Teachers Calling Home: The Bare Minimum For Communicating With Families

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Teachers Calling Home: The Bare Minimum For Communicating With Families

by Cheryl Wilson

When I was a classroom teacher, I specifically remember one moment that impacted my career forever.

One morning, I called a parent on her job at a local grocery store. The parent came to the phone as nervous as anyone would after receiving a phone call from school. I told her who I was and it was no emergency, but I was calling to tell her how great her daughter was and what a pleasure it was to have her in class. She told me no one had ever called her from school to tell her anything like that and this made her want to cry.

I was delighted that she was happy to hear from me, but also perplexed that this parent went through years of school and never had anyone tell her how great her daughter was?! That was odd to me. As a result, this parent saw me as someone that she could trust at the school and sang my praises years later after this. I didn’t realize how five minutes on the phone would change me, the student, her parent and her two siblings that came along afterwards in a positive way. Thankfully, this occurred early in my teaching career and caused me to be intentional about communicating with my parents. The return on this was unmatched.

So when building successful communication with students and their families at home, what should you look for? Pushed further in addition to more advanced strategies like designing learning experiences that begin and end in communities and helping frame student progress in ways that parents can understand and contribute to (read more on why parents don’t always understand how to help), what might be considered the ‘bare minimum’ for healthy home to school communications? A ‘stage 1’ to build from moving forward?

Here are some ideas.

Teachers Calling Home: The Bare Minimum For Communicating With Families

Start early.

Build relationships with parents at the beginning of the school year. Establishing relationships means that parents and teachers are in a partnership to educate students together. This helps develop trust and opens the lines of communication. You can accomplish this with something as simple as a postcard, e-card or e-mail to acknowledge that you are looking forward to teaching and learning with students in your class and meeting parents in the near future.

Meet in person.

Institute at least one time during the year to meet each parent face to face. This meeting should review expectations and information pertinent to student growth & development over the year. Most schools set Open House schedules or parent conferences to undertake this task, however, with the everyday business of life, technology allows us to meet face to face these days without being in the same room. Skype and Google Hangouts can help you meet this goal.

Positive communication grows relationships.

Positive information should have authority over the negative. The first call home should not be negative. This is a sure way to get an adverse outcome in relationship building 101. When you do have to make a negative phone call, inform the parent of what you have done to attempt to correct the behavior or problem.

Only make phone calls to parents when they are necessary. Telling parents that their children have made improvements are just as necessary as telling them that there was room for improvement. Do your best to make sure the first phone call home is a positive one. There should always be more positive comments than negative when providing feedback. (See more on dealing with a difficult parent.)

Use the tools that families need.

Develop different ways to communicate with parents. Phone calls are great, but keep in mind that some parents cannot take phone calls at work. Emails are sometimes a better way to communicate with parents when this is the case. Technology affords us a variety of ways to connect with parents such as remind 101, class blogs, class twitter pages when we want to share what is going on with the class as a whole.

Also, consider your ELL population of parents when sending out communications. I always had someone translate my letters to parents that were non speakers of English to ensure that they were kept abreast of everything. You want to make all of your parents not just feel talked to, but involved and welcomed.

Cheryl Wilson is an assistant principal in Richland School District One in Columbia, South Carolina. She was named as an ASCD Emerging Leader in 2015. Follow her on Twitter @only1clw.

Teachers Calling Home: The Bare Minimum For Communicating With Families

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