As I mentioned in my previous blog, I started at a new school this academic year and this has meant embracing ‘newness’. At the same time, my younger sister has started her NQT year in a primary classroom. Being able to help my sister, when she has needed it, has been a satisfying process. Thinking about her questions has made me reflect on elements of the job which I have being doing for nearly a decade. Last week she came up with an absolute ripper (Australian accent optional)!
What makes a successful parents’ evening?
Love or loathe it, parents’ evenings have been a major event on our school calendar. Personally, I find them valuable (if carried out well) but that doesn’t stop the anticipation or apprehension. The worrying about them is worse than the actually event itself. In my experience, some parents worry just as much if not more than teachers do. Potentially, school for them was not a hugely positive experience and coming back in and sitting on the tiny chairs again is tricky. Nervously, they sit waiting for the teacher to tell them that their child is a behavioural nightmare, struggles socially and can’t learn a jot. This has never been the case!
Here are my thoughts on how to make parents evening more successful. This is NOT a one size fits all approach and it is my opinion on how to get the best out of the meetings. Also, no matter how much effort you put in, parents’ evening will always be something some parents dread and therefore may not act as you would hope. Saying this the number of confrontational or negative parents I have had to deal with in the last nine years of teaching can be counted on one hand.
Even before parents’ evening appears on the horizon, getting out of the classroom and talking to parents is massively important. Be friendly, be sincere and approachable. Ensure that issues, problems and concerns are dealt with promptly and not left. If parents don’t come to school on a regular basis, use the phone. I believe that if parents’ evening is the first time I’ve spoken to a parent, then the impact my feedback (at parents’ evening) has is limited and the potential for issues to have festered into bigger problems is exaggerated. If possible, parents’ evening should be about celebrating the successes and not dealing with problems. Not always possible, but if problems are dealt with as they occur, then parents’ evenings can be much more positive.
At my current school, prior to the parents’ evening, we have individual mentoring meetings with each child to discuss how the school year has gone so far, discuss areas which need working on and removing barriers (excuses). Prior to this meeting, I get my class to fill out a quick attitude self-assessment (see picture below). This information is invaluable. Their attitude towards school underpins everything. Often, the children will either over or under assess and discussing this is a good starting point.
Spending a little time organising my appointment timetable helps. My time management has historically not been the best at parents’ evening (I’m probably not alone here). I find it hard to cut parents’ off when they are discussing something they are struggling with. Leaving regular gaps or empty time slots helps me keep to time.
Having the children at parents’ evening makes sense to me. If I have anything to say, I should have already spoken to the children about it. If not the children need to hear it. I avoid sitting behind a desk and instead organise the chairs so we sit facing each other with a table next to me for any paperwork. I like this as it feels a little bit more open. I always greet parents with a smile (not easy after two hours of meetings), a firm handshake and thank them for attending. I being each meeting by asking the parents if they have anything they want to ask or start with. Most parents, in my experience, just want to know how everything is going, where to go next and how they can help. Simples!
On the inside of my file, I have two little sayings. Firstly, meetings with parents should be a time to ‘explain NOT complain’. Secondly, any problems areas or issues should be based on ‘facts not opinions’. For me, having the children complete a behaviour self-assessment and carry out our mentor meeting, means I am armed with exactly what needs to be discussed. More often than not, the children have told me exactly where the problems are and come up with ideas on how to solve them. This is because I ask them exactly this. So sneaky!
Make sure you explain what:
- Has gone well so far
- Needs fixing focussing on what will make the biggest difference and not every small problem
- Support and intervention has been set up already
- The data shows
- Parents can do to help and support their child
Discussing their ATTITUDE (behaviour), ACHIEVEMENTS (successes) and ASSESSEMENTS (targets) is a helpful framework for the meeting. Anything that is discussed, I write down in a notebook so that I don’t forget it. This year’s notebook made a few parents laugh. I’m not sure why!
I always finish off the meeting by thanking the parents and asking them to fill out a questionnaire to gather their opinions on the school and my teaching. It may not necessarily be what I want to hear but it is better to know that parents aren’t happy and do something about it, than let it fester.
Put simply, I must make sure I do what I said I would do. Whatever I discussed with parents, I follow it up. Promising something and then not following it up doesn’t look good at all. For example:
- Copy any resources you said could useful
- Find out/research ideas
- Set up an intervention
- Send home targets
- Copy examples of work
- Follow up discussions
I always treat myself after a parents’ evenings. It is usually the case that they are like buses. I wait for ages and then two come in quick succession. Often in the same week! Reflecting on the evenings positively is a must also. In the past one or two confrontational, negative or complex parent meetings has put a negative slant on the whole process. I have worried about those few ‘difficult’ parents and forgotten that 95 percent of the parents are really pleased with the progress their children are making and the job I’ve done. If thought through, prepared for and carried out carefully, parents’ evenings are weapon in a teachers arsenal to maintain high expectations and raise standards. They aren’t easy but worthwhile.