Contacting Parents about Behavior

Discussion in 'Debate & Marathon Threads Archive' started by SF_Giants66, Aug 26, 2014.

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  1. SF_Giants66

    SF_Giants66 Cohort

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    I'm still only a student teacher, but next fall will be in the real deal. Most people might thing this is kind of jumping the gun, but being autistic I have to ask what people thing is the obvious or what seems to be a strange question to ask sometimes to avoid any potential confrontations.

    I use verbal communication, but generally not for one to one conversation purposes unless I have to, but mostly when either teaching, performing, or presenting. So my question is, do you think most parents would be offended or not take a teacher seriously who uses e-mail as a way to communicate behavior concerns about a student in class?

    It would honestly be a way for me to think about what I'm saying before I say it, and my therapy techniques with my psychologist right now is addressing alternative responses and online appropriateness.

    I'm mostly kind of afraid of using a term or phrase that I am not aware parents may consider offensive, not realizing my issues with speech tone and volume that were documented in my medical records to be perceived as threatening or intimidating at times when I'm dealing with conflict, or general stuttering and not knowing what to say as often happens when I'm not going off of something rehearsed the way I do when I'm teaching or acting.

    Before anyone gets on me, I also realize that there are times where contact will be initiated verbally by other parents and co-workers, but I'm not asking a way to 100% avoid verbal communication, just how to put limits on it when issues arise that can turn into confrontations.

    What are some techniques you try when talking to parents about behavior to avoid them feeling attacked or insulted?
     
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  3. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    I always use email when I can. Then there's a written record if I ever need it.

    I use a pro, con, pro method. "Johnny is doing great on his reading quizzes! However, he talks out a bit too much in class. We've worked on it at school, but I wanted to make sure you knew as well. We will continue to work on it and use our appropriate consequences. I know he can be successful and have a great year!" I use more details but that's the gist.
     
  4. SF_Giants66

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    I have read and heard the "say something positive first" approach, which I think can work in most cases. My only concern is how to not make parents think it's cheesy or you're trying to butter them up.

    For example, I think someone can reasonably say something such as, "His grades are excellent, but his behavior hasn't been very good," but many other types of scenarios would make me think the teacher was faking it.
     
  5. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    Well, the good news is that any parent who uses email probably won't object to your using it to communicate issues to them (unless they're worried about being hacked).

    The bad news is there is nothing you can write that will reliably keep the parents from being offended. But really that's also good news in a way: if you ever succeed in getting through to them it's a great thing, and if they become offended it probably isn't really your fault.

    Besides the pro-con method, you can also stress how much you like them and want to see them do well, and that's why you'd like to see their behavior improve. You can also ask if they have any insight or if their experience has been similar (and if they say it hasn't, don't immediately dismiss their view as wrong -- remember that kids CAN sometimes be very different between school and home).

    Also keep in mind that what you see as a behavior problem may not be in other circumstances. Interrupting others seems to be an important business skill based on some of the meetings I've been in, but I imagine most teachers would consider it completely inappropriate in the classroom (and they'd be right, of course). So, limit the scope of what you say about the behavior and its effects to your classroom.
     
  6. Froreal3

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    I have communicated behavior problems via both email and verbally. If the parent chooses to be communicated with mostly via email, then that is fine. My school communicated a lot via email anyway, so it was accepted. Another school may not. It depends on the school community and the parent's preferred method.

    As far as how to say it...I try to first say something positive, as has already been suggested. I do try to stress my intent to have the child be as successful as possible and that his or her potential is great.

    One thing I want to stress is to communicate to all guardian parties the same message. If one parent miscommunicates or doesn't communicate at all what you've said, that can be a problem.
     
  7. TeacherNY

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    I prefer to email also mostly because I don't have time to call parents during the school day and if I do they usually aren't home or are at work. Unless it's an emergency I don't think calling them at work is appropriate (one parent even said she wouldn't answer her phone at work ever...and one time it WAS an emergency). If I email then I can do it whenever I want, even from home. I refuse to make phone calls after school gets out so if a parent actually wants to talk to me I give them specific times to call. Usually they opt for email since I am the one setting the time parameters and if they have to get in touch with me and expect a reply.
     
  8. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    I always try to call when I can. Tone of voice can be lost in an e-mail and you may not get a response or know if the parent even read the e-mail. Once a parent changed their e-mail address and didn't send me the new one. A few important e-mails went unread until I followed up with a phone call.

