It seems so simple, doesn’t it? The idea of contacting parents for positive news instead of negative news is something that I tried so hard to achieve year after year. I kept a log on my desk to track when I observed students being kind, helping one another, trying their best day after day, not being on their phone during class, and so forth. I promised myself that I would make at least one positive phone call a day because, at the very least, it would be a great way to end a difficult day. And yet, it seemed as though I called only the parents of the repeat offenders on a regular basis; I was lucky to make a positive call home more than once every couple of weeks.
Who knows? Maybe it was the urgency of needing to contact those parents that took the spotlight off of the positive calls. And, usually, needing to call those parents meant time dedicated to completing my discipline log and a discipline referral for the office. Plus, getting the discipline referral to the office before the end of the day usually meant explaining to an administrator what had happened so that I could try to get some sort of support from the office in a timely fashion, too. All of those precious minutes at the end of the day seemed fleeting in the face of those contacts.
It wasn’t as though I had dozens of negative contacts to make, but I told my students from Day 1 that I would contact parents to create a supportive team for them throughout the school year. My negative contacts often included calls about students being unprepared for class, being warned for attempting to text during class, needing several prompts to complete class work, failing to show up for tutorial or retesting time… the list goes on and on, not to mention the few times that I had to call home and do one of those office referrals because of student disrespect or insubordination. All of those contacts were important to me, because all of those transgressions negatively impacted the students’ chances of performing well not just on the standardized test, but, more important, on a daily basis in my class. I ran a tight ship, and I expected my students to meet my expectations.
More often than not, though, I found parents to be supportive when I called home for a negative reason. Some apologized and promised to immediately talk to their children about their behavior. Some asked for suggestions to help at home. Some thanked me for calling because their kids never talked to them about school, and they often wondered how they were doing. Some even said they couldn’t believe I called because they hadn’t heard from a teacher in such a long time. The best part was that even the toughest of phone calls home typically ended in a positive outcome: the parents were more informed, the kids knew they were accountable at school and at home, and I had another line of defense when it came to getting kids to meet my expectations.
So, what about those positive contacts? In the end, it seemed that nearly every contact with home was positive in some way. I may not always have been calling home for a positive reason, but the outcome was positive almost every time. And, I also found that I sometimes had more time for positive calls because the calls I made for negative reasons helped to curb some of those negative behaviors.
Teachers, so many of you emailed me asking for specific strategies to get parents more involved after I posted my Letter to Public Education Parents. This is how we get parents more involved. We have to involve them. We need to contact them throughout the school year, for any reason possible. Make a parent-contact goal that suits your schedule, and adjust the frequency of calls throughout the year as needed. Some weeks, you may be able to make a few; other weeks, you may not be able to make any because you are grading too many assessments and preparing too many activities. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall behind in contact that isn’t absolutely necessary. All of those jobs that fit under the umbrella of “teacher” are important, and sometimes it’s not humanly possible to do all of them when you’d like.
But, instead of sitting around, complaining about how many parents aren’t going to show up at open house or orientation or back-to-schoool night this year (just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that), make a random list of parents to call and invite. Even if they don’t – or can’t – attend, they will know that you made an effort and that you are trying to build a support team for their children. And, you will know that you have opened the lines of communication and support for yourself, in a time when there are so many forces working against you.
If you have any suggestions for how to contact parents, or how to get parents more involved, click to reply at the top or bottom of this post. Or, send me an email –