The power of phone calls


Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by maths teacher John Mulhern.  John started the session by asking colleagues about the last phone call home they made to parents – was it positive or negative?  Whilst there was a mix, the majority were negative.  As a school, we use Connect by SchoolApps to log homework, rewards and sanctions, and also to then communicate these actions with parents.  It’s a great system, that saves teachers lots of time – no more detention slips!  There is however, a potential issue with it.  As parents are automatically emailed when students are set a detention, or a reward, there is no immediate need to phone parents.  As a result, there is a risk that this vital dialogue with parents will become less common.


Before training as a teacher, John use to work at American Express. As a company, they pride themselves on customer care – see the following statement from their website:

“Good service is good business because it creates impassioned, loyal customers.  Those engaged customers spend more and share their excitement with others, which often influences their buying decisions. It’s why willingness to recommend a product or company to a friend has become such an important measure for service companies. Service can really be a powerful way to drive the growth of a business.”

Kelly Fisher, Senior Vice President, Relationship Care Strategy, American Express

Whilst a school isn’t a company, parents can be viewed as being similar to clients.  We want parents to want to send their children to our school, be delighted with the education they receive and so recommend our school to their friends.  In order to achieve this, ongoing communication with home is essential – and should not be replaced with automated emails.


So the idea is simple, but like most things, getting into the routine of making regular, positive phone calls home can be difficult for the busy teacher.  John has come up with a workable solution to this.


John has this simple table on his white board.  He chooses a ‘student of the week’ for each class and then writes their name on the board.  These are students who have worked incredibly hard, persevered with difficult problems and taken great pride in their work.  Having their name on the board is usually enough of a reward to motivate most students – even Y11!  The main purpose of it though, is to remind John to phone the parents of these students every Friday, and just tell them how impressed he has been with the student – and he is always specific about why he is impressed e.g. “I was really impressed with the way in which Sarah persevered with some tricky questions – even though she found it really hard”.  The parents love it and so do (most) of the students.   The conversation usually ends with ‘Thank you so much Mr Mulhern’.


When John worked at American Express, he was encouraged to keep a brief record of each phone conversation he had with a customer.  Just some brief notes about the key points discussed.  The reason for this?  When you called them back, you could refer back to the previous conversation you had with them.  This made the call personal – and makes it easy to do so.  If you are making a large number of calls, it becomes very difficult to remember all of the details.  Making notes in this way, gets rid of this problem.  John now does this with his parental phone calls and records them on a simple spread sheet (example above).  he can also refer to this at parent evenings.  As most parents will tell you the sanction they will put in place at home, if their child misbehaves, you can use this to your advantage – “Sam, you don’t want another X-Box ban this weekend, do you?”

John shared some examples of other phone calls he makes:

  • A subtle dip in concentration/effort in class over time – a phone call home can find out if there are issues at home, that might explain this dip at school.
  • We’ve all had students who are becoming increasingly disruptive in lessons and you can envisage this getting worse next lesson, resulting in a serious sanction – rather than waiting for this to happen, be proactive and phone home, with a view to de-escalating the situation.
  • There is an important assessment coming up in a few weeks time and you feel that a particular student may underachieve in it – again, be proactive and discuss with parents, how they can support revision.
  • Following up a phone call a few weeks after to give an update – if you have had to make a negative call home, it’s always nice to follow it up with a positive call, to discuss the progress they have made.

John finished the session by leaving us with a challenge:

As a result of this presentation, who are you now going to contact?

What will the nature of the call be?

What do you hope the impact will be?

I was reminded of this by Taylor Mali:

This entry was posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The power of phone calls

  1. Pingback: Outstanding MFL everyday. | Everyday MFL

  2. Pingback: Department Newsletters: One strategy for overcoming the challenge of large scale parental contact | dhsgeography

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