“I’m going to call your mom after school today and let her know about this conversation we’re having.” These words may have been terrifying as a student, but I never imagined how terrifying they would be as a teacher! If you’re anything like me, I hated picking up the phone and talking to parents when students messed up in the classroom. It was THE WORST.
In a very long story short, I began calling parents when I taught a group of about 15 boys who were all REALLY good friends. I’m talking… play on the same club baseball team, go to school together since kindergarten, and take multi-family vacations together.
They could have all been brothers, and the fact that they were at school did not phase how they treated each other. Sometimes their enthusiasm for life and each other spilled over into the classroom, filling the room with, shall we say, excess energy. I knew I had to enlist the help of parents if anything was going to change.
Here’s what I learned. Parents are AWESOME!
Each parent I talked to was so kind. So gracious. So helpful. Not one of them was frustrated with me or angry. I learned a little bit about them and their students. Now I had an open connection moving forward. It didn’t solve the problem, but it sure did help.
Here’s the truth: We need to see parents as teammates, not opponents.
I don’t know where we got the idea that we shouldn’t reach out to parents. We need to change our mindset. Talking to parents is not something that we should avoid.
Most parents simply want to know what’s going on – to be informed. Their most important possession spends the day with us! And so often, parents never hear a word. They want to help their students do well in school, but they also want to help you do your job!
Talking to parents has not always been my strong suit. I have made a lot of progress and learned how important this aspect of teaching is.
I want to make it less scary for you!
I’ve compiled a list of five tips for contacting parents, and I’m giving you SEVEN FREE email templates for different scenarios you’ll face with your students! Grab those here!
1. Be Gracious
If you don’t hear anything else I say, hear this. Your frustration may be valid. You may be at the end of your rope. You may have tried everything you can possibly think of to do.
It’s okay. They’re raising and taking care of their child the best way they see fit. For THEIR child. You will get much more accomplished and have a great relationship by being gracious and understanding. Offer to let them turn in late work or make up a quiz. Open your classroom early one day. Offer test corrections or a retake.
Your goal is to be on the same team! Being harsh and frustrated will not achieve that.
2. Contact Early and Often
Teachers don’t always know what to contact parents about, so they don’t. I’m not about that. Start making calls and sending emails early.
The key here is to keep the early contact as positive as possible. That does not mean shy away from a negative call if you need to make one.
If You Teach Middle School
I’ll admit one of my biggest struggles: I can’t talk to every single parent (this year I have 180 kids!). Where do I start? Especially at the beginning of the year as I’m learning about who the students are?
If they have a 504 or an IEP, reach out to the parents and ask for insight. You will have students who are very social. Call and praise the student’s ability to participate in a classroom discussion. That really is something to be praised! Ask the teachers who taught your students last year if any parents contacted them a lot. Be proactive and start that relationship! Pick anything positive and share it!
3. Ask for Help
Which email sounds better?
Email 1: “Hannah is missing assignments and they are bringing her grade down to an F. She needs to turn them in by Friday, or she can’t get any credit.”
Email 2: “These are the assignments Hannah is missing. Can you help me by checking with her to see if they’re in her backpack? If you find any of them, have her finish them and turn them in. I have to close grades on Friday, so she can’t turn them in after that point. Thanks for your help!”
These emails say the SAME THING! But the second email will be received so much better by a parent. They want to help, so tell them how!
4. Copy and Paste is Your Best Friend
I sent eight copy and pasted emails in about 20 minutes a few weeks ago. Write a generic “your student is awesome” email.
Then, and this is important – add something personal! Be specific about something you saw. Do they always turn their work in on time? Do they get right to work when they come in? Were they helpful today (even if they’re distracting 99% of the time they’re trying to help)? Parents want to hear about how you know their student, so tell them!
5. Pick Up the Phone!
This is the most unpopular opinion! DO IT ANYWAY!!
I told you almost every parent I’ve talked to has been so kind and understanding, even thankful that I called. You lose so much of what you are actually trying to say over email. There is value in having a two way conversation.
I never send an email if a student is truly in trouble with a consequence. I hate the call, but I’d much rather talk, explain the situation, and let parents ask questions. Hopefully by this time, I’ve contacted them at least once already.
For the 1%
Most of the parents you encounter will be reasonable. There will be a handful who aren’t. Still be gracious. Be more than kind and more than accommodating. Ask your administration and team for help. The 1% that seems unreasonable still wants what’s best for their student!
Make talking to parents your goal this week! If you didn’t get a chance to snag those seven FREE EMAIL TEMPLATES, you can right here!