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How to Call or Email Parents About Difficult Topics (With a Script)

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Marissa is the writer of "ThePracticalMommy" and owner of Mommy Knows What's Best. She's a former teacher and a stay-at-home mom to four.

Learn how to call or email your students' parents about a difficult topic using the script provided.

Learn how to call or email your students' parents about a difficult topic using the script provided.

Teachers: The Challenges of Contacting Your Students' Parents

For a teacher, calling or contacting parents can be one of the most difficult challenges to face on a daily basis. It’s almost as if you’re a telemarketer or a bill collector: unless you’ve met the person on the other line, you have no idea how they will react to your news, whether good or bad.

One day you might call Johnny’s parents to say how proud you are that he has earned more points on this week’s quiz than he did on last week’s quiz, and they would be upset that they weren’t told by Johnny about last week’s quiz. Another day you might call to let them know that Sally has teased another girl in class about the girl’s glasses multiple times even after being asked not to tease the girl, and the parents will shrug it off, promise to talk to Sally but then never follow through.

It’s tough. We’re all humans and the reactions we have can vary from one person to another. There are other factors that can elicit these reactions to consider as well: the student’s relationship with parents, the parent’s relationship with the school, the parent’s busy schedules, etc.

Where to Find Script for Calling Parents

The script is within my suggestions below. It can be modified as you find necessary.

Contacting parents can certainly be challenging, but in the end it is well worth it.

Contacting parents can certainly be challenging, but in the end it is well worth it.

Calling Parents: Need to Make a Difficult Phone Call to a Parent?

If you’re a teacher about to make a difficult phone call to a parent, there are several things you can do to make sure all goes smoothly. They are suggestions I myself have used as a middle school teacher and suggestions that have been given to my colleagues and me by other veteran teachers and administrators.

How to Call or Contact Parents: Suggestions and Script

1. When an incident happens—cheating, back talk, teasing/bullying, fighting, disruptions, etc.—make note of it immediately. It may require you to interrupt your lesson for a minute, but it will spare you some grief later on when you’re trying to remember exactly what happened (I kept a separate notebook in my desk for such occasions). Make sure it is objective—what actually happened, not your opinion or the opinion of the other students. Note: if it is something that is dangerous or severely disturbing (i.e. extreme acts of verbal bullying), contact your administrators right away to see if the student can be removed from the classroom and placed in a safe environment, and make sure to write it all down.

2. Assess the situation. If it is something that has happened the first time for a student, address the issue privately with them first (Never in front of the class! That sometimes makes matters worse), and see if there is a change. If there is no change either that day or in subsequent days, make the decision to call the parent. Don’t wait too long to make this decision; if parent contact is made too long after an incident has happened, the student will not learn anything since the incident no longer has relevance in their life, and the parents will potentially be upset that they were not told sooner.

3. Write down a script of the topic(s) to be discussed. It can be in the form of an outline, but make sure to write clearly what you are going to tell the parents, again without your opinion. Start with one positive thing about the student; it may be hard to find, in some cases, but it will help the parents understand that you are not out to get their child and it will help you keep your emotions in check as well. After establishing the positive item, include what the student has done along with the mention of your classroom rules/expectations(which I used to send out on the first day of school) and mention of the school’s rules/expectations and how they all connect for this incident. Also be sure to write down what steps you have taken to resolve the situation prior to the phone call (seat change, talk with the student, etc.) and what could happen if the student chooses to continue the behavior (detention, visit to the principal, in-school-suspension, etc.).

4. Start with an introduction of who you are and the positive point (script): “Good afternoon. I am Mr/Ms. SoAndSo from the Oak Tree Middle School. I am calling to speak to the parents of Harry Turtle. May I speak to them, please?” After establishing that you are talking to a parent, give them the positive point about the student.

5. Clearly indicate why you are calling (script). “I am calling to speak with you today about Harry’s recent behavior in class. While he has been helpful in the beginning of class, as I mentioned to you earlier, it seems he is having a hard time staying still in his seat and talking with other students while class is going on. “

6. Follow through with the rest of your script: your rules/expectations, school rules/expectations, your prior involvement and possible consequences. “In my classroom, students are not permitted to talk socially while the teacher is talking or other students are answering/asking questions, as you may have seen in the list of expectations sent home on the first day of school. It is also stated in the student handbook that disrupting class on a continuous basis is not permitted. On Monday, when Harry began exhibiting this behavior, I asked him after class if he would refrain from talking while class is going on, and he agreed. Since then, however, Harry has not stopped talking in class despite other reminders and it is becoming a distraction to the other students. I am afraid if he does not stop, he will be referred to the office for a detention, which is recommended in the student handbook. “

7. End with a hopeful statement (script). “I would appreciate if you could talk to Harry about this behavior, which I am sure would help him understand the importance of staying still and listening in class. If we work together, I’m hopeful that Harry will make improvements and not earn himself a detention.”

