cannot.
But, I’ve made it a priority to also incorporate positive phone calls every week because I want my students’ parents to know I both notice and value the admirable qualities in their children. Positive phone calls can improve student-teacher and parent-teacher relationships. Especially in regards to challenging groups, calling home and pointing out students’ strengths and achievements can shift students’ mindsets, helping them focus on what they’re doing right instead of what they’re doing wrong.
For students who come to class on time, work hard, and otherwise generally epitomize a “good student,” it’s easy to make a positive phone call. With difficult students, on the other hand, it can take some time to think of a reason to call home on a positive note.
In these instances, it’s important to capitalize on small victories. Focus on something that a student might normally struggle with, and praise them up and down if you see them handle it in a slightly different (and better) manner.
Consider these possible scenarios.
The Late Work Issue
Hi Mrs. Baker! This is __________. I’m so glad I was able to reach you today. As we talked about last time we spoke, Tanisha has really been struggling with turning her work in on time for class lately. But today she submitted her assignment on time, and she even asked me a couple clarification questions to make sure she understood the material. I’m so proud of her for doing her work promptly. I knew you would be also, so I couldn’t wait to share.
The Behavior Issue
Good afternoon Mr. Townsend! This is __________. I wanted to call you about something Damon did in class today. Sometimes he gets really stressed out and has a hard time focusing, but today, he worked on his research paper and stayed on task all period. Not only that, but he also asked for a copy of our class notes. Damon lost his, and ordinarily he sits and chooses not to work if he can’t find his notes, but today he took responsibility, asked for the information he needed, and got straight to business. I couldn’t be happier, and I wanted you to know so that you can cheer him on from home as well.
The Organizational Issue
Hi Ms. Smith. This is _________. Can I just tell you right away that I am calling because of how excited I am about Sarah’s binder?! It is so organized. After she finished her test today, she decided she was going to go through and organize her course folders so that she can find everything more easily. I’m sure you noticed how messy it had become. I am so glad she took this initiative on her own, and she truly did a fantastic job. I made it a point tell her that I appreciated her efforts, and I would love it if you would also encourage her when you see her tonight.
The Group Work Issue
Hi Mr. Krause. This is _________. I am calling home because I noticed Anthony stepped out of his comfort zone today. Normally, when I allow students to form their own groups, he kind of hangs back and waits for me to choose a group for him. After the last time this happened, he and I had a short talk about which students he might collaborate well with. Today, he didn’t even hesitate. When I said “go,” he joined right in. This made my heart so happy. I know moving to a new school district has been challenging for him, but I love that he is making an effort to form relationships here.
When we think about all of the opportunities we have to compliment students for something small, something we might even overlook if we aren’t paying close attention to detail, the door really is wide open in terms of making phone calls home as frequently as our time allows.
Even though making positive parent contacts seems like a simple concept, in the past, I’ve sat down, called a mom, dad, or grandparent without a lot of forethought, spewed out a few sentences of praises (like the examples above), and then realized I didn’t really know what to do next. That can be awkward.
Over the years, I’ve learned to follow up these encouraging comments with…
Compliment your students’ parents or guardians on a job well done. Of course, these should be sincere.
- Thank you so much for the time, energy, and love you have put into raising Tanisha. Parenting can be such an exhausting job, but your efforts are paying off. I can see a difference in her!
Thank parents for their support. Parents have just as many plates to juggle as teachers, and if we are going to partner together, we should recognize their dedication to supporting us, and verbally thank them for it.
- I just want you to know I am so appreciative for your support. Parents have an influence over their children that teachers don’t. I wouldn’t have been able to make the progress with Damon that I have if it weren’t for your help.
After praising their child, set goals with parents to ensure continued progress in that area.
- I don’t want Sarah to become discouraged if her organizational efforts are quickly thwarted. I’m sure it will be difficult for her to break the habit of simply throwing papers in her binder randomly at the end of the class period. Would you be willing to partner with me to monitor her binder once a week? If we each keep an eye on it, we might be able to suggest that she take a minute to do some upkeep on her folders so that she can stay tidy and prepared and turn this organizational thing into a habit!
One of the most beneficial things I discuss with parents after complimenting their child is upcoming course information. I talk to parents about future assignments, tests, and projects. As we all know, teenagers don’t always fully inform their parents about homework and class responsibilities. When I call home (especially to a parent of a student who sometimes struggles), I make sure to give them a heads up about how they can help their child to continue experiencing success.
- Since Anthony has shown such initiative today, I’m hoping our upcoming group presentation is more enjoyable for him. Next week, I’ll be introducing a project where he will have an opportunity to work with three other classmates as they delve into some historical information to accompany our next literature unit. He will be researching, creating a visual aid, and presenting information with this group, and they will need to work together to divide responsibilities. This is such a beneficial project in so many ways, and I hope Anthony jumps right in like he did today. Can you please talk to him about this at home? Hearing it from two different people might resonate with him.
Making positive parent phone calls is imperative. Parents need to know that we aren’t always calling them with issues. While problematic phone calls are important to make, balancing them with positive ones will improve parent-teacher relationships. Emails are quick and easy, and they are appropriate in many instances, but phone calls are more personal. Try making time for one a week, and if they make you feel as proud and joyful as they do me, you might just decide to build them into your routine.
Do you have strategies that have proven effective for you when calling home to parents? Tell us about them in the comments. We appreciate your experience and ideas!
Thanks for joining us in another installment of “This or That,” a monthly chat where the authors of Reading and Writing Haven and Language Arts Classroom cover different ways of approaching common educational decisions. We hope we’ve provided you with renewed inspiration and practical ideas to implement in your classroom today.