Parent Communication: Phone Calls v Emails

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Parent communication is a basic skill that teachers need to cultivate. However, it is one that can also be time consuming and uncomfortable. In this post, I am going to address emails v. phone calls and give you my opinion based on my own experience.

Parent Communication: Back in the Day

I’ve been teaching since before email. Yes, you read that correctly. I am currently in my 29th year as an educator and when I started there was no computer in my classroom. The internet was not an everyday thing…for anyone. We didn’t have smartphones. The teachers in each grade level shared one phone in their workroom and it was attached to the wall by a cord. 

Parent Communication: Back in the Day…We had one phone and it was attached to the wall.

So, back in the day when I needed to reach a student’s parent, I couldn’t send an email, I had to call. As an introvert who hates talking on the phone it was nerve wracking and a little bit intimidating. If I was calling to talk about a student’s behavior it was even more stressful. I practiced what I was going to say in advance and I hoped that I wasn’t about to be the victim of verbal abuse. 

As an introvert it was nerve wracking and a little bit intimidating.

But over the years, these phone calls became easier as I became more comfortable in my own “teacher skin.”  I realized people weren’t yelling at me. The parents almost always thanked me for calling them. They wanted to know about their child. They really appreciated it if I called before a problem became so large I had to give a consequence. Those parents knew their child better than I did and often had great suggestions for what would work to improve things. 

I wound up developing some great working relationships with parents. Sometimes, they even requested me as the teacher for the younger siblings because they knew I had the best interest of the students in mind.  

Email Pros and Cons

In talking to new teachers today, I hear a lot of them say that they prefer to contact parents by email. They don’t like calling parents and they don’t do it very often. 

I understand the appeal of emails. They are more convenient. They are editable. You can make sure you get your thoughts just right. An email is clear and undeniable documentation of exactly what was said to the parent and when the communication was attempted. Plus, if you get a nasty note back it doesn’t have quite the same effect as someone telling you off, live and in person, over the phone. Plus, the email can reach the parent at any time of day instead of just during work hours. 

Emails are convenient but phone calls are more personal.

But emails have their drawbacks also. Mainly, they aren’t very personal. Tone and inflection can be easily misconstrued in an email. People often say things in emails that they would never say in person. Emails can find us at home on our personal time and cause us to stress and worry about work in our “off” time. For me, they take longer to compose than simply picking up the phone to call someone.  Then, there is the parent that emails about every little thing or just has to have the last word and sends you yet another email. 

Don’t get me wrong. I use email and I think it is appropriate at times. Some parents even request it. 

Building Relationships

But for me, if I have reached the point in my progressive discipline plan when I need to communicate with a parent about a student’s behavior, I’m going to make that phone call before I send an email. I want to build a relationship with that parent.  These conversations should feel personal. We are talking about someone’s child. I don’t want my tone or inflection to be misinterpreted in any way. 

Plus, many of the parents that I communicate with don’t read and write very well themselves. They have email addresses and use them for commercial purposes but when it comes to discussing their child they would prefer a phone call. 

Parent Phone Call Script

Here is a quick outline I follow when I make a parent phone call. 

  • Greeting
  • Introduce myself.
  • Say something positive or personal about the student. 
  • Explain the current issue. 
  • Ask the parent to discuss the issue with their student or for suggestions on what works with their child. 
  • Thank the parents for their time and support. 

After the phone call, I make sure that I document it in some way just for future reference. I document the date, time, topic, which parent I called and if I reached them in person or left a voicemail message. 

Afterwards, make sure you document the communication.

Positive Phone Calls

If you are like I was in the beginning, a little scared and intimidated by parent phone calls, my best suggestion is to start by making positive calls. Warm up on a positive call before you have to make the dreaded one. Or if you have a particularly difficult phone call then when you hang up end your day on a positive note by calling a different parent and telling them how awesome their student is. 

It does get easier and you won’t regret it.

Let me know your thoughts on parent communication in the comments. Do you prefer phone calls or emails? Or if you have suggestions for future content let me know that as well. Happy teaching!

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