Parents and/or caregivers are experts on their children, and should be engaged as key partners in supporting each student to excel. Connecting individually with your students' parents via phone calls or text messages shows respect and care for each student and their family, ensures the parent/caregiver has the necessary information about their child's progress, and allows teachers to gain invaluable feedback and information from parents. This strategy will help you prepare for a variety of types of parent/caregiver phone calls and give you tips to enlist all parents/caregivers as partners.
If your school does not collect it, determine how you will collect contact information for your students' parents and caregivers. You might consider sending home a survey at the start of the year, or asking parents to provide the information during a back-to-school night. In addition to asking for contact information, make sure to ask for contact preferences. For example, if there's a time of day that is best for a call, if they'd prefer you use their home or cell number, etc. See the Parent Communication Survey in the resources section below for a template.
Identify how you will build parent phone calls into your routine. You may want to set aside 15 minutes each day, or 30 minutes each week, to make phone calls.
Create a simple tracker for your parent phone calls. Your school may have a system where you can log these calls, but it is also fine to log them in a word document or spreadsheet. The tracker will help you ensure you are reaching all students' families. See the Parent Communication Tracker in the resources section below for a template.
Determine which students' parents/caregivers you are planning to call, and what the purpose of your call is. Whatever the purpose of your call, prepare any key talking points or data before calling.
Praise/positive news call - Parents and caregivers love to hear positive news about their students, and students love to know that you noticed their great work and shared it. If you're calling with positive news, make sure to be specific. Instead of saying, "Jason had a great week!" consider identifying specifically what the student did. "Jason went above and beyond with his homework, pulling out great evidence to use in our class discussion."
To learn more about how to communicate positive news to families, consult the Communicating Positive News to Families strategy in the BetterLesson lab.
Check-in call - Parents and caregivers have great insight into your students' strengths, challenges, opinions, and well-being. Sometimes it's a good idea to call just to check in! Come prepared with some specific questions: "How has Julian been feeling about class? How long is his homework usually taking him? Is there anything you'd like me to update you on from class?"
If you're looking to have a more in-depth conference with a parent or caregiver, consult the Facilitating Effective Family Teacher Conferences strategy in the BetterLesson lab.
Share concern/invite partnership call - If a student is struggling, a parent or caregiver undoubtedly wants to know. With these calls, it's especially important to frame the conversation around the fact that you care about this individual student and want to see him or her succeed. The point is to communicate that you care, and that you want to work with the student and parent to work towards improvement. "I've noticed that Alisha's been struggling on her quizzes, and I know that she can do better. I want to connect with you to make sure we have a great plan to help her do better on the next one."
If you need to have a more in-depth conversation with a parent or caregiver or want to consult with other teachers or staff to determine the best supports, consult the Students of Concern meeting strategy in the BetterLesson lab.
While checking in with a parent, you should always make sure your tone is calm, respectful, genuine, and positive. Especially if you had a challenging day with a student or are worried about them, you want to make sure you are in the right headspace before checking in with a parent - you certainly should not call them to express frustration. Similarly, you should not expect any/all parents to have a lot of capacity to support their students' school work at home. Each parent/caregiver's situation is unique, and you should respect their interest and ability to engage with you and/or support learning at home.
Generally speaking you should incorporate these five parts of a phone call:
Greeting: Say hello, and introduce yourself!
"Hi, Ms. Cook. It's Ms. Larkin, Jason's English teacher."
Time Check: Parents and caregivers are busy people. Make sure to check with them if it's an okay time to chat.
"I'd love to connect briefly about Jason's time in class today. Do you have a few minutes to chat?"
"I was hoping to check in with you about Alisha. Is this an okay time for you?"
State Purpose: Let the parent or caregiver know why you're calling. Be direct and to the point.
"I called to tell you about a great thing that Jason did today. We had a class discussion, and Jason came so prepared. He had pulled out a lot of evidence from last night's reading. Then, he did great active listening during the discussion, and he responded to his peers' ideas really thoughtfully."
"I wanted to check in because Alisha struggled on her last biology quiz, and we have another one coming up on Friday. I was hoping I could connect with you about how Alisha can make sure she's ready for Friday, and what I'm going to put in place to support her."
Ask questions and listen: Give the parent an opportunity to respond, and answer their questions. Also, ask them if there's anything else they might recommend. Listen actively to the parent, and take notes on anything they request or recommend.
"Yes! I have a great book I can recommend for Jason. I actually have a copy of it in our class library."
"Is there anything else you'd like me to do to support Alisha before Friday's quiz?"
