Making A Difficult Phone Call To A Parent

Classroom Management Strategies for Teachers While it isn't likely to happen often, chances are you'll have to make a difficult phone call to a student's guardian at some point during your teaching career. No matter the reason, no one wants to approach a conversation where there is a chance their concerns will be dismissed, where what they have to say might meet with defensive/angry attitudes (or even finger pointing), etc. If you find yourself in this situation, here are a few things you might try to help the conversation go smoothly.

  1. While your primary focus is your students (and rightly so!), developing a relationship with your students' parents/guardians is also super important. If you've taken the time to build an open and consistent relationship with parents from the very beginning, providing them with plenty of opportunities to hear and see how much you value their child and how seriously you take the education of their child, you'll find that this will go a long way in laying the foundation for future conversations. While there are never any guarantees that parents will react well to unpleasant news, having a relational foundation is a good start!
  2. Try to keep emotions out of the mix. Let's face it, that's easier said than done since, especially if you're met with indifference, defensiveness, anger, etc. on the other end of the line. Our suggestion is to 'stick to the facts'. Relay the problem simply and concisely, providing one or two supporting examples where necessary, and reiterate that you're approaching them with the hope of finding a solution because you sincerely want their child to feel comfortable/succeed in the classroom. You've probably heard it said numerous times, but it really is true, you can't control the other person's reaction to the situation, but you can control yours. Your own impatience, defensiveness, anger, etc. will only add fuel to the fire and will not accomplish anything.
  3. Keep the conversation short and to the point. If the issue requires a solution and parent support in ensuring that the student stays on track, consider asking for a face-to-face meeting. Since your initial phone call will give them a heads up that there is an issue, scheduling a meeting for later in the week will give agitated parents a bit more time to calm down, process the information and (hopefully) come up with helpful, actionable suggestions to contribute. Additionally, there's a certain amount of confidence that's afforded by using the telephone and not actually having to face the person you're talking to. Chances are, by keeping the conversation short and to the point as well as asking for a future meeting, you'll head off any unpleasant words/reactions.
  4. Whether the conversation goes well or whether it goes poorly, always thank the parent before ending the conversation. Relate that you know it can be difficult to receive an unpleasant report and thank them for taking the time to talk about the issue as well as share your appreciation in advance for their help.

There are no fool-proof suggestions. What works for one set of parents may or may not work with another set. The main goal is to feel good about how you approached the conversation - practicing compassion and honesty, and showing how much you value the child.