    I have had a few parents tell me they prefer e-mails and then I will use that as a way to communicate with them, but I always wait for them to initiate it.
     
  9. willow129

    willow129 Comrade

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    *I* prefer email because I think it's a faster way to communicate. I tend to get talkative on the phone...or parents can be talkative on the phone! And I don't have time to have lots of discussion when (as a specialist) I see all the kids in the school. I started off doing phone calls first but then last year went more towards email first as it was just faster and I was more likely to actually *do* it and not put it off.

    The thing is, not all contact info is correct and often emails or phone numbers are not correct, so sometimes it's just, whatever way you can get a hold of the parent!

    So maybe start with whatever you're most comfortable, and if that doesn't work then proceed to other methods.
     
  10. vickilyn

    vickilyn Magnifico

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    As a high school teacher, I am encouraged to email for most of the reasons listed above: a record in case things escalate, more time to carefully craft the email to be the most focused, less emotional response possible, it cuts down on the talkative teacher or parent on the phone. At my level, I may be less pro then con and more asking if there has been a trend of an issue, or have they noticed something. It gives them a chance to air concerns they may have had that they didn't know how to ask about. Also, it isn't a direct accusation, but rather a base of concern, which most parents will appreciate. Besides all of this, it allows you to try out my supervisor's rule - it it doesn't fit easily into an email, then you probably need to make a call.
     
  11. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    I use email when I can. But I think a phone call is better. It's more direct, you are sure the parent is hearing what you are saying, and pretty much everyone has a phone. Many parents in my school don't have email, can't write or read English, or just don't know how to use the internet.

    I do send out weekly emails to the parents of those kids who are failing however.
     
  12. TeacherNY

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    Sometimes phone calls are best but it depends on the situation. The last 5 times I called parents none of them answered their phones. I left messages. Most don't call back and if they do we end up playing phone tag for 3 days. I also like email because you can cc the principal or any other appropriate school personal (specialists,counselors, etc.). I also noticed that emails were not ignored when the parents noticed other people, like the principal were also aware of the email.
     
  13. vickilyn

    vickilyn Magnifico

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    Best reason yet! :)
     
  14. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    I personally prefer email as well, but you may also need to keep in mind your school's population. A good 50% of my students don't have computers/internet at home, so email would be out of the question. It'd be good to continue practicing your phone skills, in case that's true for you as well.
     
  15. vickilyn

    vickilyn Magnifico

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    Just wondering, do the kids have cell phones?
     
  16. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    Whose kids? Mine? About the same percentage, maybe slightly higher. I've tried using them in the classroom but there's always at least 1/3 that doesn't have one.
     
  17. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    This might be something you can talk about with your cooperating teacher and practice. If there are phone calls to be made while you're in pre-service, see if you can do a round of "you do, we do, I do" to get used to the patter of these conversations.
     
  18. vickilyn

    vickilyn Magnifico

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    We have run into home internet going by the wayside and cell phones taking its place. The thinking is why pay for the same service twice if they are predominantly going to access the internet through their cell phones anyway. It has impacted how we contact some parents. Sorry it the question seemed rude - I was curious.
     
  19. Linguist92021

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    I prefer email over the phone, unfortunately we have very few parents who have / use email.
    In email you can really think about what you want to say and write it like that, revise it if you need to, but in a phone conversation, whatever may have come out wrong, you can't take it back. You also have proof of you trying to contact the parent, and proof of what was said if there is any miscommunication. You can also just send the email when it's convenient to you, and the parent reads it when it's convenient to them.

    Written records are priceless when it comes to more serious decisions (suspension, expulsion).

    If you have concerns about you saying the wrong thing, then I'd definitely recommend email communication, you can even have someone read your email for you, before you send it.

    As a parent I prefer email 100 times over the phone. At the end of the day I don't want to be talking to any teachers, counselors, etc, but I will read their emails as soon as I get it and I will respond.
     
  20. TeacherNY

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    Are any of you expected to only make calls? What if the parent is only available by phone after 7pm? I'm not using my home/cell phone to make parents calls so if this was expected it could pose some difficulties.
     
  21. agdamity

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    I only email once I have an established relationship with the parent. So much tone can be lost/ added in written form that can sometimes create a problem when there isn't one.
     
