In mid-November, Hamlin Middle School Principal Prudence Farrell challenged her staff to make 500 positive phone calls to students’ parents by Christmas break.
"We're in such a sad time right now with COVID, so it was like let's switch it up a little bit,” she said. "As the phone calls started happening, the stories that teachers would get back from parents about how grateful they were, that not only made the parents feel good and of course the students feel good, but it also made the teachers feel good. It’s just a win-win for everybody involved, and brought a little bit of joy to our lives right now.”
As of the end of November, the teachers made 251 positive phone calls to parents. According to sixth grade teacher Karol Blake, some of the parents she spoke to had never received a positive phone call home about their children.
“You're the first teacher to ever pay me a phone call that's positive, and I really appreciate it, it makes me feel good that I'm doing something right with my kids,” said a parent to Blake on a recent call.
“At that moment, I knew we were doing something right as a staff by doing this,” Blake said.
The sixth grade teacher also said she typically tries to make positive phone calls, but a majority of her calls to parents are negative ones.
"Who wants the negative phone calls all the time with their child? They get enough stress right now, so that's when we knew we had to do something about it”.
Connie Rivera, who has a son in eighth grade at Hamlin, said hearing positive things from her son’s teachers makes her proud of him.
"It's really nice to hear from people that he's doing well, and interacting well with others, a model citizen. When I hear that, I'm really really proud and impressed with him. I know he's a good student, I see his report cards, so it’s no surprise. To hear that he is polite, hear that he is conscientious and courteous, that really sort of warms my heart to hear those sort of things,” she said.
Rivera’s son is an only-child, and so most of his interaction with kids his age comes from school, so she said she appreciates having an outside perspective on how her son is doing while at school.
"He's a typical teenage kid so when I ask him how his day went it’s, ‘fine, good,’” she said. "He genuinely loves school and enjoys being there, but it's nice to hear from another perspective.”
Farrell said the challenge has made teachers change the way they view the kids, and look for the positive things they are doing.
“In life in general, sometimes it's so much easier to find the negative in things, and people really have to search for that positive. When we're doing a challenge like this, the teacher's lens is a little bit different. They are looking for those positive things," she said.
Blake told a story of a student who came into school the day after a phone call home and said the student was surprised she called home with something positive.
“He said, ‘I didn't realize you were going to say something nice,’ and I said, ‘of course, there's something positive in all of us. Don't you want to hear those things?’ and he said, ‘yes.’ That same student that made that comment is working so hard for me. He does his homework, he's doing everything possible with his test, because I said, ‘well next time you do something great, I'm going to call home and let them know ’”.
Blake said calling home to say positive things about her students has brightened her mood, the parents’ moods, and especially the kids’ moods.
“It builds their psyche up and builds their morale up, and so they want to work. Then, you have a different student coming into your classroom. You have a student that's willing to try, versus one that wants to back away from the challenge".