Power of Positivity: The Friday 5

If you are a principal, when was the last time you phoned a parent of a student… just because?  If you are a teacher, when have you called a parent to tell him/her the wonderful qualities within his/her child?  If you are a parent, how often are you at the receiving end of a positive phone call from the school?

This year, to try to better the school-parent relationship, my vice principal and I are trying to increase the number of positive contacts we have with parents.  We have implemented what we call the “Friday 5″; each and every Friday, both he and and I make 5 positive phone calls to parents of students at Kent Elementary.  The phone calls are not usually about what the child has done but more about who they are as a person; all students have strengths and amazing qualities within them, it is important for the school to let the parents know that these are recognized at the school.  Our goal is to reach every parent at least once during the year over the phone and then speak positively about the child when we see the parent in the parking lot, hallways, or community.  Students are selected at random but if we feel a parent may need a positive call, we do just that (and not just on Fridays).

Although this began as a way to build trusting relationships with parents, it has evolved into something that I look forward to every week and something that not only starts off the families’ weekend on a positive note, but also, ends my week on a high.

Although every phone call is wonderful, here is a retelling of one in which I will never forget.  Natalie O. (pseudonym) is an intermediate student at our school having a very difficult year.  She has been both verbal and physical with other students and has found herself meeting with me on a consistent basis to work on learning to make different choices.  I speak with her mother, whom is very supportive, on a regular basis and provide her with updates on Natalie’s progress.  Three weeks ago, I called Natalie’s mother as part of my Friday 5.  It went something like this:

Me: Good evening Mrs. O., It’s Chris Wejr calling from Kent Elementary.  How are you doing?

Mrs. O: Ummm… I am not sure, can you ask me that again after you tell me why you are calling (with a nervous chuckle).

Me: I just wanted to let you know that we had a concern with a younger student today who was having a bit of an emotionally challenging time.  Neither I nor Mr. K (the VP) were available as we were both teaching.  Natalie’s teacher heard and saw this other child crying in the hall (with her teacher).  Natalie saw this too and recognized her from her neighbourhood; she then asked if she could help her out.  The teacher jumped at this opportunity and offered the two students a room and some whiteboard pens.  When the teacher returned later, Natalie had smiley faces and sad faces drawn on the white board and both girls were laughing and drawing.  The younger student returned to class and had a great day.  Once I found out about this, I approached Natalie and thanked her and asked her what she said… she responded, “It’s girl stuff Mr. Wejr” and smiled.  Mrs. O, I know that Natalie has been making some poor choices lately but this just shows exactly what you and I have spoken about – Natalie has a caring, nurturing side that is so helpful to others.  This side has also been noticed by her peers as they have written in class about how she is such a good friend and stands up for others all the time.  I just wanted to let you know that the school truly appreciates the caring and nurturing qualities that Natalie brings to our school.

Me:  Mrs. O, are you still there?  (Tears)

Mrs. O:  Is that really why you are calling?  There`s nothing else?

Me: Yes, that is all.  Have a great weekend!

Mrs. O: Thank you so much, I cannot wait to go and hug my daughter.  That is the first time that anyone has ever called to tell me anything good at school! I saw the number on the call display and my stomach churned… wow, you have a wonderful weekend!

This phone call not only bettered the relationship with Mrs. O but also modeled to Natalie that we appreciate so much the strengths that she has within her.  My relationship with Natalie has also changed and we often joke around about the “girl stuff” comment.

As we approach 2011, if you are a teacher or an administrator, my challenge to you is:  notice the strengths that each child brings to your school and do the Friday 5.    Not only will it help build the relationships with the parents of your students but it will also help you to seek out the positives in each child and provide you with a positive end to your week so you leave your school with a smile.

For more conversations around education, please follow me on Twitter or visit The Wejr Board Blog.

Also, thank you to fellow BC principal, Cale Birk, for the conversations and inspiration to write this post.

45 comments for “Power of Positivity: The Friday 5

  1. December 27, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration, both the idea and the story. I love the random nature of this. I definitey try to give positive messages to parents that I see at school, but those who are not able to come up don’t get that chance. Also aware that there are some children who I don’t know as well as I would like to and that I need to make an effort to improve this situation.
    Roll on next term!

    • December 29, 2010 at 2:17 am

      Thanks Lara, I think the randomness is important. We should be able to discuss the strengths of every child at any time with parents and this challenges us to do so. I look forward to hearing about your experiences with this!

      • December 29, 2010 at 4:23 am

        Love, love, LOVE this post. I work with 16-24 year olds who have frequently experienced extensive school failure. We make this type of call A LOT, even for the older students (with their permission) and I am always saddened to hear (from students and parents) that “this is the first time anyone has ever called to say something nice.” Thanks so much for doing this and for sharing it. I know that it makes a difference.

        • December 30, 2010 at 10:54 pm

          Thanks for adding to the conversation Melissa! So important to do this with ALL our students – love that you do this with the older ones!