  22. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    I agree with this. I use email for quick reminders or requests, but prefer to speak, in person if possible, about concerns that I may have--either academic or behaviour. I detest making phone calls; for me, it is the hardest part of my job, but I prefer "live" communication in these cases.
     
  23. AdamnJakesMommy

    AdamnJakesMommy Habitué

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    I call and email about equally. One thing I learned from my teammate last year, be oh so so so so kind to parents. Always accommodating, always deferential. As a mom, I agree--this is the best way to approach a parent. You want them to be your allies in this process. The best way to make them your ally is to praise their child for their strengths and give the impression that you hold a very favorable opinion of their child. If it's behavior, I usually take the tactic of saying how smart the child is, how much potential the child has, how successful I know the child will be as he/she gets older---but I'm worried about her choices in friends or who she chooses to partner with in class, etc. I always put from the perspective of the child is making some wrong choices that I worry will affect their success, which they are destined for absolute success. Parents always respond well when you phrase it as you are concerned for them because you CARE about their futures and success. I also always speak to them as parent-parent. Like I say, "I have three sons, and I know you would want to be informed of..." Something to that effect. It's always much more conversational.

    Start with a phone call so the two of you (parent/teacher) can't get a good sense of each other--then use email, simply because it's much more efficient.
     
  24. live

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    It helps to approach parents with possible solutions to the problem, rather than just saying, "Your child has these issues..." Give the discussion a purpose and it won't seem accusatory.

    If you show that you value the parent's feedback and that you also want the best for the student, parents will know that you are on the same team.

    That's not to say a parent will never get mad at you, because, well... at some point they will.
     
  25. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    One of the best ways to accomplish came from my mentor's advice. Every school year, I call every single child's home. I start the school year with approx. 180 students, so this is no easy (or fun!) task, but over the first 2 weeks, I call every single home. I introduce myself, say that I had a great first day/week with their child and invite them to contact me at any time.

    This serves a multitude of purposes:
    - I can check on which numbers work
    - I can check on who I can email in the future
    - I can get a sense of who tends to get in trouble at school by seeing which parents think their kid is already in trouble
    - I open a friendly dialogue with the parent.

    I've done this every year and I believe it's the reason that I never had parental push back. I have never had a parent react badly if I call them later in the year with an issue and based on my student population and the experiences of my co-teachers, I honestly believe those initial phone calls are a huge part of this.
     
  26. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    We are required by admin to do this. It really sets a great tone for the year, because, really, which parent doesn't want to hear great things about their kid?!!

    I only have 19 students so it's much less painful. I usually do it on one of my preps and leave messages on home answering machines but occasionally a mom will pick up and we'll chat for a few minutes.
     
  27. daisycakes

    daisycakes Companion

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    I am surprised by many answers. I have gotten called into the principal's office many times and reamed because I sent an email to a parent about behavior, even over times where the parent contacts me by email to check in on an ongoing behavior issue!!! Parents at my school are super sensitive and you cannot email them about behavior unless you want to receive 9 hysterical replies or get fired.

    I try to always call dads because they are usually more embarrassed and helpful and moms tend to be more defensive and blaming. No 40 year old man wants to hear his 13 year old is giving his young, sweet, attractive teacher a hard time (their perspective). Moms sometimes feel like a younger woman is calling them a bad parent by bringing up a negative behavior in their child.

    I also call all parents at the beginning of the year (100 or more) and I make 5 to 7 positive calls home on Fridays, which are awesome for the kid and awesome for me. Just like difficult parents with difficult kids blame you for their issues, amazing parents with amazing kids want to tell you that their child is doing well because you are a good teacher and they respect you and love you so much. So, basically, I would call as much as possible unless you have known that parent through multiple years.
     
  28. SF_Giants66

    SF_Giants66 Cohort

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    Well, I'm generally not going to be that young, sweet, attractive teacher to 40 year old fathers.
     
  29. a.guillermo

    a.guillermo Rookie

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    I would advise email, almost for the sheer value of documentation.
     
  30. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Not at all a problem. I, and most teachers I know, use e-mail to communicate concerns. Parents and teachers are busy, and both sides tend to prefer e-mails over long conversations over the phone.

    There is one exception. If the child did something very serious, I will definitely use the phone to call. Parents often expect a phone call if a child does something serious. Sometimes I don't have to make the phone call as the P sometimes decides to call parents personally when it is an incident that calls for a suspension.
     
