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How-To: Work with Students' Families

From the "How to Work with Students' Families" Mailbag Carl Sannito

Last week, a reader wrote me with a question that I thought would be valuable to share. She writes:

Mr. Sannito,

I came across your web page on teachersnetwork.org and was hoping I could ask you a question.  I am a first year middle school teacher in Louisville, Kentucky and have a fear about calling parents.  If parents call me, I have no problem talking with them.  However, if I need to initiate the conversation, I become very stressed and do not do it.  I am afraid of their reactions to a phone call home.  My dealings with parents this year have run the gamut from very unpleasant to extremely well.  Is there any advice you can give me about how to conquer this fear?  Any input would be appreciated.


This is how I replied: 

I completely understand what you are going through. It's very common for teachers, not just first year teachers. There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to communicating with parents.

One thing you should do is try to think about what it is like to be one of your student's parents. It's important that you put yourself in their shoes. I mean, if the first time you are in contact with the parents is a when you need to talk with them about a problem, the parents are (sometimes) going to be stressed out too.

To offset that, I usually call each parent at the beginning of the year to introduce myself. Before I have even formed an opinion of a student, I make a simple 5 minute phone call to each home to introduce myself, say hello, and ask if there are any concerns. Most parents are impressed that I would even take the time to do something like that. I also provide them with a way to get in touch with me. That might be a phone number at school or an e-mail address. That depends on your comfort level. I have given out my home phone number and most parents don't use it. However, some parents are very appreciative.

These types of things go a long way towards letting the parents know that they are dealing with a responsible professional.

Of course this doesn't work with everyone, but it does help you pave the way so that when you do have to call home with a problem, this isn't the first time that the parents have heard from you

Just because this isn't the beginning of the year doesn't mean you can't call the parents just to say hello.

Another thing I do is to take one or two students a day and call home with something positive. Sometimes I have to dig hard to find something good, but think about how that can make the parent and student feel to know that you (the teacher) see the GOOD as well as the bad. That is a very powerful tool we have. Again, when it comes time to making the bad phone call home, you'll have already gained their trust. Why not start doing those?

Also, I would do anything I could to encourage the parents to come up to your class. The more familiar they are with you, the less frightening they will seem (and vice versa). Remember, we are always much more afraid of the unknown than the known.

Finally, remember that you are going to have some parents that rub you the wrong way, but as teachers it is our job to be as professional as we can be. Sometimes their reactions aren't going to be pleasant. That's not always a reflection of you.

I really hope that this helps. Please let me know if this helps.


Carl Sannito

Do you have a comment or suggestion? You can e-mail Carl at carlsannito at yahoo dot com.


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