Phone Calls Home: “I’m Not Going to Lie…They Scare Me”

phone call

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….

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. We as administrators offered not only training and coaching support, but provided the one commodity that our teachers value more than anything….time.
  10. 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!

I am homeschooling you. That doesn't mean you can misbehave in class. If you keep calling out, I'll have to call your mother and report my concerns to myself.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

13 Comments

  • Ben Gilpin says:

    Jimmy,

    I agree with you, that response in an interview would have caught me by surprise, but it would have been refreshingly honest.

    You make an excellent point about the importance of positive contacts early on. My days in the classroom taught me that your first and second times communicating with parents had to be informative and/or positive. It is critical to establish a positive relationship with families before any concerns are aired.

    I appreciate your advice on assisting teachers with this. I have assumed that people have this skill and that is on me. I can definitely work with teachers to build confidence and comfort with parent communication.

    Terrific post my friend!

    -Ben

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Ben- thanks for your comments. I still catch myself making the same assumptions about teachers and calling home. I think many of us do. It is something that I take for granted since it is such an important part of what we do. Like anything, the more you do it the better you get at it. I am committed to working with my staff on this topic. – jimmy

  • I think of Todd Whitaker: build a relationship before you need a relationship. That’s why I call homes. Positive call should be the first call. If it’s not, you’ll wish you had. Great post Jimmy!

  • I think communication skills to call home is something that is greatly overlooked in teacher prep programs. Last summer, another administrator and I offered a session on communication for our staff and we got terrific feedback about the suggestions and role playing we did and had participants to do. We encourage our teachers to call home early in the year so that if they have to call about a discipline issue, they will have already made a positive contact with the parent.

    Thank you for the concrete suggestions on how to improve communication!
    Jennifer

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Jennifer – that is a great idea. Why am I not surprised you already encountered this and put a plan into place to alleviate the concern and support your teachers? Well done my friend. Keep doing great things for your students and staff. – jimmy

  • Krista Baker says:

    I do have to speak up for the people with a social anxiety disorder. “telephobia” is not a true phobia, but it is real. Making phone calls makes me physically ill. I will answer the phone anytime and talk all you want, but making phone calls makes me shake, sweat, and my stomach twist into knots! That comes through on the phone, and nobody think it helps the home-school connection when the teacher sounds like she’s being held hostage…..
    I tell my parents this in my information packet at the beginning of the year– I’m “quirky”: I really have a fear of making phone calls. Will it be okay if I contact you through email or Dojo messaging? You can call me at these times:….(Thank you Dojo for introducing messaging!)
    I’ve only had one or two parents ever think it was ridiculous; I’ve had many more tell me they feel exactly the same way! And sometimes, parents will make an “appointment” time when I can call and not be bothering them. (One of the big fears of ‘telephobia’)

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Krista – thanks for sharing this. I appreciate the fact that you don’t use your anxiety disorder as a reason not to communicate to families. You just worked to find a different way to get the same result. Good for you. Thanks again for sharing and for taking the time to comment on my post. I wish you all the best! – jimmy

  • Brenda Nichols says:

    Your post validates my expectations that a positive phone call home is made each nine weeks to families of each of our students. We implemented this three years ago, and it has become easier for our staff members. Can’t wait to share your post with our staff. Can’t wait to hear you speak in Atlanta and in Orlando this summer!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Brenda – awesome! Keep inspiring. It is comments like this that remind me over and over how many great people are out there doing great things for kids and families every day. – jimmy

  • Simon Feasey says:

    Thanks Jimmy,

    Being a fan of Steve Constantino’s work, I am pleased that Steve signposts your blog in his latest log post. It is great to connect with fellow educators that share a passion for family engagement. I am a school principal in the UK. I am also 4 years in to a 6 year doctoral programme at the University of Manchester (In my spare time!). In my research I am focusing on the issue of relational trust and relational power and how that impacts on home-school partnership. In trawling the broad research literature field I find that I am continually drawn to some great work that is going on in the US. I am a strong advocate of the approach you speak of in your post. I particularly like the idea that we should never assume that parents/carers simply have not bothered to respond if we receive no response, and should follow that up. I have a real problem with the tag ‘Hard to reach parents’. Rather, I think we, schools, should reflect on our own practice so that we are not ‘hard to reach’. Reaching out in the way you describe does just that, whilst sowing the seeds of trust building. This being especially important when students / families first join our schools.

    I look forward to following your blog in the future.

    Thanks again

    Simon
    Twitter: @smfeasey

  • Florence says:

    One of my colleagues in a junior high school told me that she calls home for the slightest infraction and tries to scare the parent or guardian!

    As an example, she told me that a certain student crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it across the room toward the wastebasket while a lesson was in progress.

    So, she called the parent at work during a prep period, introduced herself, and said, “I hope you’re sitting down. What your son did in my classroom today was so horrible that I can’t even begin to discuss it with you over the phone. When are you coming up to school to see me? Tomorrow or the day after that? You may need to take off a few hours from work because I leave at 3:00 P.M.”

    Another colleague told me, “You’ve got to get the reputation of being a ‘mothercaller.’ At the start of every school year, I spend three hours a night calling mothers about the behavior. I keep it up until the kids settle down. If you don’t make phone calls, the kids will step all over you!”

  • Jimmy Casas says:

    Simon – thanks for your kind words. Yes, Steve is someone whose work I often admire from afar. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and to share your perspective on home-school communication. Much appreciated. And by the way, I just followed you on Twitter! Best wishes! – jimmy