I’ve learned a great lesson from my teaching partner, Darlene, who has wonderful “people skills.” We share a grade one class. She begins the year with a quick phone call to every family, starting with those children who look like they may eventually have some behavior issues. She simply asks the parents to let her know how the child is adjusting to school and whether or not they feel comfortable coming. The parents are happy to have this conversation and are encouraged by it.
By starting home phone calls so quickly, she generally has only positive comments to make––usually kids are on their best behavior on the first days of school! This gets her off on the right foot with the parents of these kids. Not only does she gain insight from the parent’s perspective regarding each child, this first phone call puts the parents in a positive frame of mind toward the teacher. Many parents have never received such a phone call or ever been asked how their child feels about coming to school. They immediately feel connected to a teacher who is showing interest in the parent’s viewpoint. Often, the parents themselves will then bring up behavior concerns they have at home which easily opens the doorway for future productive communication about what is happening at school.
By keeping in close contact and phoning about only positive things very early in the year, she establishes strong relationships with these families. The parents know that she likes their child. Then, when that inevitable problem comes, she’s already established that she’s interested in the welfare of the child. Parents see her as an ally, not an enemy. She gets incredible support. She can be honest and frank but the parents know that she wants the very best for their child.
Another thing she began to do last year––and I followed suit because I saw it brought such great benefits in creating a positive relationship with parents––is phoning each time a child goes up a reading level after a leveled book test. Often we phone at noon and simply leave a message if the parent isn’t home: “Just phoning with some good news. Johnny had a little reading test and went up a level today. Thanks for your help at home. It’s really paying off for Johnny!”
Now we routinely make these “reading phone calls” because:
1. Not only do we have purely positive news to share each time we phone (the child is moving forward in reading.)
2. But we also are able to help the parent become a better reading coach for their child. We pass on a little tip or two during the conversation that will help the parent support the child in some small way. For instance, we might remind them that following the reading of a book, they might ask their child to retell the story or answer a few comprehension questions. Or we might explain that we’ve pointed out to the child how to read with expression when a word is printed in italics or bold font. The kids become better readers when both parent and teacher focus on the same skills. Even parents who didn’t initially read with their children on a consistent basis began to do so after getting one or two of these phone calls! The phone calls not only motivated the children to make progress in reading, it motivated the parents to make reading with their child a nightly habit!
These phone calls take time but I’m certainly convinced that they’re worth the effort. Like I said, when the parents then are faced with hearing about a behavior problem, they are more interested in working with us because they trust us from past experience. I don’t think I would ever consider writing or emailing home about problems. Written words don’t always convey the teacher’s genuine concern for the child. We come across as more “human” on the phone! In my experience phone calls get better results than writing.