8. Listen to parent concerns. Perhaps they have been hearing the story differently from Harry. Listen to what they have to say. If Harry blames another student, ask the parents to have Harry address that issue with you in school so you can speak with the other student. Often times parents will also share personal family problems that might be contributing to the situations in school—loss of jobs, divorce, step-parenting, illness, etc. Pay close attention to these items. If the personal family issues seem like they might be ongoing, ask the parents if you may share them with a guidance counselor who may be able to speak to the student.

9. Thank them for their time and assistance (script). “I appreciate the time you have taken for this call and I thank you for your assistance in this matter. I truly hope that by working together, we can help Harry become the best student he is able to be.”

Emailing Parents: A Word of Caution

Similar items can be written in an email, but a word of caution: emails can be printed, so be very careful of what you type. It’s the same as if you were writing an email in a business environment—stick to the facts. Your best bet might be to just email asking for the parents to contact you via phone in case you were unable to reach them otherwise.

If I were a parent being contacted in this manner (it might happen; I have quite a rambunctious three-year-old), I would be inclined to respond positively. In my experience as a teacher, I have had many difficult phone calls with parents that have had positive outcomes.

Contacting parents can certainly be challenging, but in the end it is well worth it. It keeps communication open between you and the parents, letting them know that you care about their child. It helps to let students know how serious you are about following your classroom rules and those of the school. It also allows you to prevent issues from getting out of hand in your classroom by involving the parents who can moderate things at home.

How to Have a Successful Relationship With Your Students' Parents

Questions & Answers

Question: It seems that parents either say, "Well this only happens in your class" or "You need to manage the class better because my child has told me has awful everyone else is." The parent population at my new school is very defensive and always blames the teachers. Advice?

Answer: Unfortunately, I think you're going to find that everywhere. I can say that the same happens at my husband's school, where he is an elementary principal. I would tactfully remind the parents that when children are in a difficult situation, they often turn the blame on others or tell a story to make themselves look better. If you haven't gotten any other reports from any other parents, then I would say it's not you; it's them.

Question: A parent calls you because they are worried about their child's low grade. What would you say to parents concerned about children with low grades?

Answer: I would use the script included in the article. After introductions, I would address the child's low grade and how it came to be low (poor test grades, no homework, etc.). Make sure to mention all of the ways the student had the opportunities to get a better grade and whether or not he or she has tried to do better. Make mention of possible ways the child can be helped for the remainder of the school year or tutoring programs that may help. Ask for the parent's input, especially if there has been any change in the child's home life that may affect school work. (You don't need specifics for that, but knowing that something is different at home, in general, can give you a better idea of how to help the student.)

© 2011 Marissa


Marissa (author) from United States on February 18, 2020:

Janie, that's a great way to do it!

Janie R. Martinez on February 16, 2020:

I always start with positive things about the student. As usual most kids behave in small group situations due to attention. Then I begin with what teachers have reported and how we are handling the situation. I also ask if their have been any changes and how they handle that at home or if their child has mentioned any problems at school. I end the conversation that we (team ____) will continue to talk to the student on a daily basis to get to the root of the problem.

McKenna Meyers on December 23, 2015:

As a former teacher, talking to parents about their kids' problematic behavior was not my favorite thing, and I avoided it more than I should have. I love your idea of starting with a positive. That's so powerful. That's how we would start parent-teacher conferences and it worked like a charm. I think parents totally shut down when they hear negatives about their children. That happened to me with my own son who has autism. I literally could not hear the negatives they were saying! Very useful hub.

nicole on September 28, 2015:

The qoutes is very touching for all teachers

Marissa (author) from United States on February 11, 2014:

You're welcome, Steve! Thanks for reading!

Steve on February 11, 2014:

Thanks for the tips. They all seem kind of obvious, but I know I have forgotten some of them sometimes. Helpful to have a nice list, and to know that "I'm not the only one..."

