Make the most of virtual coffee mornings with parents

Virtual coffee mornings may sound like a fun way to engage with parents – but how can you ensure they have an impact?
2nd November 2020, 4:37pm

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Make the most of virtual coffee mornings with parents

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/make-most-virtual-coffee-mornings-parents
Coronavirus & Schools: The Value Of Virtual Coffee Mornings For Teachers & Parents

Sitting before me were the parents. They sipped their coffees and listened as I explained my position, my aims and my philosophy as a teacher.

I had taken on a new class halfway through the year and decided a coffee morning would be a good way to get to know the parents of the children I was now teaching.

I shared my views and answered any questions that came my way. I could tell I was winning their confidence and trust and we were all in agreement of how I would shape their children's education.

Keeping contact between teachers and parents

Not long after this moment, we had to move to a virtual school experience due to you-know-what.

We had spent time planning our transition and shared a consistent message: continuous improvement.

We worked hard on having our children established online and had started to gain momentum. It was at this point that we started to ask ourselves the question: "How can we now improve this?"

I was reminded of the success of my in-person coffee morning and decided to try this online.

I sent out a message to the parents of my pupils and asked them to join me for a morning meeting - and made a point to remember the coffee so that it would have that same aura of a slightly more informal chat than, say, a parents' evening meeting.

Nonetheless, I knew the meeting needed to have purpose, so I created a rough agenda to follow:

  • The first part would be the informal part - coffee and chat

This was a good chance for the parents to connect with their children's teacher but also with each other. We could all share our perspective on the pandemic and build a sense of unity.

  • The second part was a part for me to listen

​​​​​​​I led into this by explaining that I wanted to hear their views on how remote learning was progressing. I made it clear that I would do my best to address and improve where possible.

  • The final section was taking a moment to tie things together

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​I repeated the points I had listed back to the parents so we were in agreement. Once everyone was happy, we finished our coffee and set the date for the next meeting to see how things had progressed.

I was happy with how the meeting had gone. The requests were very reasonable and a list of targets to work on gave me a clear direction in which to take my practice under a new style of teaching.

It had felt like a success to me, and the proof came three weeks later during our follow-up.

Following up

Just like before, we started by catching up and making small talk before going over the steps taken since the last meeting and discussed how everyone felt they had gone. The feedback was very positive.

Once every point had been deliberated, I gave the parents another opportunity to share any new thoughts on further development.

I was able to repeat the process as I did before so that I could ensure continuous improvement in the experience that the children in my educational care were getting.

It was clear that this mix of an informal catch-up but with a clear purpose fitted the parents' schedules well and worked for me to in order to ensure that the lessons I was preparing were delivering an impact.

A whole-school model

Given its success, we moved, as a school, to use this model as a template that was rolled out to each class to use and structure it to achieve the same positive outcomes.

Teachers reached out to their pupils' parents and coffee mornings were organised. With each meeting, next steps were agreed upon that were unique to each class. This meant an approach that worked for the parents and ultimately the children.

With each coffee morning, a smaller list of next steps was formed until we had progressed to a smooth approach that everyone was happy with.

The school year came to an end and everyone rested into the summer break.

Summer reopenings

We knew that there would be uncertainty and concern about reopening. To tackle this, we continued our coffee morning meetings and scheduled them through the summer to keep in contact with our families throughout August.

This gave us the opportunity to answer questions and share the well-thought-out work we had put in place to facilitate a safe reopening.

Again, we could have easily done this via email or letters, or more formal one-direction video meetings, but the act of making it something we discussed over coffee again gave it a more inclusive, communal feeling.

Now we are back in the building, we face new challenges in having coffee mornings.

Our new restrictions make it hard to host in-person meetings as we are not allowing parents into the school. Conversely, though, it is harder to hold them virtually as parents need the mornings to get children to school.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that we will return to our virtual coffee mornings if required. The positive comments and constructive feedback are too valuable to pass up.

Matt Payne is head of lower school at Nord Anglia International School, New York

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