Decrease Anxiety and Improve Communication With Parents About Student Behavior

Student behavior solutions are a hot topic in back to school professional development and planning sessions right now.  Important systems should be in place for proactive and preventative measures for student behavior, but how often do we work to improve communication with parents by creating proactive communication strategies as part of our behavior management plan.

Student behavior communication starts way before the behavior even has the chance to occur.  Say that again for the crowd in the back! If you are a school leader and not insisting teachers make positive contact with parents early and often, it’s time to rethink that strategy.  In addition, as the leader, it’s important you are communicating to parents about the behavior systems, philosophy and practices your school uses so parents can partner from day one. 

So You Have to Call Home for A Negative Reason, Now What?

Reporting situations that occur at school is important and inevitable as a school leader, you will be making a call home within the first few weeks of school to share a negative situation and potential consequence for their student.  What are some key strategies to ensure the student’s caregivers don’t immediately go on the defense?

Convey Calmness:  Ensuring we have the students’ best interest at heart conveys a sense of partnership and awareness of the families’ goals as well as the schools’ goals.  In order for this to come across in the conversation, make sure YOU are regulated, calm and are not taking the behaviors personally. If you are feeling worn down or exhausted when you make the call, that can be felt by the parent or guardian.  In turn, this erodes trust in your leadership and motives.  

Individualize the Plan:   Students that need a higher level of behavior support, like a tier two or tier three plan for example, partner with parents early on the best communication plan.  With some students, you have the potential to be calling home daily, and that can feel triggering and exhausting for both parties.  Instead, discuss  what behaviors caregivers want to know about and the best way to share this information.  For example, create a daily behavior sheet to go home for minor disruptive behaviors and a phone call home for larger physical disruptive behaviors. 

Script the Message:  Take it from us, do not start thinking about what you will say to the caregiver as the phone is ringing.  Nope.  Instead, spend a few moments writing key points before you make the call.   Be clear, state facts and don’t sugarcoat the behavior or the responses.  Scripting ahead of time helps your message stay focused on the facts, and it also provides a record of the conversation for your files later on. 

Uncover the Root:  Conversations regarding behaviors with parents and guardians that go south quickly can be traced back to a breakdown in communication.  As you have the phone call, listen carefully to the caregiver’s concerns and pause to reflect.  Perhaps they feel their child was also a victim of something or isn’t being treated fairly.  Our first response in these moments is to get defensive. Instead, pause, give value to their feedback, even if you don’t agree, and jot it down.  Providing value to their feelings doesn’t mean you agree, it just means you are seeking to understand.

Pause and Come Back:  The strongest strategy you have when a parent has expressed concerns with how their child was treated in the situation is to pause and come back to the conversation.  It is always okay to say, let me investigate your concern further and I will follow up.  You are not changing the consequence, but you are letting the caregiver know you value the concern. 

Co-Call with the Teacher:  It can also be a powerful technique to call the caregiver with the teacher together.  We’ve done this a few times before, especially if the behavior started in the classroom or if the teacher hasn’t had the opportunity to communicate with the parent about the behaviors before the first major behavior occurred.  It conveys support to the teacher, partnership to the family and is a great opportunity for you to model appropriate communication with parents.  

From the Desk of the Modern Principal

At the end of the day, if you truly care about the student, learning to improve communication with parents is your best strategy when making these hard phone calls.  But, go ahead and add the items below to your to-do list for this week, too!

Systems Checklist:

  1.  Schedule / Plan a Session to Share School Behavior Philosophy with Families
  2. Communicate with teachers to make positive phone calls to all guardians/parents by XXX date.
  3. Embed ‘positive’ phone call competitions throughout the school year to keep the positive deposits going year-round  
  4. Call the parents of your most challenging students BEFORE there is an issue to review the student’s behavior plan, check if there are any preferred changes from the parent to ensure continued partnership

To hear us discuss how to improve communication with parents in further detail, listen to it on our latest podcast episode!

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