Silver Lining

About a month ago, inspired by the wonderful folks from the MTBoS and an amazing teacher that I get to work with every day, I decided to make a few phone calls to parents. I’d collected and checked my students books, and as well as talking to those students who had quite a bit to catch up on, I called the parents of the 5 students who were completely, 100%, absolutely up to date.

The conversation went a little like this:

“I just wanted to have a quick chat about how _____ has been going in Maths recently” At this point I could almost feel the parents tense at the other end of the line.

“It’s been a while since I’ve checked students books, and as a top class I’ve discussed the importance of making sure that they keep up to date, even without me constantly on their backs.” Overall, we are lucky to have very supportive parents at our school, so now I could feel them preparing to lecture their kid on my behalf…

“I wanted to call just to let you know how impressed I am with ______’s work ethic and motivation in my class. He is entirely up to date with all the work, including the optional extension exercises, and generally has a great attitude towards his learning.”

*Cue the sigh of relief at the other end of the line*

One parent wholeheartedly thanked me for calling… the rest seemed incredibly awkward. There was a pause once I stopped talking as if they were trying to comprehend the idea of a nice phone call from a teacher. When I walked away from the phone, I couldn’t decide if it had been worth the awkwardness of the whole situation.

Two weeks later, I’d had a horrible week at work – tears and all. Afterwards, I’d been sitting outside in the sun at lunch talking things through with my mentor, when a few of her seniors walked past. In her class that afternoon they’d commented on how cute we were having our lunch together, and one of them told her all about how I’d phoned her dad just to say how well her little brother was going in my class. She said that he was incredibly impressed that I’d gone to the trouble, and he was so proud of his son.

That had been one of the most awkward phone calls I’d made, and with no mention of any of the calls from any of my students, I hadn’t been sure it was worth it. But a passing comment to another teacher was the silver lining to my awful week, and reminded me that people will make much more of an effort to give negative feedback than positive, but that doesn’t mean that the positive isn’t out there.

Maybe the happy phone calls home will help to change that culture.

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4 thoughts on “Silver Lining

  1. Those positive phone calls, while awkward will probably get easier as parents get used to the idea of receiving positive news. I’m sure it was probably awkward for some of the parents too, they probably got off the phone thinking “That was strange!” with a delayed reaction of “Wow great!”. I’ve noticed a culture with some parents of being scared of teachers, which is a huge barrier to promoting a relationship where parents and teachers can effectively work together to help the student. So those positive phone calls could potentially really help break down some barriers.

    • It’s just completely the wrong way around when its so easy to give negative feedback, and it’s so easily received by parents, but its so rare to make the same effort give positive feedback to parents. Hopefully if I keep it up, and I know this other teacher makes calls every week, it might catch on at our school… I can keep my hopes up right!

  2. Generally, I call parents when there’s an issue that needs to be addressed (missing homework, low scores, behavior …). Your post reminds me that we, as educators, need to proactively communicate areas of concern AND strengths. The statement “no news is good news” shouldn’t necessarily be the norm. That parent awkwardness might actually stem from the limited experience of receiving proactive positive phone calls. Thanks for reflecting and sharing your experiences.

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