There is a huge stigma around phone calls home from school. Immediately, the vision is that a student is in trouble of some sort and parental intervention is necessary. But honestly, when should a teacher call home? It is much more beneficial to be proactive. What does that mean? Plainly stated, it is more proactive to reach out to families consistently, before there is a problem. You may think this is easier said than done but think again.
I remember having teachers in school who assured us that they would often call home to talk about good things, not just bad things. I don’t recall that ever actually happening. As an educator, I totally understand how difficult that can be to keep up with. So many times, we are just trying to stay afloat. However, there are two things to consider here. One, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t tell your students you will call home because one may be pining to get that positive phone call for a variety of reasons, and when it doesn’t happen, they can in essence “give up”. Once this happens, it’s extremely hard to get them back. Not only do they not believe your word, but they’ve already been trying and it’s been for “nothing” (we know it’s not actually for nothing, but this is from the perspective of a student).
So, When SHOULD a Teacher Call Home…and Should They Actually CALL?
If you’re anything like me, phone calls can be a little uncomfortable. You may have just a set time to make one and that can go long, or a missed call can be returned at an inopportune time. This somewhat takes away from the luster of the engagement. You want to make sure you’re making the magic happen, but sometimes the universe doesn’t quite allow it to happen in the constraints that you have at your disposal.
Because of this, I found a workaround that is like a miracle. I designed simple postcards to mail home. Once a week, I pick a student from each of my classes and send their family a postcard that highlights something special that the student did, or has been doing (or even if there has been noticeable improvement). This, I find, is even better than a phone call. It might not be the one-on-one moment that an actual conversation would have, but it is something that is tangible and lasting. It is something that can be hung on a refrigerator or passed around at a family dinner. It becomes a source of pride and that sometimes is even better than a moment that may have to be cut short due to a lack of time (or the wrong person being spoken to for the proper praise).
I found a cute background and a great quote to type over it, made it postcard size (which prints out 4 onto one sheet) and then copied them onto cardstock. I cut them out and there it was. On the other side, I wrote my note on the left, put the student’s information on the right, and into the mail it went. The nice part about doing it this way is that postcard stamps are not as expensive as regular stamps and also anyone who sees the mail can see the message. It’s a way to brag a bit on your student to anyone who can see the card. This is something that may not happen when you speak to just one person.
Let me tell you….when I send those postcards out, within a day of them arriving at a student’s house, they come into class BEAMING. I’ve heard anything from a simple thank you to overwhelming gratitude because that little note got them out of some other trouble they had gotten into (and I think, as former kids, we can all appreciate that lol!). They are a little more focused and put in a little more effort into class than before.
The key to knowing when a teacher should call home is also to make sure you’re not only focusing on the timing but that you’re picking the correct kids for the experience at that moment. This may mean not only picking the “good” kids but also those who can be a little bit of a pain in the you-know-what. The kids who may not usually get good calls home. Knowing that someone has something good to say about them may make all the difference in the world for a number of reasons. I remember once I had a parent come in on Back to School Night and ask if I had sent her a postcard by mistake! I laughed and talked about how much I actually enjoyed having her son in class (he was a knucklehead, but he did his work, and I appreciate that….I’ll take a class full of goofballs that actually try any day of the week). She was a little taken aback by this but was completely appreciative.
Think about the little things you can catch each and every one of your students doing throughout any given day. You can jot these down, create some type of spreadsheet, or just make a mental note. I always kept a list of the students whom I had sent cards so as to not duplicate unless it is completely warranted (and sometimes, it totally is. It’s a judgment call, but I try to spread the love as much as I can). I also make sure not to actually talk about the fact that I do this in class. Sure, the kids talk and it gets out amongst friends, but the last thing you want is to have a kid wondering why they haven’t received a card….or realizing that they’re the last one who received one in the class. I have never had an issue with it becoming a full class discussion or anything like that, but somewhat of a “secret conversation on the side”.
Honestly, this is such a simple thing to do (and it honestly takes less time than an actual phone call), but it makes all the difference in the world in your classroom. So to answer the question: when should a teacher call home? The answer is early…and often.