It’s not just students who are impacted by our words; parents are, too. Everything you say about their child goes straight to the heart. I’ve always been conscious of this, especially when writing report card comments.

My rules for parent contact were this: 1) Report card comments should consist of a positive comment, needs to work on comment, positive comment. Make sure the two positive comments are different.   2) Call the naughty kids’ parents the first few days of school to share a good report so their first contact with you isn’t negative. 3) At conferences, let parents talk first.

Report card comments are tricky. They need to show the strengths and weaknesses of the child, but the words should be kind. My thought while writing them was always “when they have kids of their own, will this comment be something they would be ashamed of or something they would share?”

As for phone calls, I contacted all of my parents within the first month of school.  I knew which kids would be challenging and made those calls the first few days. I’ll never forget the dad who asked me if I was sure I had called the right house. It almost made me cry. I’m not saying that conversation solved all my problems with the student, but it made things a lot smoother when I did have to call home about a negative behavior or grade. His parents knew I saw the good in him, too.

Now that my own children are in school, I open report cards with just a little trepidation, and I dread sitting on this side of the table for parent teacher conferences. It’s not because my kids are naughty but because they are human. I don’t look at the academic grades or the effort. I know they’re doing well. It’s the character development and work habits that catch my eye.  I’m almost afraid to look at ‘demonstrates self control’ because I know my kids, and I know that sometimes they are impatient. Sometimes they are too helpful when someone isn’t quick enough, and sometimes they have things they want to say even when the shouldn’t be talking.

Thank goodness for the kindergarten teacher who said, “Someday, S will be the CEO of a company because she is so good at organizing people.” And then there is C, the question king! Thank you to the first grade teacher who called him a ‘restless learner’ and allowed him to stand while he worked. She recognized that movement helped him think, and that his mind was racing a mile a minute. His questions were far beyond those around him, and she knew he was on task even when he was wiggly.

No matter what you know about your child, when that criticism comes out of someone else’s mouth, it hurts. I had a principal who told us parents aren’t keeping their best kids at home. They are sending their best kids to school, and they trust us to educate them.

When we talk with parents about their children, we need to make sure we use words that will build relationships not walls.