What prompts you to contact the parent or guardian of a student? This is the question that was asked of a teacher candidate this week during an interview. This question often elicits a safe response by candidates that includes contacting a parent when a student has either become a discipline issue in the class or is unwilling to do work. Just as predictable is the follow up comment about how they also like to contact parents when the student does something positive. But this week I heard a comment that I had never heard before during an interview; “I am not going to lie. Having to call parents scares me.”
I wasn’t prepared for her response, but I will tell you that upon reflection I appreciated her honesty. Frankly, I am not sure why I felt surprised. In my opinion, it is one of the most challenging expectations placed on teachers, directors, and coaches by building leaders that staff struggle to meet.
This response has left me wondering about how , when , and the frequency in which we contact parent and/or guardians and what we can do to improve our communication with the very people we should be aiming to connect with on a more regular basis in order to foster a more trusting home-school relation. To assume that teachers enter the profession with the necessary skills to effectively communicate with parents is at best an oversight on our part, especially if those calls require faculty to express a concern about their student.
I wonder if all school communities would be stronger if….
- Every student’s parent(s) received a personal postcard, note, letter, or e-mail from every one of their student’s teachers before the first day of school with a welcoming message.
- Every student’s parent received a personal phone call from at least one of their child’s teacher(s) which included a personal and positive message about their student. Teachers could work together to divide up student contact information to ensure everyone received a call.
- Teachers and administrators would personally call parents anytime an email communication did not receive a response rather than assume a parent did not care enough to respond. Assumptions should remain positive by believing that parents never received the initial email or simply forgot to respond.
- Teacher prep programs required all cooperating teachers to model and coach their student teachers on a regular basis so parent communication became something to look forward to rather than something that was feared or dreaded.
- School administrators assigned every teacher a communication coach to model and mentor how to make home calls that left parents feeling like they had a school advocate to support them and their child.
- Teachers and administrators were committed to trying to resolve student infractions with the student first before involving a parent (immediate parent involvement would be determined by the severity of the infraction). By giving students an opportunity to correct their own behavior and then communicating those expectations would give them personal ownership and model fairness before involving a higher authority.
- Teachers trusted their administration and reached out to them and asked for assistance with challenging parents rather than avoid calling home. Avoiding communicating with parents regardless of the concern is never a good practice. Seek support of your administration.
- If every staff member kept a log of calls made home in order to use this information to personalize their relationships with families. We want our staff to want to call home so requiring staff to submit logs to administration only serves to perpetuate a culture of mistrust rather than cultivate a community of trusted professionals. Let’s not put staff in a position to “check off the box” that they completed this expectation.
- We as administrators offered not only training and coaching support, but provided the one commodity that our teachers value more than anything….time.
- We viewed early release and staff in-service days as opportunities to intentionally focus our discussions on the importance of connecting with all parents, sharing effective strategies to support each other and then providing our staff time to make positive calls home. Moreover, take it one step further and ask staff to document the parent responses and then share the general list of responses with all staff as a way to celebrate your collective great work!
At the end of the day, the best home-school communication is initiated by school personnel who are sincere in their desire to approach each parent as a true partner. When this partnership is grounded in a genuine concern for the child rather than an attitude of condemnation, we will no longer need to lie and be scared to call parents.
There is no need to be scared anymore.
Will you accept the challenge this week of making at least two positive calls home? I promise I won’t even ask you to submit your log.
Make it happen for all kids this week!