Phone calls home to the families of your students… When? How? Why?
by Michael Olson
August 1, 2008
In my career, if I have learned anything, it is that real, meaningful relationships are the key to teaching success. You must build these relationships with administrators, support teachers, teaching teammates, other teachers, and, most importantly, your students and their families.
Building relationships with students can, at times, be an incredibly easy task, and at others it can feel like a daunting undertaking. My bulleted responses to the questions below are not a textbook plan (in fact, the textbook plan I tried failed miserably). Instead, this is the procedure that I have found works for me and the population of students that I work with.
When? Before you "need" to. – The first call home for the school year for my students comes at the end of the second full week of school.
A week or two before conferences
A week or two before the end of the year
I call home during the second full week of school to make sure my first personal contact that I have with a parent after "meet the teacher" is a positive one. I get a strange feeling of mischievous satisfaction when Mom answers and hears that it is her son’s teacher. I can hear her sit down and brace herself for the news. Then I get to say that Johnny is off to a wonderful start this year and I am so glad that I am lucky enough to be his teacher. I imagine this as a mental roller coaster ride for some parents.
Calling home a week or two before conferences is something that I will absolutely do for the rest of my career. Almost every teacher I have ever spoken with dislikes the time they must spend away from their families at night completing conferences, but they also feel the frustration of trying to fit so much information into a 20 minute conference. Because I speak with parents a week or two before conferences there are no "surprises" when we meet face to face. They know my concerns and I know their concerns because we spoke on the phone a week ago.
You should see my classroom the day after I have made phone calls home. I get goose bumps thinking about it. The students come in absolutely glowing. They know I care about them so much, and I am so proud of them, that I took the time to call and tell their parents the night before.
It might not be very fun to hear this, but calling parents does take time. I have made these calls with groups as small as 20, and others of close to 30.
I do what I call the "Call Home Marathon Night(s)." The janitor knows to come back and vacuum later when he sees my student information cards spread all over my desk. I have found that many of my conversations last 2-3 minutes while others can last 5-10 minutes. I try to limit the time to about 10 minutes, but they rarely get this long. Typically I can call and speak with or leave a message with every student’s family in just less than 2 hours.
At the beginning of the year I usually start my conversations with "Johnny is off to an absolutely wonderful start. He is learning the classroom procedures, making friends, etc." I also try and share something fun or unique that I have noticed about him. I typically finish the conversation by asking the parents if they have any questions or concerns about the first couple of weeks of school. I am always surprised that almost every parent I talk with has at least one little question that they ask. I also often hear, "This is the first time a teacher has called with good news, thank you!"
Before conferences/report cards I usually start with, "I was just looking over Jessica’s report card and I guess I wanted to share the good news with you before you see it at home." I then discuss some of the positives and end with any of the opportunities for improvement that I see. These calls take a little longer, but again, they make conferences a breeze.
At the end of the year, I remind families of my philosophy. When a student is in my class, I fully intend to maintain my relationship with the student and his or her family. I usually share a sentimental memory or two about the school year, and then I end by reiterating to the families that I fully intend to continue my relationship with their child beyond the last day of school, and I plan to continue to be a part of his or her education for years to come.