Monday, August 28, 2017

Positive Phone Calls--With A Twist

As a first year teacher, I was blessed with a mentor teacher, Gail Warner (KN teacher in LISD) that instilled some practices in me that became foundations to my practice as a teacher.  Gail had high expectations of me so I couldn't tell her that some of the things she asked me to do that seemed outside of the norm of daily teaching (eg not learned in class) weren't high on my priority list.  I knew she knew best and I just did what she asked of me.  One of those early practices was to make a positive phone call home within the first days of school starting.  I was able to talk to the parent and tell them how their child was transitioning into my classroom and offer an anecdote of their first week in first grade.  Gail remains my mentor teacher after 23 years, so making those calls is something that is part of my DNA thanks to her.  

When I became a principal, I put together my staff handbook with some tenets of my practice, that although sometimes feel like lofty expectations, I know that if the expectations are if implemented it will often be the step that enables a teacher to teacher move from a good teacher to a great teacher.  One of the practices to put in the handbook, was the first-week phone call.  However, I gave my teachers the first three weeks to make the calls, as I realized that we are so tired from the beginning of the year, that to get those calls made with a quality that made it worthwhile was a lofty goal.  Each year, my teachers sign that they will implement the policies and procedures outlined in the staff handbook. 

It seemed that every year at about November or December, I would be sitting in a parent meeting discussing a child and begin to realize that the teacher had never made their positive phone call home as outlined in the handbook that they signed, that they even called period to discuss their child and their current struggles.  It disarms me every time it happens.  I really wanted to make an impact and change my teacher's behavior as I know it is hard to regain trust with a parent if it was never really earned in the first place.

I came across an article in March 2017 Principal Magazine that helped me think through how I could try to model the expectation for my teachers. I am lucky to teach with some teachers that taught side by side with me, but the great majority has no idea what I was like as a classroom teacher.  The article was entitled "It's Your Call:  Share Positive Feedback" by Dana Boyd.  In the article, the focus was how as a principal, she wanted to make more positive phone calls home herself as the principal. She outlined her strategy and the first calls she made were to her TEACHER's parents. She modeled the expectation.  This practice is literally a one paragraph touch in the two-page article, but it is what stuck with me the most.  Call your teacher's parents.  Hmm.

So, I processed that idea a lot throughout the spring and the summer.  I know that when we learn, the best place to start is by imitating and modeling.  Why had I thought to make those calls myself before?  I began to assess, could I do these calls without announcing them first so that they would be special.  I reviewed the contact information that I had at my fingertips, and low and behold I could make them.  The only thing standing in my way was the time factor; I have nearly 50 teachers/ professionals that I wanted to model for and that is a lot of phone calls to make along with getting the school ready for children and teacher professional development.  I began with the leadership team as they returned to school first.  I loved getting the feedback from them once the calls started.  I made many moms cry as I discussed the traits of their child that made me proud to watch them teach and make a positive impact on kids.  I received emails, voicemails, and copies of Facebook posts where moms, dads, and significant others thanked me for this small act.   The teachers themselves came in and told me how much they enjoyed their parent telling the story of my call.  I wish I had done this so much sooner.  

I know that I benefitted the MOST from these calls. I was able to discuss traits of each teacher on my staff and what I admire in them to someone who loves them with their whole heart.  I was able to share with parents, hey, you did a great job with your child who is now an adult and thank you for your hard work.  Every time I sat down to do a stack of calls, it made my heart swell with pride of the good we are doing here at McCall.  I have a few more to make due to some unfortunate timing and some that I do not have a good number of their parent or significant other.  But, to date, I have made 44 calls.  It is my sincere hope that this modeling of this process will help us reach out to more of our McCall families to let them know what great kids they have.  We shouldn't have to wait until adulthood for someone to validate the hard work we do that we call parenting.  

I am going to get back to my practice of making calls home myself to my Colts;  I was so good about that in the early days of my principalship and I have allowed the managerial tasks of the job to get me away from my calls.  Not this year!  I am going to model for my assistant principal and get him to make some too.  We have a form we created for teachers to nominate a child for a positive principal call.  I think it will help us ensure we get into a groove and make calls on a regular basis.

I know it is going to be a great year for every Colt in the building as we have set the stage for greatness.  


  1. As a recipient (via my husband)...this meant THE WORLD to me. Thank you for being so focused and concerned about tending to the psyches of your staff as well as your students. What a swelling of the heart I felt. I love you!

  2. I haven't had a chance to thank you for your call to my parents. They couldn't wait to tell me that you had called and how much it meant to them to be included in on their grown daughter's life! Thank you!

  3. This was the best thing my parents have ever received from a principal at a school I work at.

    It is an honor to work at McCall Elementary! Thank you so much!