Marissa (author) from United States on July 17, 2013:

marion langley, thanks for reading! I'm glad there are other list writers out there and I'm not the only one. ;)

marion langley from The Study on July 11, 2013:

This really spoke to me. One because I often get distracted from what I planned to say by my interest in understanding the other person but also because writing things down helps me in general. Yep, i'm a list person. Though not currently teaching i sometimes have to contact other kids parents about their kids behavior from or towards my kids. Thanks for writing.

Marissa (author) from United States on July 08, 2013:

Music Teach, thanks for the additional tips and for reading!

Music Teach on July 08, 2013:

These are great tips, but there are a few things that I would add. 1. Don't let the first phone call home be a call about poor behavior. For every negative phone call I make, I call another parent to praise their child. Parents LOVE this! I would also suggest calling home for a practical reason that doesn't involve the child's behavior (Missing a permission slip, short on supplies, etc.) It gives you a chance to speak to parents without putting them on the defensive.

Sometimes, no matter how objectively you handle the conversation, some parents will take a phone call home as a personal attack on their parenting skills. It goes a long way to say, "I know that you know your child better than I do, but....." It's an obvious statement, but it acknowledges that you want to partner with the parent to solve the problem, not blame them.

Marissa (author) from United States on July 03, 2013:

Emily, I'm glad you liked the advice! Thanks for reading!

Emily on June 30, 2013:

Writing the information down is grat advice. If I call home withou a sens of what I'm going to say, I tend to use euphemisms (I.e. Charlie had a tough day). I assume it's more helpful to parents to know exactly what happened (Charlie interrupted several time today)' but it can be hard to remember exactly what happened, and it might be a little embarrassing for you and the parent to talk a out. Ultimately I believe it will be more productive.

Marissa (author) from United States on June 19, 2013:

Ashley Kindergarten, I'm glad you liked the article, and thanks for the tip about Google Voice!

Ashley Kindergarten on June 18, 2013:

Thanks for the great advice! I always feel awkward contacting parents- good or bad. I also found it helpful to create a google voice account. It is free, keeps your number private, and also keeps a record of all calls made. You can also write in notes (such as "no answer, left a voicemail saying...") so that you have a record for any parent communication logs and the such.

Marissa (author) from United States on March 24, 2012:

nightcrawler123, connecting the incident to their academic achievement or school safety is a great idea. Thanks for sharing, and leaving a comment! :)

nightcrawler123 on March 24, 2012:

Good advice! I like how you document the incident and are objective about it. I like how you listen to their concerns. For me, I usually tie the incident to their academic achievement or to school safety. I think relating it to those threads helps the parent be more receptive to listening. - Ebooks For Teachers

Marissa (author) from United States on February 19, 2012:

Ms. Are, thanks for the suggestions! I'm glad you liked the advice. :) Thanks for stopping by!

Ms. Are on February 19, 2012:

Great advice! Don't forget to keep paper handy during the call, too. I've had parents give great suggestions on how to work with their child. Also, make a notation of the call so you can reference it later.

Marissa (author) from United States on February 13, 2012:

teaches12345, using a script really does help to keep it factual, especially when you as the teacher might feel so many emotions toward certain situations. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)

Dianna Mendez on February 11, 2012:

Great advice for teachers who always find calls home a little difficult. As a former preschool teacher I found writing a script kept me focused and factual. Most parents appreciate teachers concerns and advice when contacted using the methods you have listed.

Marissa (author) from United States on October 17, 2011:

Jo_Goldsmith11, I agree that parents and teachers should help children to cultivate their talents. By working together, parents and teachers can really help children become the best in whatever they attempt to master.

Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Jo_Goldsmith11 on October 17, 2011:

I think you have outlined this beautifully. Teachers are with our children most of the day and half the time with Pre K and K classes. I think sometimes the adults don’t see the body language of a child the way they should. This goes for teachers and parents alike. I know when I was a child, I would move around a lot in my seat. Sometimes it was because I had to use the restroom, and the teacher would be talking. I raised my hand to ask to go to the bathroom and the teacher told me no. I have had teachers growing up who looked at me and labeled me as *poor* and not worth educating. I was shy and awkward in school. I turned into a class clown to get someone, anyone to talk to me.

Teachers have difficult jobs. I believe kids do too. Every child has some special quality when the adult can open their eyes and see! I voted up! Useful. I would encourage teachers/parents to try to help a child cultivate their talents and offer them encouragement to do so.

