Guest Post by Zeb Welborn
During my first year as a teacher, I was struggling with classroom management issues. Many students seemed dissinterested and a handful of students caused consistent discipline problems. As a High School teacher, I used a lot of different techniques to improve classroom behavior, increase motivation and develop communication between myself, parents and students. To solve these problems I decided to call the students parents. When I called parents I made ten phone calls a day, five to the parents of students who were performing well and five to the parents of students who were struggling or creating discipline problems.
When I called the struggling students, I would always start off by saying something positive about their child and elaborate on that positive comment. Parents love to hear good things about their children and when I stated the concerns and issues that I was facing with that student, I kept it very brief. At the end of each call I would leave them with something positive. By ending with something positive, I was hoping to leave a positive impression of their child at the end of the call.
When I called the first few parents of struggling students and introduced myself as a teacher, I frequently heard a sigh on the other end of the phone, with a response along the lines of, "What has Ashley done now?" To which my response would always be something positive, something like, "I am calling all the parents of students in my class because I think it is important to communicate how well your child is performing. Ashley is a born leader and all the students look up to her. She is assertive and has very strong opinions, I really think that she has a bright future ahead of her." At this point, the parents are so confused that they really don't know what to say. But I always got the sense that they appreciated and enjoyed what I had to say. Then I would offer some advice or concerns associated with the student, something like, "One thing that does concern me is that sometimes she is distracting to other students. She is a very smart student and I would like to see her focus more on doing work in class then distracting other students." I would pause for any comments or questions the parents would have and then end the phone call.
Calling the five students that were doing well was really more for my emotional well-being than anything else. Calling the parents of students who are causing you problems can be stressful. Calling the parents of the good students really make you feel good about what you're doing. When I called the parents of students who were doing well it was always real brief and went something like this, "I am calling all the parents of students in my class because I think it is important to communicate how well your child is performing in class. Nick has done exceptionally well so far, he has turned in all his homework, does well on tests and contributes to classroom discussions. It's truly a pleasure to have Nick as a student and I thought you might like to know how well he was doing." The parents always loved these phone calls and at the end I felt great about myself.
After the first day of using this technique I saw an immediate change. The students came into class that day and many of the students asked if I had called their parents and many of these students were smiling... in my classroom, they were smiling. From that day forward, the students no longer saw me as a teacher, but as someone who cared about them and their performance in class. Those students who were doing well in class would encourage others to behave when they were getting out of line and most of the students who were struggling made a conscious effort to improve their behavior. Overall, effort improved, attitudes improved and the entire classroom atmosphere improved.
I can not speak more highly of the benefits of calling parents and using the positive, negative, positive technique when talking with the parents of struggling students. It improves the classroom atmosphere, your relationships with students and their parents. Not to mention, it makes you look pretty good when happy parents talk to administrators about your communication with them.
Zeb Welborn is the founder of The Tutoring Solution, which tutors children in Southern California and conducts a Creative Online Writing Program every summer. The Tutoring Solution website provides daily tips for Parents, Teachers, Tutors and Students. If you are looking for more tips like the one here, please visit his website The Tutoring Solution.