3 Keys to a Meaningful Positive Call

by | 04.12.22

Kennita Ballard is an ELA teacher in Louisville, KY. Follow her on Twitter @iheart6ela.

We see more growth toward learning outcomes when we plan for the child as a whole in our teaching, as opposed to putting learning in one box, behavior in another box and family engagement in another. It all has to go together. We have to be in partnership with our students and families, codesigning curriculum and pedagogy.

In this three-part series, I’ll share codesigning strategies that work well for me, and I hope you’ll find some inspiration, too! – Kennita Ballard, Teacher in Louisville, KY

I now teach at the secondary level, but I have a background in early childhood education. In early childhood, there is a heavy emphasis on the importance of connecting with students’ families as part of addressing the whole child. When I began teaching middle and high school, I was struck by the way that communication dropped off. Too often, families were only looped in when something went wrong.

The simple act of making positive phone calls home can play a powerful role in connecting with families and partnering with them in their children’s education. I’ve even had family members who have broken down and cried when I made a positive phone call, because in seven years of their child’s schooling, they’ve never received a positive call home, and they’re so moved I’m taking the time to let them know their student is truly seen at school. These calls can also give families an access point into their students’ learning, strengthening a two-way relationship that allows us to codesign the supports that help our learners thrive. 

Over many years, I’ve made hundreds of these calls, and I’ve found that being intentional in the following three ways helps make them as meaningful as possible. 

3 keys to a meaningful positive call home: 

1. SPECIFICITY: Write a short script, highlighting something specific about the student.

Plan something specific you want to speak about for each student – the same way we speak with our learners in the classroom. We don’t give them feedback by saying, “Oh, you’re doing a good job.” We go deeper than that, so students know what, exactly, we’re seeing. 

When I plan for my calls, I glance at my qualitative and quantitative notes on students and think about what I’ve seen in the classroom: the way they’ve challenged themselves in a specific area of learning, a time they stepped up as a leader, an impressive quality in their writing. The important thing is to let families know, “Hey, I think your child is great” and “I see your child as an individual.” 

By offering more specificity, we also offer families more ways to discuss what we say with students. Sure, it’s nice for them to be able to say, “Oh, your teacher said you’re doing good in school today,” but it’s even better if we describe the level of detail in a specific writing assignment, for example, because we’ve then given the student and the family member an opportunity to talk about what is happening in the classroom.

2. PROACTIVITY: Plan the calls in a way that supports your other efforts in the classroom.

With a little planning, positive calls home can complement other efforts we are making in our relationships with students. 

If I have a student who’s been struggling with engagement in the classroom, for example, and we hold a student-teacher conference to create a plan of action, I immediately make the call home the moment I see the student making changes. I might say, “I just want to recognize the work that your student is putting towards making positive choices, moving toward positive habits. That’s not easy to do!” I’ve seen calls make all the difference in the way students feel in my classroom and the effort they bring. 

I also make sure I’m looking out for those students who always succeed in the classroom. Often, they can fly under our radar, because teachers will presume, “Oh, they always do well. I’m sure their family recognizes that.” But the call is so validating and lets students know we see them trying their best every day. 

3. REGULARITY: Establish a regular schedule that works with your capacity.

I know I don’t need to tell you, the teacher to-do list never stops growing. Setting a regular time for your positive calls helps make sure they don’t fall to the wayside. Maybe you make three calls at the beginning of your planning, or ten after school on staff meeting days. The important thing is to make them with regularity, with the frequency that fits your capacity.

These days, I like to make some time in the school day to actually call home, because some students like being present for them. It makes a bit of a show of it, and suggests to students: I will stop everything, any time, any place, to call home and celebrate you, because it’s that important.

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