Tuesday, August 12, 2008

If They Would Have Just Called Back…


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I went to a seminar about Special Education and the Law a few years ago and I remember something the speaker said that really made an impact on me. He said that most of the parents say that they would not have filed suit if the school had just called them back. As a parent, I know that I have called the teacher, the guidance counselors, and the administrators but had to call a few times before I ever received a return call. Once email came about, I thought it would be easier to get a response because I know how busy the teachers are, but this didn’t happen either.

I made it a personal goal to call or email a parent back within 48 hours and I would tell the parents this during the first contact I made with them. I also put this in my classroom newsletter. But I told them that I was only human and sometimes make mistakes, so if they haven’t heard from me within 48 hours, I might have lost their number, never got the message, or just plain forgot and would appreciate it if they contacted me again. If the parents hear this up front, it helps ease the communication process. Of course, I did my best to meet my goal and it helped motivate me to make the contact even though I would rather have avoided it at all costs. Let’s face it, every teacher has that parent that they hate to communicate with but it is much easier on everyone’s nerves if you just bite the bullet and get it over with. Sometimes I found out what I was anxious about never happened and I would have wasted time worrying about making the contact. And if it ends up a bad situation, it is better to get it out in the open and deal with it than to let it fester like a sore and get worse.

I had a great principal years ago that encouraged this communication too and that helped me stay on track. He was really good about saying that if I made a mistake or did something unintentionally in class, it was much better to tell the parent that I messed up and would correct it than to avoid the discussion because the parent just gets angrier. And if I could avoid having an angry parent contact the principal, we all would be much happier!

Maybe this story could help you have a successful school year. I hope it does!

10 comments:

Lisa Parisi said...

I have always found that the more I communicate with parents, the less problems I have with parents. So I too ALWAYS return calls, as soon as I have a free moment. And, you are right. They are usually so grateful for the call, that they are calm and polite when speaking with me.

I hate when, as a parent, I email a teacher and get nothing or get a flip - that's just the way it is - answer. It just angers me more. I always try to remember that when dealing my own students' parents.

Paul Bogush said...

Ah so true!

I actually tell my parents at the beginning of the year that I often get 20+ emails each day with no period or time during the day created to respond to them--so I will respond within 48 hours but it will be a very informal response. For example if a parent want to know how their kid is doing I will just give a bulleted list. I then tell them that if for any reason they would like me to expand on any point to let me know. I have also started to call more parents back instead of responding with email-as a slow writer talking is faster, and there is no back and forth--and I am so tired of either me or the parent reading tone of voice into words and misinterpreting what was being written.

loonyhiker said...

Lisa: I have two daughters who are bipolar and communication with teachers were a nightmare. I swore I would not be a hypocrite and contact parents like I wish I had been contacted. I wish my daughters would have had someone like you.

loonyhiker said...

Paul: You are so right. That is one problem with email is reading into the tone of what is written. I tend to use a lot of smiley faces in my emails to try not to offend the parents. But then I tend to read more into what they write back to me because they don't do the same thing. Sometimes a phone call can take the anxiety out of the whole situation.

M-Dawg said...

I try my best to communicate with parents. I even try and call home for the good stuff too. :-)

At my school, we have limited access to phones so it's hard to call a parent. If I want to call a parent, I usually have to do it in a secretary's office or housemaster's office - not exactly personal. And, I have a lot of students where Spanish is the language spoken in the home so sometimes I have to arrange for an interpreter (which is tough since it was one of our budget cuts last year). I sometimes will harass one of our Spanish teachers to help me out.

I prefer email if the parent has access to it. Unfortunately at my school, we have a lot of parents (and kids) that don't have access to computers or the Internet.

And, just a friendly reminder - keep a phone journal. I document all conversations I have with parents. I include the date, time, what the call was about, and what was discussed. If I left a message, I also write that info down too. You never know when you might need the documentation. :-)

HappyChyck said...

I dread calling parents, but 95% of the time they are super supportive and perplexed and irritated by their kids, too. It's that 5% horror that has embedded in my head.

A few years ago I had some issues with a parent who tried to reach me, but I'd never gotten any messages on my voicemail. Nor had I gotten any e-mails or a note via the student to call him. In that situation, some psychic powers might have helped me. He had issues with a few people at the school, so by the time I ended up in the principal's office, it was UGLY. This story may not fit very well because I was clueless that there was an issue (the student wasn't a problem and was a fairly good student), but I sure support COMMUNICATION to avoid nightmares like that!

mindelei said...

Although I'm still pre-service (therefore I don't have my own classroom yet) and have no children at this point in my life: I can still relate. I get very frustrated when those who I get in touch with don't bother to call me back. I think this relates partially to one of my previous jobs working as an Immigration Consultant. We were required to respond to email within a view hours with an update if not an outright answer and voice-mail within a twenty-four hour period. I think we would all be happier if everyone at least attempted to let us know that we have received their email and are looking into the situation. I know that makes me feel better.

loonyhiker said...

m-dawg: Thanks for the reminder of the phone journal. That has come in really handy when I have had a face to face conference with parents. Sometimes they will say I've never told them something and I can refer to the date when I called them about a certain issue.

loonyhiker said...

happychyck: Sometimes those horrible things will happen but the good will definitely outweigh the bad. Just remember how much of a difference you make with the others!

loonyhiker said...

mindelei: You are right! No matter what occupation we have, it is only polite that we return phone calls in a timely manner. Thanks for the reminder! We should treat others the way that we want to be treated. My hubby is always saying, "What goes around, comes around!" so if I respond to someone quickly, when I need a response from someone, hopefully they will do the same.