Families & the Community

N.Y. Teacher Helps Colleagues With Parent Communication

By Sarah Tully — July 19, 2016 2 min read
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Before he became a teacher, Adrian Brooks worked as a debt collector to help pay for college. He got cursed at, yelled at, and hung up on a lot.

Now, as a teacher, Brooks is using the lessons that he learned about communication from the debt collection job to talk to parents—and help his colleagues do the same.

Brooks is an English/language arts teacher at Bronx School for Law and Community Service who was recently nominated for a New York Daily News Hometown Heroes in Education award, partly because of his efforts in communicating with parents.

Brooks mostly has used his communication skills for dealing with parents of students in his own classes, but he also gives tips to his fellow teachers. Now, he’s developing scripts, along with the school psychologist and other teachers, on how to address situations and concerns when talking to parents.

His plan is to start pilot workshops early next year that he hopes to expand beyond his own school.

During his eight years as a teacher, Brooks has met teachers who are socially awkward and nervous when talking to parents, along with other teaches who are naturally gifted. Brooks said formal training in parent communication is lacking.

“We learn ... that it’s a necessity for teaching and part of the profession, but there’s not a lot of training around communication with parents,” Brooks told Education Week.

As a debt collector, Brooks had to talk people down from cursing him out. The goal was to keep the customer on the phone until he could get a promise of some payment.

Brooks said confrontations with parents when there are problems with their students can be similar, although the goals are different. Instead of making a plan to pay a debt, Brooks tries to make a plan with parents on how they can help their children before he gets off the phone.

“We forget a lot of parents we service aren’t educational experts. ... They look to us in helping with their children,” Brooks said. “Parents will say to a teacher, ‘I need your help. They are not doing this at school.’ We have to make sure that we are giving professional advice before getting off the phone.”

For example, Brooks might give tips on how to reinforce education at home, such as spending time reading or making reading a family activity. If there are deeper family problems, Brooks might suggest a visit with the school psychologist. Brooks also works on establishing relationships with parents beyond dealing with immediate problems.

“I’m not creating anything new. I’m not reinventing the wheel,” Brooks said. “I’m redeveloping the wheel.”

Contact Sarah Tully at stully@epe.org.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.