Behaviour mangement: Difficult conversations

Weekly updates from Tom Bennett with advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management

One of the most common anxieties I hear from new recruits is about how to make a phone call home. Parents would be amazed to hear that phoning home fills some teachers’ hearts with dread. You never know how these calls are going to go; it could be a two minute high-five, or it could be half an hour of lunacy. (I’m serious- having dealt with the public all of my working life, I can assure you that there are some people who are- and I use this phrase with precision- properly mental, and can rave down the line quite happily at you). Some parents are less than supportive when they get a call criticising their children, because it is their children you are criticising. For many of them, it is impossible to separate the concept of their children from the concept of their self, which probably isn’t too surprising given the investment of time and Sunny D they may have made in bringing them up.

Some teachers don’t make it easy on themselves either, by picking up the phone like they are intent on devising a way to offend the parent as much as possible. I have heard conversations that started with ‘your son is disgusting,’ and similar. Just light the touch paper and stand well back.

So, here are my tips for a successful phone call home:

1. Be polite

Introduce yourself first, reassure them that there isn’t an emergency, and ask if they have a few minutes to talk. Yes, I know some of you are shaking your heads and going ‘What does that man get paid for? Bloody obvious!’ And it is. So why doesn’t everyone do it? The calling card of the first five seconds creates an impression. Start off in a professional, helpful tone. This conversation is designed to improve things. You are not getting the parent in trouble. Go on, just try it. See how far it gets you.

2. Acknowledge the pupil as more than the person in your class

This means simply saying, ‘Little Billy can be really good, normally his work is fine/great/interesting.’ Anything that sounds positive. The parent probably doesn’t see their child as Damien the Antichrist, so don’t get their back up. It creates a sense of rapport and common ground. After all, you both want the best for the child, right?

3. ‘He’s let himself down and I need your help getting him back on track.’

That’s all. Just enough to show that you want things to get better and you need the parent’s help. Because you do. Their next question is usually, ‘What has he done now?’ Then you get specific, and sound disappointed, not angry. 99% of times they’ll sympathise. The minute they say, ‘Oh I’m terribly sorry, Mr Bennett,’ then you have them on side. Proceed at will.

And good luck.



Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state schoolin Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletterson behaviour. Read more from Tom on our behaviour forum or on his blog or Twitter

His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum/ Bloomsbury


Related articles and resources

Recent ‘Top Tips’

What to do in detentions?

Bathroom breaks, stop your students taking the pee

Truths for the first three weeks

Three things to do in your first few weeks with a new class

More ‘Top Tips’

Links to all Tom’s top tips

Relevant resources on TES

Behaviour and classroom management resources

Behaviour and classroom management resource collections