  2. December 28, 2010 at 12:20 am

    What a great post and a wonderful idea too! I call all of my parents once a week and try to share a positive story with each of them during these phone calls. This has helped me build some wonderful relationships with parents, and I think that we both really look forward to these weekly phone calls. Thanks for reminding me about the importance of them!

    Aviva

    • December 29, 2010 at 2:18 am

      Wow, Aviva – you sure set the bar high. I cannot help to think what parent relationships would be if every teacher made the efforts that you do. Well done and thanks for adding to the conversation!

  3. December 28, 2010 at 12:31 am

    Chris,

    Since your origianl “tweet” on this – I have shared it with a number of others – part of its power is its simplicity. I am curious if you have any thoughts – or have seen any examples from someone in a role like mine at the District office. How could I take this simple idea and apply it to my work. I could call parents – but I am really at a distance from them. I wonder if it would have similar power to call administrators / teachers. I also wonder if e-mail would have a similar power – or if the power is in the phone call. From my experience as a principal – I would think that much of the power is in the phone call.

    Great idea – and a great suggestion for 2011!

    • Jan Unwin
      December 28, 2010 at 2:41 pm

      I am thinking that at the District Level we might consider contacting administrators or teachers when we hear of great things going on. I am going to try this and will let you know.

      • December 29, 2010 at 2:25 am

        Jan, love it! My reply to Chris also applies to you. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

    • December 29, 2010 at 2:24 am

      Chris, as you know, I am not big on publicly praising staff members/students unless every person is provided with that opportunity. I think that phone calls or thank you cards that are detailed regarding educators’ (support staff, admin, teachers) strengths would be fantastic! I find that blanket statements are not that powerful (ie. thank you to all of you for all your efforts on this) so meaningful, detailed feedback (not contrived… obviously I guess ;-)) would help to motivate staff. I will quote one of my teachers, “I don’t do the extra stuff for anyone other than the kids but it sure is nice to be noticed and to be thanked by admin”.

      I know you are very involved with students and your schools and this would be one more way to demonstrate how aware you are of the great things happening in West Van.

      This adds a great level to this conversation. Thanks!

  4. December 28, 2010 at 12:56 am

    Hi Chris,

    Great post. I love this idea! I especially appreciated the specific nature of your positive comments about the student to her parent. It shows the parent, and student, that you really do know the kiddo.

    When I was an enrolling teacher, every Friday was “Feel Good Friday” in our class. That’s where students had to write a “feel good” note to a randomly selected person. I had popsicle sticks with everyone’s name written on them and handed them out to the students, I very rarely “rigged” the popsicle sticks, but sometimes made sure that I got a particular student. The notes couldn’t be anonymous, but when we shared them in community circle, the person receiving the note had the option not to share, and when kids did share, they didn’t share the name of the writer.

    I loved this system. I felt that it helped build a strong community in my class and it enabled kids to stop and really think about ways that they’ve shown empathy and caring for their peers, and how others have shown the same to them.

    I think I’m now going to start a compliment circle with my bigger groups of students in January.

    @ Chris K, one of my favourite principals would write thank you’s as part of the weekly staff update email. All of the administrivia stuff was in bullet points at the top of the newsletter, then the bottom half was full of thank you’s to teachers and staff who had gone above and beyond. it is amazing how much power there is in a “thank you” especially considering how little time and effort it takes to acknowledge someone.

    • December 29, 2010 at 2:29 am

      Thanks Tammy! It is so easy to get caught up in all the problems and deficits we see in education – great to hear that you focused on the positives.

      From my experience, I think that private appreciative conversations are so powerful as they are very personalized and meaningful. Although I see the benefit of the public thank you’s, I have a fear of forgetting someone and creating harm by trying to do something positive. That is just my opinion and I realize that others have had great success (as you described in your comment to Chris). I love what you said about the power of a simple thank you… so true!

      Thanks so much for commenting and adding to this dialogue!

  5. December 28, 2010 at 4:00 am

    So often our attention as teachers is drawn to things that don’t go the way we would expect them to: the outburst of an attention-seeking student, notes being passed when we’re up at the board, a set of eyes looking out the window daydreaming during an “important part” of our lessons. You’ve nailed something that many of us miss Chris – the need to intentionally look for opportunities to give authentic praise. It’s so easy to miss those who simply blend in.
    I like the idea of catching kids doing something right and making sure we let the parents know too. I hope when I get my own class that I’ll remember to do “the Friday 5″. This is time well spent indeed!

    • December 29, 2010 at 2:39 am

      Thanks Brad! Yes, it is very easy to get bogged down with all the challenges we see every day at school and forget about the amazing things happening within each student.

      This next comment is not really to you but your comments about “catching kids doing something right” gets my wheels turning as we often hear about this with programs like EBS/PBIS (which I am not a fan of…). The important thing, in my opinion, is that the feedback given to the parents is not about what a child has done (and is not a reward) but about who they are (and then provide examples to support the qualities you have observed). There are many students who do lots of great things but they might do it to get the phone call home… these phone calls are not meant to be a reward but positive communication with parents. (Again, I know you were not saying this in any way in your comment but you got me thinking about how this idea can be shifted to be used as a reward, and thus creating some possible harm – awesome how a few words can shift my thinking in a different direction so although you probably did not intend to do this, thank you! ;-)).

