Guide to handling parents' evening

It’s the time of the year when you can be proud of the achievements of each child in your class. They’ve all worked just as hard as you have, with one or two notable exceptions, and your class has moved on nicely. So, you can look forward to parents’ evening with warm anticipation of smiling, proud parents beaming back at you. But there are several crucial things to remember if you want to ensure that this important occasion goes without a hitch:

Use index cards. The secret to success is meticulous organisation. Have index cards for each child with bullet points summarising their strengths and weaknesses in each subject. Although you may be able to write a thesis on Daniel’s unfailing ability to disrupt lessons, try to ensure that your feedback is balanced. Dig deep. Be honest and fair.

Remember it’s a two-way process. Parents need time to talk too, so allow them to raise questions or add comments as their insights can often confirm or enlighten your views. But if mum tells you that she always makes sure that Jake does his homework and checks it religiously, yet you have not received a completed piece of homework since the start of term, you can take that as an inconsistency of truth.

Stick to time limits. Thirty parents to be seen over two evenings requires good time management. Allot a specific period of time for each meeting and make sure that you are facing the class clock so that you don’t have to keep looking at your watch as you talk with parents. They won’t take kindly to the fact that they’ve only got a few minutes and most of those are taken up with you glancing at your watch repeatedly.

Some schools now use a ‘speed dating’ type of arrangement where teachers are seated behind desks in a hall and parents take it turn to talk to their child’s teacher. There’s no set appointment time, so some parents could be in for a long wait. In situations like this, it is even more important to keep to time limits.

Use real examples. Most schools will have children’s work available so that parents have the opportunity to look through their child’s work before their appointment. But if you make a point during your discussion, back it up with an illustrative example. For instance, if you want to point out how Natalie often gets in a muddle with words then recall how she responded during literacy when you asked the class “What do we call someone who can read minds?” Natalie said “Psychopath” and although that might not have been the answer you wanted it illustrates nicely how she gets into a muddle with words. Parents will usually understand your points more readily if you can illustrate them with examples.

Be prepared for unusual reactions. It can be hard for parents to hear that their child is not doing well in some areas not matter how sensitively and fairly you put it. Most parents will know that their child cannot be perfect while others will have other more worrying reactions. For instance, some will stare furiously at their child with a threatening grimace while others become rapidly defensive and seemingly appear to lose their ability to listen followed by a series of implausible reasons why their child is finding an area difficult.

Follow up requests. If a parent makes a reasonable request, be sure to meet it. If dad tells you that his son finds it hard to see the IWB, move him closer to the front of the class as well as recommending an eye test. But if a parent tells you that their child finds it really hard to get up in the morning and school is too tiring, you can’t be expected to allow them to arrive at 10 each morning so ask them to make sure that there are bedtime curfews.

Remember your ABC No matter how heated the situation may get, remember to Always Be Calm (ABC). Recognise when a parents is showing signs of anxiety or upset, and change your approach accordingly. If they become really upset, then you need to openly say that you recognise they are uncomfortable or upset and suggest a way forward. If things are beyond your resolution, call for help from an appropriate member of the senior management team.

Have a treat planned for the end of the evening. You’ll be feeling exhausted so ask the headteacher to get some nice cakes in the staffroom so that you can all have a well-earned indulgence. You’re worth it!

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