Sunday, July 20, 2014

Teacher Confessions: I give parents my personal cell phone number...

Teacher confession: I'm a teacher & I give my personal cell phone number to my students' parents at the beginning of the year...  


I know, right -- What am I thinking? If you're a fellow teacher, you're probably thinking that I must be crazy or begging for punishment... perhaps you're thinking that I make other teachers who don't engage in this practice look bad... which is not my intention at all!

It all started about 7 years ago when I was working in rural Alaska as a home visiting special educator in an early intervention program. It was pretty innocent really -- I'm incredibly disorganized & I simply couldn't manage my work cell phone AND my personal cell phone efficiently! So, I made the decision to just use my personal cell phone for everything. When I returned to classroom work in Maryland, I continued to offer my phone number to families. During the last 7 years of giving out my personal cell phone number to my students' caregivers, I've thankfully had very few instances where its been abused or misused.

Over the years, many parents have informed me that I have been the first and often ONLY teacher to ever offer my personal cell phone to them! Families always have positive things to say about this practice but my coworkers & supervisors have expressed mixed feelings about it - some coworkers have decided to also try it, while others really think that I must be completely bonkers! My supervisors have never really supported it, but also haven't told me that I can't do it either.

Why do I think sharing my phone number works? There are many factors at play here, but I think it boils down to accessibility... or the illusion of accessibility...
  • Accessibility!- by offering my personal phone number, it creates a very real illusion that I'm available 24/7, but in reality, I'm not really going to humor unnecessary middle of the night or weekend calls or texts -- I will likely answer, but will keep the conversation short if it's not truly an 'emergency'! Many families never call or text me on my personal number, but having the ability to contact me whenever they want, helps to build a positive relationship, especially with challenging families (although I've found that they're often the most likely to abuse the ability to contact me outside of school hours.) It makes me accessible to families - with the illusion that I'm 'always' available.
There are a few guidelines that I've come to define over the years of sharing my phone number... Most of which I had to learn the hard way -- of course!
  • If you're going to share your phone number, do it at the beginning of the year AND share it with everyone equally! Do not just share your information with a few select families - if you're going to do it -- do it with everyone! You do not want to be accused of having favorites or not treating everyone equally. I often include my information in the letter that I send home during the first week of school and/or during back-to-school night. 
  • Clearly identify the phone number as your PERSONAL phone number  & explain that if the number is used after hours, they will be contacting you outside of school hours. I often say something like "Remember, this is my personal cell phone number; if you call me after school hours, I will likely be with my family and if you call very late, I'll probably be sleeping." I remind parents of this often - especially when/if I have a family that has been abusing their ability to call/text me. 
I recently had an opportunity to make a connection with a family via my personal cell phone. A child that I've had in my classroom for quite some time finally had success on the potty! I'd been conversing with the family during drop-off and pick-up times each day, discussing progress and home routines. When the success finally happened, during the middle of the school day, I was able to quickly text the parent about it; she responded immediately with words of encouragement for her child and I responded with a quick snapshot of the child's proud smile. Then, the parent recorded the 'celebration' song that they sing at home and sent it to me to play for the child. The child, in turn, was extremely excited that her parent had sent a voice-message to reward her! This simple event was a perfect example of why I share my phone number with families AND why I'm constantly trying to integrate everyday technology into our classroom routine. Something simple of like a cell phone turned out to be a great tool to communicate & connect with families and reinforce student progress.


Of course, you have to decide based on your own situation whether or not sharing your phone number with families is a good idea or not - it surely isn't right for everyone & every classroom situation. My current classroom is very small, consisting of preschool students who often have multiple disabilities & very intensive needs - I have regular in-person contact with caregivers/families and everyone benefits from establishing & maintaining close relationships between home/school -- caregivers know what's going on at school & I have access to what's going on at home. And of course, I've also obtained permission from the family for utilizing this type of communication with them. Providing my personal phone number simply feels right & works well for now, but down the road -- who knows?!

Do you share your phone number with parents? How has it worked out for you?




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