Building Parent-Teacher Relationships Can Be Hard. Positive Phone Calls Home Can Help.

Antin suggested looking for small achievements, like turning in an assignment on time or helping with classroom tasks. As teachers become accustomed to looking for things students do well, it can transform into a gratitude practice that enhances their overall classroom experience. “When you start looking for gratitude, it sort of builds on itself and then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘I’m thankful for everything,’” said Antin.

Hearing their child be celebrated is meaningful to the parents of kids who get in trouble in class often, but also for quiet students who fly under the radar. For example, one parent shared that her child never got calls home because he didn’t have exceptionally good or bad behavior, recalled Antin. Getting a positive call home brought tears to her eyes because she rarely got any updates about how her child was doing in school.

Keep it brief

Teachers might avoid making parent phone calls to parents for several reasons. “They’re scared that parents are going to blame them for things or point fingers or be too demanding,” Antin said. “Boosting parent engagement means giving up some control. A lot of things can go wrong, but there also can be a lot of things that go right.” 

Additionally, some teachers worry that making these calls will be too time-consuming. However, positive phone calls home only need to take a few minutes. If a parent tries to stay on the phone for longer than anticipated, it’s OK to politely interrupt them and set boundaries. Antin suggested saying, “Let’s make an appointment and then we’ll sit down and we can talk about that other thing when we have more time and we can really dig into it.”  

Integrate positive calls into school culture

Administrators can support teachers by allocating time for these calls. For example, school leaders can end staff meetings fifteen minutes early and encourage teachers to use this time to call parents, Antin said. Administrators can also use staff meetings to allow teachers to share their experiences with these calls. Recognizing, valuing and making time for this work can motivate teachers to continue these efforts and inspire other teachers to follow suit. 

Positive phone calls home also can be the foundation for exploring other schoolwide opportunities to deepen family engagement. For example, back-to-school night, parent-teacher conferences or open house can be opportunities to further develop relationships, rather than just giving out information, according to Antin. Parents can get more out of these events when relationships with teachers have already been established. “You have to have that trusting relationship built so that the families know that you’re all on the same team,” Antin said.

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