How to Master the
Parent Phone Call
NEVER-FAIL SUCCESSFUL PARENT PHONE CALLS – FREE TEMPLATE FOR TEACHERS
Regardless of what grade you teach, parents love to know what is happening with their child’s education. Sure, we may hear from elementary parents more than high school, but that doesn’t mean they are less invested in their success!
In this era of emails, texting and print communication, many educators have the opinion that sending a quick email will suffice. And fortunately for schools, student information systems make it super easy to click a button and – ZIP! – send a message.
However, nothing is as powerful as parent phone calls! It helps build relationships, demonstrate care, and prevent miscommunication. (Raise your hand if someone ever misunderstood what you put in a text or email!)
If you want to change behavior, call home. And if you want to build rapport with your families and students, call home. Calling parents is powerful, and here’s how to ensure the call is an absolute success, every time!
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Know Your Student before Calling Parents
Take some time to get to know “the little things” about your student before picking up that phone. That’s because the little things matter when talking to parents. After all, they have known this person their entire life.
If it’s early in your relationship with the student, make sure you have their name pronunciation down before you make parent phone calls! Over the years, I’ve seen some unique and difficult to master names on the first day of school. Double check with the student during class, then practice – practice – practice!
It helps to have your student information system open so you can see more about the student, with a simple click of the mouse. In your mind, quickly build a little information about the family before you begin calling parents.
Do they have siblings at the school? Did you teach their older brother, sister or cousin in the past? Do they live near the school or far away? Who might answer? Mom or Dad? Grandma or Grandpa, or perhaps an older sibling who serves as guardian? Even if you don’t know everything about the student, use the student information system to be ready for anything.
Trust me – there’s nothing more awkward than fumbling through a call and hearing yourself say, “Oh, wait, we’ve met?” realizing their sibling was in your class two years ago!
Now, I know there is very little time to make calls in your super-packed day. Parent phone calls slowly makes their way to the bottom of the “priority list.” This is especially true for teachers who have lunch duty, bus duty, lots of preps, ugh! There is never a moment when students aren’t present. If you’re like most teachers, phone calls happen as buses are leaving and you’re juggling twelve other tasks.
Before you make parent phone calls, pause. Be intentional when picking up the phone and making a parent contact. A great call can have a lasting impression and make for a wonderful parent-teacher relationship for the rest of the year.
Be sure to download your free Template for Successfully Calling Parents! It’s a quick way to plan the call and master that personal contact.
Highlight Your Student’s Strengths
For many teachers, there is a stigma around calling parents. There’s plenty of reason for that. I’ve had hundreds of calls that are positive, refreshing and collaborative. I’ve also had my occasional talks that are not.
My internal narrative is sometimes, “What if they get upset with me?” Perhaps it’s because we often make calls when students behavior or choices need to be changed so the class runs smoother and the student gets more successful.
If that’s the case and you’re calling parents because of a poor choice, don’t forget to add positive traits that you see in the student. Are they a natural leader? Did they help in the class or were a friend to a peer? Are they really talented at elements of your class but struggle with others? Sandwich your conversation so that parents are disarmed and you can have an open, honest dialogue.
Parents are allies in learning. If you are both on the same team, Team Student, then ensure that the parent knows you care about the student, too, not just the concern at hand. A focus on creating a lifelong, wonderful student and person is the goal for both of you! You're on the same team, and I often tell parents that.
Assume Best Intentions and Total Involvement
In my early days as a teacher, I ate crow several times by calling parents and assuming details about a situation. It even crops up now, as a school administrator managing countless details. Sometimes I think I know all of the details of a situation, when in fact, I don't.
For example, recently a student was not in the two locations they were instructed to be. It would’ve been easy to assume they were truant and launch down that path. However, the student had, in fact, made good choices and followed adult directives.
In any situation, I ask myself: "Might there be a perfectly innocent explanation for this? What don’t I know about this, and what should I be asking?"
