Monday, November 10, 2008

Modeling a Successful Parent Conference, Parent Call or Conversation with a Parent

Experienced educators know that one of the keys to being successful with kids is building a strong relationship with parents. Teachers, administrators and parents must be on the same team when it comes to successfully educating kids. Convincing new and young teachers of this, however, takes some work. Often young and inexperienced teachers dread making contact with parents, especially concerning grades or discipline issues. So many times parents automatically get defensive when school personnel call home because for many parents the only news they hear from the school about their child is negative. (I'll address ways to avoid this with parents in another blog post later.)

The first question I ask teachers, especially young teachers, when they ask for help with particular students or classes is, "Have you called parents?" Without fail, new teachers cringe when I ask this, but only before we teach them how to call parents. What young teachers must understand, especially in terms of classroom management, is that a parent phone call usually fixes the vast majority of issues they deal with in the classroom.

My Dean of Students has been working with a new teacher who needed some help making those first calls home. Rather than sending this new teacher off to make parent calls with little or no direction, the Dean walked the teacher through the following steps:
  • First, the Dean talked through the process with the teacher and gave some advice on how to begin the conversation, how to broach the unpleasant news and how to finish with something positive about the student.
  • Second, the Dean made the first parent phone call with the teacher present; he modeled the entire process for the teacher. This was very important because it allowed the teacher to hear his tone, some key expressions and his calm demeanor.
  • Third, after the Dean's phone call, the Dean and the teacher debriefed the Dean's conversation with the parent. The Dean encouraged the teacher and also gave the teacher an opportunity to ask any final questions before the next call.
  • Fourth, the Dean observed as the teacher made a similar parent phone call.
  • Finally, after the teacher's call, the Dean debriefed the experience with the teacher. Since several more calls needed to be made, the Dean stayed with the teacher until all the calls were made. Afterward, the two debriefed all the calls and talked about the positives and the areas for improvement.

For me, the most important part of this process was modeling the phone call so the teacher could see that the Dean was neither nervous nor intimidated but rather calm, cordial and actually looking forward to speaking with the parent. This same process can be used with face to face meetings between teachers and parents. Likewise, young or inexperienced coaches can benefit from mentors walking them through a similar process. While there is no substitute for experience in such situations, inexperienced teachers certainly can benefit from having good administrators model best practices for them.


ProfSeeman said...

You make some good points above.
However, I also think that this can be helpful to you:
Go to:

If you get this book and video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems, [they are in many libraries, so you don't have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and the video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

[I also teach an online course on these issues that may be helpful to you at: ]

If you cannot get the book or video, email me and I will try to help.
Best regards,


Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus,
City Univ. of New York

Prof. Seeman

Shawn said...

This is a great idea!

Another, is to look for something, anything, good that the trouble student does/did. And make the first call home about that. Then the second call some days later will lead to a better experience. The parent can be disarmed by the first call.

In fact, I have found that frequently the student is so amazed by the good call that they think you are the best teacher ever.

Of course this can't be used in all cases.

Nathan Barber said...

You stole my thunder. That is exactly what I referred to in this post when I said I'd talk about a topic later. I believe making the first call home a positive one can pay huge dividends during the school year.
Great point!