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'Making them feel seen' | Teachers make 100 positive phone calls to parents

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on parents, students and teachers. But a simple gesture has made things better for all those groups at one school.

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — People seem to make phone calls less and less these days. For many people, the sound of their phones ringing means either a robocall or bad news. Alpine Elementary School teachers Melissa Gates and Brooke Johnston have seen proof of it.

"A lot of times, the assumption is we call with negative things," Gates said.

But teachers at the school recently got to work trying to "flip the script" on those assumptions. Gates saw a post on social media from a friend whose child had received a positive call from their teacher.

"This is a great idea, and we should be trying it. I immediately texted Brooke," she said.

The two picked the 100th day of school as the perfect time to encourage their fellow teachers to make positive calls to parents. They hoped that all the teachers combined could make 100 calls.

"It was well-received. We were worried that when we came up with the idea teachers might say it's one more thing to do, and that was not what we wanted to do for them. But everyone responded with excitement, and they all participated," Johnston said.

"Our principal helped cover some classes so we could wrap up the last of the calls, and we even got our student teachers involved, because we really wanted them to see, even before they begin their career, the importance of those positive relationships and connections."

Other staff members stepped up, too. For example, educators from the school's English Language Learner program were also able to reach out to Spanish-speaking families in the district to make positive calls.

"I don't speak fluent Spanish, so it's hard for me to make a positive contact unless there's a scheduled conference with an interpreter. But they stepped up so we can make those phone calls for those students who really don't get them," Gates said.

Kimberly Nowak got two calls from teachers saying positive things about her kids, Matthew and Lauren.

"They called to tell me how great they're doing in school, and they're doing great things, and they just want to let us know that they're proud of them," Nowak said.

"It's very nice to get a call that you're being recognized for the good things they're doing in school."

Understandably, positive connections have been harder to come by over the last two years.

"With COVID, we haven't been able to connect with families. We don't see them anymore in the building, and it's sad. We miss them, and I think they miss us," Johnston said.

Johnston and Gates hope other schools get involved and organize their own efforts to interact positively with parents. They also hope to repeat this event multiple times per year within their own building to make sure that eventually every parent gets a call.

"I think it reminded us to stay focused on that positive. It also reminded us how a little thing can make such a big difference for students and for families. We don't have to do something huge. Just a phone call home makes a big difference," Johnston said.

According to studies from the American Psychological Association, phone calls and video chats create stronger bonds than text messages and emails.

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