Monday, March 26, 2012

Trick For Reaching Hard To Find Parents

I'd like to share a trick a colleague used that I thought was pretty damn clever, and incredibly easy.

I've worked in a number of school districts where reaching parents was a challenge.  They switch phones without telling the school (sometimes intentionally...).  Their phone got disconnected.  They see it's the school calling and don't pick up.  Their mailbox is full and you can't leave a message.  They've moved.  They've gone to jail for 30 days and left their children with a neighbor.  I'm sure many of you could add to list.  Hell, you could probably create a separate blog on this topic alone!

I tend to empathize with many of the concerns & complaints educators have about their students.  That ends when it comes to reaching parents.  It's obviously critical they are involved in their child's learning, and I've never met a parent I couldn't reach if I just put in a little extra effort (ok, jail is tough to penetrate...).

Still most of us, myself included, enjoy having a working phone number.  Not long after registration in many urban areas, the numbers originally provided are no longer any good.  So what to do?

If you can get mom's new number off the student that's great, but they typically won't give it you, and often times they aren't lying when they tell you they don't know it.  Further, you're putting the kid in a difficult spot if the parent specifically told them NOT to give you the number.    

Jerry was a second year teacher when he came to our school.  Throughout the year, whenever the topic of reaching parents came up, Jerry never seemed to have a problem.  In fact, Jerry seemed to always easily be able to reach most of the parents that other staff members could never get on the horn.  One day I pulled him aside and asked him what his secret was.

During Open House a month or so into the year (and again later in the year), Jerry had come into possession of a 20 pound chocolate bar.  He set up a little table in his classroom where as a thank you for coming to Open House, he was going to raffle off this enormous candy bar.  Winner need not be present.  All he needed was a phone number to reach them at.  Like lambs to the slaughter house.  Jerry basically tricked his student's parents into updating their contact numbers.

This would be easy enough for any teacher to do, and it doesn't cost much money.  It could also be done school wide with a slightly more glamorous prize.   I think the small expense is worth it if it helps communicate with students parents. Like teaching, there is no one trick that works for everyone and all situations.  Raffling off candy bars (or anything else) won't totally solve parent-phone challenges.  It is however hopefully another strategy for the bag of tricks we are always looking to grow.

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