I find it best to use questions when talking to parents, “She’s not in her class right now – is she with you?” or “Have you seen this behavior before in your student?” “How might I redirect her?” Using questions enlists the parents as partners, and capitalizes on their expertise with their child.
I also frequently state my truth - "I want your child to have a great year and do really well!" This type of assurance goes a long way with families; I know I'd like to hear that from my kids' teacher and school staff.
Focus on Student Behavior, Not Character
I make dozens of parent phone calls every week. What makes the conversation best is when I keep the topic about the behavior. For example: “Unfortunately, your student made a poor choice today.” Or “This behavior is getting in their way of being super successful in class.”
It's also helpful to frame the behavior as a temporary thing. Even if this the hundredth time the student did this...we still must believe that this can be changed. Parents appreciate knowing that we're invested in progress, even if it takes a while.
If you really need to see a behavior change, and all your low-level attempts have failed, let me tell you my secret never-fail tool: What is the most powerful word you can use on a parent phone call? I call it the D word: Disrespectful. When I drop that word on a parent call, I see results. “____’s 15 minute trips to the restroom are disrespectful of me as the teacher, and disrespectful of her classmates who are waiting to go, too. I know it’s right after lunch so there’s many who need to go. I also think it’s disrespectful to herself, because she’s missing out on important learning. I know ____ doesn’t want to make disrespectful choices for themself or the class, but that’s how it feels.”
The D word yields results! Use it wisely!
Have the Whole School Picture
Parents don’t hear from the school very often, so sometimes we are the only touch a family may receive for weeks. Therefore, be prepared to answer several questions for them during the parent phone call.
Help them out by having the student’s grades in front of you, as well as their attendance. This can save parents time and help increase the school’s credibility.
It also helps to have the school calendar open or just a click away, in case they ask about an upcoming event such as a celebration or assembly. If they ask for some follow up information, your time and help will be much appreciated! I send those follow up requests ASAP and always CC them on the emails. Parents appreciate our partnership!
(If Possible!) Don’t Let This Be the First Contact
This one can be tricky, trust me. Sometimes we can’t help but have the first contact home be one where we need parents to know about an incident at school. I avoid this if it all possible!
As a teacher, my practice was that I contacted every parent during the first two weeks of school. (I highly recommend this if you will have the same students all year, such as on block scheduling or in elementary school). Don’t get me wrong: calling all homes was tough to do and time consuming! Especially when my rosters had close to 200 high school students! However, this activity paid huge dividends in forming relationships with my families. You wouldn’t believe how fast word got around to students that Mrs. Teacher called my mom last night! I believe it prevented LOTS of classroom management issues before they even surfaced.
If you can’t call everyone, know that any communication is better than none. Ask for signatures on a syllabus, send home class-wide emails, or make time for all families at conferences or after school. Families seem most receptive when we have an ongoing relationship, not just contacts when their student makes a poor choice.
Follow Up With the Student
Sometimes students do this for us! How many times has a student walked into your class and said, “Hey! You called my mom last night!” Make a plan to follow up with the student the day after you called home. Take a minute in class to kneel down and say, “It was nice talking to your mom last night. She cares a lot about your success. Here’s what I told her.” Or “Did your dad tell you I called? What questions do you have about our talk?”
Otherwise, students can feel as though the adults are having relationship and they’re not involved. This can cause them to take a back seat in their learning and behavior, which is the opposite of what we hope for. Circling back with the student shows them you are invested in your relationship and respect them as young, growing learners.
Go Be Awesome!
No matter what your student information system is capable of doing, nothing takes the place of parent contact by phone! Of the thousands of parent phone calls I’ve made, I can’t recall a single one that went irreparably sideways when I was planful and positive. As a public educator, I’ve encountered the spectrum of values and beliefs! When we speak from a place of love for students and respect for various values, parents quickly become the best partners in ensuring success for their students.
What strategies have you found to make parent phone calls a success? Share in the Comments below! And don’t forget to download the FREE Template for Successful Parent Phone Calls and sign up for awesome classroom and school leadership ideas.