Phone calls and the love of spinach

A book about driving student achievement through intentional communication (Phoning Parents http://goo.gl/OpCfhr) was recently passed along to me, and it really has me thinking about how quickly we forget to reach out.  At one point the author makes a great analogy between our classrooms and spinach.  He explains that some students love spinach and need no incentive to partake in this highly nutritious vegetable.  Other students don’t particularly care for spinach, but will eat it because they understand the benefit they are getting.  Finally, there are those students who despise spinach, and see no reason why they should ever eat it.  Clever, right?  I thought so.  The trick about teaching is you have to keep the spinach eaters interested, continue to entice those who only see some benefits, and completely turn around our reluctant spinach eaters.  Good teachers find new ways to prepare spinach, partner it with interesting foods, and find ways to get students to think about spinach in a way they never considered.   Can creating intentional lines of communication help all of our students enjoy spinach?  Edible leafy greens aside, I think you are catching my drift.  

From a Leader in Me perspective Stephen Covey’s fifth habit, seek first to understand then to be understood, is a good way to frame this idea.  When I make a phone call home I can usually hear the air being sucked out of the room when they find out it is the principal, and I know why.  Educators are often guilty of this crime – we only call home when it’s time to have a difficult conversation.  As a young teacher after every “negative” phone call I would intentionally make a “positive” phone call.  I can still remember the puzzled tone I would get on the other line from the parent that I called to tell them that I appreciate how much their child had improved in class participation, or a clever insight they made during a class discussion.  Looking back on the experience I realize that, while it was impactful, I was only seeking to be understood, and not really focusing on understanding other perspectives.  Whether it was a positive or negative call I was more concerned with telling parents something, rather than asking them questions that would help me understand more about their child that was in my class.

So, why did I stop calling?  As a young man, I knew what an important role communication can have, so why haven’t I kept it up as a not-so-young man?  It all comes down to the same poor reasons we all stop doing something…I got busy.  New town, new kid, new job, etc., I think you have probably heard this song before, right?  But I’m ready to get back in the saddle.  I believe in making goals public so others can hold me accountable.  So parents of Condit, prepare yourself (and your phones) for the Thursday 3.  I bookmarked a blog post (http://goo.gl/1wJsH8) a few years ago but I never acted upon it and I think it’s time.  The blogger is a principal who established the practice of making 5 positive phone calls at the end of each week.  

I look forward to making a new habit of seeking to understand.  Perhaps together we can turn all of our kids into spinach eaters. 🙂

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