Decide Next Steps: Identify any action steps you or the parent will take as a result of the call.
"Thanks so much for passing on this compliment to Jason. I'll make sure to get him the book tomorrow."
"I'll definitely check in with Alisha to see how the studying went. And thanks so much for doing a few minutes of flash cards with her tonight!"
"Thanks so much for your time! I really appreciate being able to connect with you."
After the call ends, make a note of your call in your tracker, and jot down any helpful information the parent shared. Add any next steps to your own to-do list.
At regular intervals, use your tracker to identify any students' whose families you have not recently connected with, and prioritize them at your next opportunity.
If you already have a rapport/relationship with a parent or caregiver, a text message can be a great way to give a quick update.
First, take a moment to determine if a text message is the best medium for what you'd like to convey. With texting, you lose the ability to convey or hear tone, and you can't have the easy conversational "back and forth" with a parent that you can have over the phone. Try not to use texts just because it's "easier" or less scary, and don't use text messages to share a concern about a student or convey negative news. However, texts are great for quick, positive updates. Some parents may also indicate that they prefer text messages as a means of communication.
Keep the text short and to the point. Examples:
"Jason was an awesome participant in our discussion today! He used great evidence from last night's reading. - Ms. Larkin"
"Just a reminder that Alisha has a biology quiz on Thursday. She has flashcards that she can use to prepare! - Ms. Larkin"
Email can be a great way to connect with multiple parents at once for announcements or resource-sharing. However, you should make sure you've connected with parents in-person or over the phone before sending an email.
First, take a moment to determine if email is the best medium for what you'd like to convey. With email, you lose the ability to convey or hear tone, and you can't have the easy conversational "back and forth" with a parent that you can have over the phone. Try not to use email just because it's "easier" or less scary. However, e-mails are great for class-wide announcements, or to share resources with a group. Some parents may also indicate that they prefer email as a means of communication.
Make sure to proof-read your email. Keep it professional, organized, and to the point. Make sure any action steps or important dates for parents/caregivers are highlighted.
Many English Learners' parents/caregivers do not speak English as their primary language. Here are some suggestions to communicate with them:
Use a translation service. Parents who need assistance with the English language have the right to request translators and interpreters, which schools are required to provide (U.S. Departments of Education & Justice, 2015). Many schools have a subscription to a translation/intepreter service; if not, it may be worth inquiring to your administration if they could make one available. Google Translate works well for written materials like text messages or emails, but you'll need an interpreter service that works on a 3-way call for a phone call.
Engage your bilingual friends or other bilingual parents. If you have a friend who is bilingual and willing to volunteer a few minutes each week, see if they'd be willing to help you out with a phone call. Sometimes, bilingual parents who are involved in a PTA or similar group may be willing to support translating calls as well. In this case, it's important to check with the parent/caregiver you're calling to see if they're comfortable with someone you know serving as a translator.
Ask students or other family members to help translate. Students who are middle or high school age may be open to translating a parent phone call; however, sometimes this can put them in an awkward situation. Alternatively, if there is another family member (e.g. cousin, older sibling) who is bilingual, you can ask whether they'd be willing to translate a call.
Communication between teachers and families that is handled with respect and cultural sensitivity can ensure an inclusive, equitable experience for all students and their parents/caregivers. Here are some tips, sourced from Teaching Tolerance, to support culturally responsive parent communication:
Approach all families as partners who want the best for their children.
Invite families to share knowledge about their students' lives, interests, strengths, and challenges.
Recognize and respect differences in family structures.
Recognize the role tha identity and background may play in shaping relationships between teachers and families.
View linguistic, cultural, and family diversity as strengths.
Use inclusive language when writing and speaking to families (e.g. "families" instead of "parents," or "names of parents/guardians" instead of "mother's name" and "father's name" on forms and letters).
Provide materials in students' home languages when possible. See the EL Modification for more suggestions.
Because so many of us rarely make phone calls these days, it can be intimidating to start. However, I find that most parent phone calls take no more than 2-5 minutes - so once I finally get started, I realize they are much less of a big task than I anticipated!
Phone calls are a great thing to do on your commute, on a walk, or on your couch. I always programmed my students' families' numbers into my phone so that I could quickly connect with a few parents/caregivers when I had a bit of free time.
Some parents might be tough to get in touch with, or won't call you back. Don't take it personally! Try calling at a different time of day, or see if a text message or email is a better way to connect with that parent.
The following resources were consulted in developing this strategy:
Goldstein, Michael (2013). Phoning Parents. Match Education.