I’m not gonna lie, I absolutely love my smartphone! I’m really not sure how I taught (or drove, cooked meals, woke up, took pictures, or passed time in the doctor’s office) without it! On the rare occasion I leave my phone at home, I feel like I’m missing an article of clothing! I’m even guilty of experiencing those odd, phantom vibrations when I think my phone is ringing in my pocket, even when it’s not there!
I have several “important” apps: Tweetcaster, Facebook, Dropbox, and Google Drive to name a few. I couldn’t see myself surviving the week without Alarm Clock, Google Maps, and Email. The Chat, Calendar and Camera apps round out my list of “Must Haves.”
But there’s an app on my smartphone that doesn’t get much use. This app is available for iPhone and Android devices, as well as Windows Phones, Blackberries, and others. It’s free, and comes pre-installed on every phone sold today. This app could be the single most important tool for educators, but it is rarely used. If we really want to transform education today, I believe teachers and administrators must use this app daily.
The Phone App
That’s right. The Phone App is the single most important (and underrated) app for educators today. There’s even an offline version of this app on most teachers’ desks. The app allows one to enter a series of numbers on a keypad, press send, and within a few seconds a conversation can begin.
How can educators use this app?
What if the practice in your school was to always call parents before using any other means of communication? We could see real improvement in the area of parent/teacher communication. I believe we can literally transform our schools if we can shift our primary mode of school/home communication from emails to phone calls.
If teachers knew their first communication with a parent would be via telephone, they might be more inclined to make it a positive one. Todd Whitaker talks about making “positive parent phone calls” in his book, Dealing with Difficult Parents. As a principal he realized that very few teachers were making positive communications with parents. The only contact teachers were making with parents was negative. Teachers made a school wide effort to make at least one positive phone call each week. Making positive phone calls helped improve student behavior and strengthened the school-to-home relationships. How would you feel if your child’s teacher called one evening just to say how polite and respectful your student was? There might be extra dessert at our house that night!
When Tone is Important
Any time a teacher or administrator communicates with a parent about a negative situation, tone becomes one of the most important pieces of the conversation.Conveying tone in an email is difficult, if not impossible. In my opinion, a phone call (or even better, a face to face conversation) is the only way to communicate bad news to parents.
Email is an excuse
Email is an excuse; a cop out. I’ve heard it over and over, “I don’t have time to call all these parents!” I think we may be kidding ourselves here. In my opinion, we don’t have time not to call them. The extra minute or two it takes to make a phone call will be worth the effort! Making the phone call shows parents we really do care about the student’s improvement.
Why don’t we use our Phone App?
Let’s just be honest, we can’t stand conflict! We don’t want to deal with it. And hiding behind an email allows us to eliminate (or more likely, prolong) the conflict. But what I have found is, even though it may be difficult to make that phone call, once the conversation begins, the parent is supportive, cordial, and appreciative of me for taking the time to call. And more often than not, they aren’t surprised, because they see the same issues at home!
It doesn’t always happen like that, though. There are times when parents aren’t so happy to hear from us. But I’d rather have that difficult conversation on the phone, than give them time to put together a reply to an email!
Making the call
Making phone calls to parents is definitely stressful. There’s a fear of the unknown as we sit there hoping to reach their voicemail! But there are some things we can do to make the call easier for us:
- Use a script. I always use the same script when I make a parent phone call. I would encourage new teachers, or those who are nervous about making calls, to literally write out a script. It should say something like, “Hi, my name is ________________. I’m (student’s name)’s (whatever you are). I’m sorry to bother you at (home, work, the bar) but I wanted to talk to you about your (son/daughter). Do you have a minute?” Then I would make a few notes about what I wanted to discuss. Make sure to end the conversation by telling the parent how much you appreciate their time.
- Practice. I’ve always thought it would be helpful to have a few hours in a staff development where teachers could practice making parent phone calls. Experienced teachers and those more comfortable making phone calls could model and offer suggestions to new teachers.
- Make Email the Exception. Make it a priority to call instead of email whenever possible. Repetition will make future calls easier.
If you want to change the culture of your school, classroom, or principal’s office, make your Phone App your most important app!