Marissa (author) from United States on October 17, 2011:

lisabeaman, thanks for providing the parent perspective! It's unfortunate but many teachers do prepare for a battle because that's what they get as a response from most parents. As you stated though, you're not one of those parents, which is great that you were willing to work with teachers. If only there were more parents like you! All teachers and parents could work together peacefully, and if the students saw that positive relationship between parent and teacher, they'd probably be less likely to misbehave in school.

Thank you very much for commenting! :)

lisabeaman from Phoenix, AZ on October 16, 2011:

I've been the parent on the other end of the line more times than I'd care to remember :) I know there are parents out there who can't imagine their child could ever possibly do anything wrong, but I'm not one of them. I could always tell when a teacher called me for the first time with some concerns how tentative they were. I knew they didn't know what to expect from me and were prepared for a battle. I could always hear a sigh of relief when the first words out of my mouth were, "I'm so sorry!" I think it's a rather sad commentary on parents that teachers need to worry about this. We need to work together to do what's best for our kids. They are kids... they are going to make mistakes.

Marissa (author) from United States on October 16, 2011:

TattooKitty, I couldn't agree with you more about not getting into an argument--verbal or otherwise--and asking your administrator to mediate instead. It's sound advice for any level of teacher. I also am glad to hear that you too have had positive experiences with phone calls with parents. Thanks for reading and commenting!

TattooKitty from Hawaii on October 15, 2011:

Great hub for educators! Like justateacher, I've been pretty fortunate with phone calls home. However, I do recommend to call in administration if a situation becomes volatile. Never get into an argument w/ a parent- on the phone, via email, or otherwiese. Instead, have your principal help mediate the situation. This will prevent any of your words being used against you later on!

Marissa (author) from United States on October 15, 2011:

justateacher, I'm really glad to hear you've had positive experiences contacting parents. You're right about being careful with emails: it's so easy for anyone to manipulate the text to meet their needs. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

LaDena Campbell from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz... on October 15, 2011:

Another wonderful hub! It is very difficult to talk to parents by phone when you have to deliver news they don't want to hear. I am lucky, though. Most of my parent phone calls have been good. Teachers (and others) need to be careful about emails, though. We had a teacher that had an email changed by a parent. The teacher had sent the email with a due for field trip money and the mom changed the date. Then she brought her "proof" to the principal so that her daughter would be able to go on the trip. Luckily, the teacher had copied the email to the principal before the parent changed it. The daughter was NOT allowed on the field trip!

Marissa (author) from United States on October 15, 2011:

LeeGenchrist, thanks very much for your kind comment! It is so hard to forget when there's so much going on. Keeping that relationship between teachers and parents cordial is a delicate operation that usually takes place after grading, lesson planning, teaching, professional development, so it tends to be forgotten. Thanks for reading!

LeeGenchrist from Northeast on October 15, 2011:

This is an awesome article. It is a fine example of the practical advice that is easy to forget in the midst of grading, lesson planning, professional development, etc.

Marissa (author) from United States on July 20, 2011:

Jackie Lynnley, teaching can be a challenging job; there's no doubt about that! Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on July 19, 2011:

I can't imagine being a teacher today. It almost seems a danger but I guess that depends where you on earth or where. lol Great hub.


Marissa (author) from United States on July 07, 2011:

Fuller-Life, thanks for commenting. I guess that these tips can be used for any difficult phone call; I never thought of that. Thanks for bringing it up! :)

Fuller-Life from Washington, DC on July 07, 2011:

Thanks for the great hub. The points you raise can actually be applied in not just teacher-parent calls, but any difficult phone call situations. Voted up.

Marissa (author) from United States on July 05, 2011:

KoffeeKlatch Gals, thanks for reading and commenting. I agree with having to know the last name(s) of the parents. It's so common now for students and parents to have different last names, especially if there has been a divorce or the parents remarry. My team and I would compile a list at the beginning of each year of all of our student names and the corresponding parent names to make our jobs easier as the year progressed. Thanks again for your comment! :)

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on July 05, 2011:

Wonderful tips and advice. I work with ESE students in middle school and have the need to talk to a parent almost every day. I have found if you don't have the notes you lose track of what you need to say. I also found that it is important to know the last name of the parent - many times it's not the same as the studentss. Rated up and useful.