  31. vickilyn

    vickilyn Magnifico

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    And if it is serious enough, check with your supervisor - they may have some thoughts on how it is handled.
     
  32. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Yes, something serious that needs urgent handling should be a phone call - not everyone checks their email every day. I have my emails on my phone, but if I didn't, I would have to log on on my laptop, and I used to not do that every day. Some people rarely check theirs, depending on how they use their email.
     
  33. SF_Giants66

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    Okay, now I hope this doesn't seem generalizing or anything, but when I was volunteering in a poverty area, a couple of the kids I was mentoring hardly ever saw their parents. One sixth grader told me him and his older sister were left to babysit their 2 year old brother after school until well after midnight and barely ever saw their single mother.

    What do you do in cases when there is no parent involved with the child's life?
     
  34. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Don't make assumptions that parents aren't involved just because they may be difficult to reach. I have had students whose parents worked several jobs to keep a roof over their heads. At the beginning of the year, I try to make contact with each parent--phone, email, notes/letters home--asking the best way for me to contact them and, as much as possible, I respected that. For some students, it may have meant me sending an email or leaving a phone message during the day or after school, knowing that the parents would get back to me overnight (leaving a message) or the next day. If you are truly unable to contact parents, speak to your principal and see if they can help.
     
  35. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Ditto everything MrsC said above...
    And in any behavior mgt issue, consider that there are goals of misbehavior:
    Attention
    Power
    Revenge
    Fear of failure/feelings of inadequacy
    Figuring out WHY a kid s acting out will help guide you in mgt of those behaviors. Being proactive and handling misbehaviors without disrupting instruction should be your priorities.
    Have you had any behavior mgt classes, SF? What is your philosophy of classroom mgt?
     
  36. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Actually that can be the beauty of e-mail. While some parents are rarely home, they appreciate getting an e-mail to know how their child is doing. I can send it when they are at work, and they check their e-mail when they get a chance. Even many of the working poor have SMART phones as the price of plans have really come down in price. Also, some cell phone companies have programs that give discounts to those that make less than a certain $$$ amount.

    I have had rough family situations where parents couldn't be contacted. Often then, a grandparent was mostly in charge of the children and with the parents permission, I contacted a grandparent. There is nearly always someone who is an adult who is a contact person.
     
  37. daisycakes

    daisycakes Companion

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    To answer an earlier question, yes, I worked at a school that expected you never to email over behavior. They also expected you to call each of your parents at the beginning of each year and to call the, if they were earning a d or f in your class.
     
  38. Go Blue!

    Go Blue! Connoisseur

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    I teach in a high poverty area and I still try to contact parents (when need be) just to cover myself so I can document it and say I tried.

    I have also found that with older kids; many of them have very little real interaction with their guardian(s) - even if the person is home and not working. Yes, some kids are raising themselves, but others are simply allowed to run the streets afterschool or they hang out in their rooms playing games/FBing/Instagraming all evening. Some parents have no clue what is really going on with their kids because they never speak to them other than to say, "Dinner is ready!"

    Personally, I have found that contacting parents is not very helpful (except for creating documentation) especially for the children that are real behavior problems. Often, these parents are just as frustrated and fed up as us because they cannot get their child to change their behavior in school (or even at home). Or, they talk a big game about how they will turn off the child's iPhone and won't let them play ball anymore, but they fail to follow through.

    Like I tell new teachers (new to my school/district); I wouldn't depend too much on having parental support and consequences enforced at home. You're better off trying to build personal relationships with these kids. JMHO.
     
  39. 2ndTimeAround

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    I'm not making phone calls at 7pm. I'm not staying at school till 5:30 for parent conferences because parents cannot get off of work. I already give up more than enough of MY time for the sake of someone else's children. To expect me to stay late or call after 7 is ridiculous.

    I'd never tell my child's doctor to stay past office hours so I could address some of my concerns. Or to call me at home when it is convenient to give me the results of a strep test. Why should this be any different?
     
  40. Go Blue!

    Go Blue! Connoisseur

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    I would refer to send emails, but many of our parents (claim they) don't have an email account. My Admin refers that we call and only send an email if we know we have a parent's email address; often, students' give us their personal email address on BTS forms.
     
  41. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    I call late if necessary. That's what *67 is for. If it says me hours of headaches later, I consider a ten minute call in the evening well worth my time.

    I have had other professionals call me at late hours when I needed it. That and other things earned them my repeat business and recommendations to others.
     
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