Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Unexpected Call

It had been a most challenging day at Stanford's Children Hospital. After weeks of planning and doctor appointments, my twin daughters were finally scheduled for their ENT (ear, nose, throat) surgeries. Both were receiving "tubes in their ears" and a removal of their adenoids and tonsils. These surgeries required our daughters to be "put under" for the duration. As a relatively new parent, I was very concerned about the process and the flood of instructions provided by the nurses and performing surgeon throughout the day. We tried our best to take notes as we comforted our daughters in recovery. In the end, we walked away from the day with successful surgeries, enough medication to stop an elephant in their tracks, and two extremely moody girls who would keep us up every night for the next six days.

When we finally arrived home that late afternoon after a full morning at the hospital, we realized how little of the information we had been provided we remembered. Our notes were a complete mess with bits of slobber scattered throughout (the kids', not ours). During bath time, one of the daughters put their head underwater. We were immediately concerned; didn't the doctor say that they couldn't be submerged for the next week in water? Does it count if it's just for a second? Do we need to redo the surgery? We were your typical first-time parents struggling with what to do, lacking any instructional manual on raising kids.

And then the phone rang. It was 7 pm and we were working toward putting the girls to bed. I answered the "blocked number" call and was surprised to hear the doctor's voice. She was calling to follow up on our daughters. How were they doing? How were WE doing? She patiently listened to all of my questions and responded to each one. I then handed the phone to my wife, who then proceeded to ask the same questions over again. And yes, the doctor calmly reiterated the instructions, that everything was okay, to call her office if there were any problems, and how impressed she was with our daughters' resilience throughout the day. After the call ended, my wife and I looked at each other and said simultaneously "I don't believe (the doctor) called - that is amazing!" It was a sense of relief; a sense of thanks.

At our school, we have a full time electives teacher who spends her day exploring the Spanish language and culture with her students. Our students flock to our Spanish elective, partly for the opportunity to learn a world language but also to share in the Room 37 experience. Part of her success lies directly in the culture of her classroom. Her students have fun in her classroom as they begin to learn the Spanish language. One of her strengths is caring about every student who walks through her classroom door (and truly I believe she cares about every student on the entire campus). While she has many techniques to help build her classroom community, I'm quite fond of her first few days of phone calls home.

As she gets to know her students each quarter, semester, or school year, she surprises her students' parents with a phone call home. Similar to the phone call I received from the doctor, it's a good phone call. I've listened in on a few of these calls. I'm always amazed at the parent responses. I've heard:

  • Are you sure you're calling about my son/daughter?
  • And it's good news? You're not calling with bad news?
  • I almost didn't answer the phone because I saw the school's phone extension and assumed it was bad news 
and perhaps most powerful after receiving a parent call from a voice mail left by the teacher...
  • Thank you for calling me back. I just want to let you know that I've listened to your voice mail at least a hundred times. My son is now in 8th grade and I've never received good news from any phone call home. Thank you so much. Just thank you. 
The parent was in the midst of tears throughout the follow up phone call. As a former assistant principal, the majority of my phone calls home to parents were usually around behavioral concerns. Every Friday, I did call home with the weekly Kudos, but I think it's a bit unfortunate that it's the nature of the administrative position of being an assistant principal where you will be the bearer of bad news. Lost in our daily routines is the power of the positive phone call.

The positive phone call works to build the relationship between the two places our students spent the majority of their days: their home and their school. Having an early contact with parents will help the relationship survive through any "logical consequences" conversations that follow. It's a great way to start off the semester on the right foot. Imagine the face of the student when they arrive home that day and get showered with teacher-provided praise by their parents. Do you think the student is more or less likely to participate, to enjoy, or to learn in the classroom the next day? These phone calls home have helped to create a true culture of caring in room 37.

So sometimes... consider picking up the phone and making those positive, unexpected calls. They're worth the investment. 

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