      For a “new” teacher, I am in awe of your reflective nature. Well done! Thanks for commenting and continuing to add to my learning as an educator.

  6. December 29, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I’m so thrilled to see this post and learn that schools are taking part in the Friday 5 effort. In my professional life, I work for Tutor.com an education company that provides online tutoring and homework help to students through schools, libraries and the U.S. military. In my personal life, I’m a mom to three young boys. My oldest started kindergarten this fall. I wrote a blog post about our experience with a positive phone call from his teacher ( http://blog.tutor.com/2010/11/getting-caught-in-the-act-of-doing-good/).

    I had no reason to think that my son would receive a bad report from school, but the minute I heard his teacher’s voice on the machine all I could think of was “what could he have possibly done that warrants a call from the school” – pure terror. To receive a postive report was not only wonderful for me and my husband but also for our son. I hope they continue through his K-12 career.

    • December 30, 2010 at 10:57 pm

      Thanks for adding your personal experience to this conversation. I too hope that the positive calls continue beyond kindergarten. It is amazing how you feel when you see the school is calling – that needs to change and I hope that these types of positive interactions will do just that.

  7. December 29, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    What a great blog! Otis both inspiring and more of the interactions we need eight eu parents of our students. I have done this many times in the past but like your idea of making it a Friday thing, consistent and simple, not just whenever it happens. It also reminds mento keep track of the great things our students do. I also believe our students really donappreciate when we notice the things they do and this is a great way to show it.

    • December 30, 2010 at 10:58 pm

      Ah, good old predictive text eh Bernie! Yes, this is such a simple thing to do… if every educator did this every week… that would be something simple that becomes something special! Thanks for the comment and the trackback.

  8. Eric Arbetter
    December 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    What a great idea. Every year, I begin the year with the intention of calling parents with positives throughout the year, but the “other stuff” happens and this is one of the many items I always put off. I like that you have predetermined an amount of calls per week for this purpose. While I don’t have an assistant principal, I do have an administrative team. At our first admin team meeting of the year, I plan on asking them and me to do the Friday 5. For accountability for them (really for me), I will ask them to report back who they called and what they shared at each future admin team meeting. In this way, we can try to reach multiple families – perhaps we won’t allow repeat calls of this nature until all families have been called once. This will also “force” me to uphold my end, regardless of my other “crises.” I love that you focus more on who the students are as people rather than what they do. Thanks.

    • Bryan
      December 30, 2010 at 8:37 pm

      I’ve heard of other administrators doing this too and I think it’s great. It’s interesting how the mother noted the school’s number on the called ID and her stomach churned – way to change her perspective and build a better relationship with a parent! Doing this does require a routine, therefore I like the Friday 5 idea!

      • December 30, 2010 at 11:04 pm

        Bryan.. the routine thing is very important. My VP and I were at a meeting a few weeks ago in a different town and it happened to be on a Friday. Following the meeting, he and I spent 20 minutes making these calls. It was actually very cool to do it together and discuss the reactions!

    • December 30, 2010 at 11:02 pm

      You nailed it… we always get caught up on the other stuff. The great thing about blogging is I think it makes me feel more accountable. I have done this so far this year and now that I have written about it, it is further motivation to continue to do it. Great to have your team involved and discuss who has been called and why. Great comment that adds to this important conversation. Thanks Eric!

  9. December 31, 2010 at 2:11 am

    I talked to my principal about this this week and we, me (AP) him, (P) and my counselor will all be drawing names each week! :) I am a huge proponent of the bucket system and this fits RIGHT in, especially if we get to call some of the students who aren’t normally recognized….

  10. January 9, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Chris,

    I have challenged my staff and myself to make a Friday Five every week this semester. So simple, yet so powerful. I had a father call me back about an hour after I called him asking me to repeat what I had said. He he just had to hear it again.

    We can make a huge difference one gesture at a time.

  11. January 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Like a Newbie, I’m usually looking on-line for articles or blog posts that can aid me. Thank you Wow! Thank you! I usually desired to write in my web site some thing like that. Can i take part of one’s publish to my weblog?

  12. March 6, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    I am a guest blogger at EdVoices, http://www.edvoices.com/. I just wrote a post about positive phone calls, we call them” Fabulous phone calls”. I was looking for a link to supplement my post,and I chose yours. I think this is fantastic! I get the same reaction when I call parents, especially the ones who have received nothing but negative phone calls for many years! I’ve never bought any one to tears though.:)
    It’s not posted yet, but I just wanted to let you know your post reinforced what I was saying. Thanks.

  13. Mary Anne Sacco
    December 10, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Thank you for the post. It’s too easy to get caught up focusing on the negative. Your ritual is inspiring and goes a long way in developing positive school relationships. I look forward to sharing with aspiring principals I am advising.

  14. Hannah
    August 25, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    What an inspirational story. I am in tears. Such a wonderful idea!

    • September 10, 2013 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks Hannah – it is amazing the power of a simple positive call. Going to make one right now! :-)

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