3 reasons online parents’ evenings should stay for ever

Moving to online parents' evening was a necessity – but the long-term benefits mean we should retain them long into the future, says this teacher
30th January 2021, 10:00am
Kate Jones

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3 reasons online parents’ evenings should stay for ever

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/3-reasons-online-parents-evenings-should-stay-ever
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Parents' evening reminds me of going to the gym: sometimes I dread it, but know it's important. And, just like going to the gym, when it happens, I always enjoy it.

After all, it is vital to have catch-up conversations with parents about their child's progress. If there are serious concerns, conversations about those should be taking place before and separate from parents' evening, as such events are more time restricted.

Of course, during the pandemic, parents' evenings moved into the virtual sphere for everyone's safety. I admit I was sceptical, both concerned about potential technical issues and whether online could offer the same-quality conversations as in person.

However, after delivering two online parents' evenings, I am a complete convert. I am not alone either. The senior leadership team at my school asked staff and families for feedback and it was overwhelmingly positive.

Given this, I am now firmly of the view we should keep these remote parents' evenings even in the post-Covid world. Here are my three key reasons why.

1. Flexibility

For me, the biggest improvement is the flexibility.

I still dress in work attire and host appointments from my office space, which means everything still feels professional, but it is easier to go to the toilet or make a cup of tea between conversations.

Once the evening is over, I don't have to drive home in the dark, and I have more of my evening left to relax. The online model seemingly improves the wellbeing of all.

For parents, too, an online event means that they are more relaxed and ready for the evening, as they haven't had to rush home from work, cook, get changed and then head out again into the traffic and chaos of a night-time school run.

My students also say that they find a home-based parents' evening more enjoyable, noting that, while it still feels important, it doesn't have quite the same high-stakes feel that in-person events can - but needn't - have.

Of course, flexibility must work both ways. At my school, as with many others, there is the option to carry out online parents' evenings at school or home. If staff are nervous or lacking confidence about technical issues, then school could be the best option, as there is support on hand.

Also, some of my colleagues say that they prefer the peace and quiet school provides in comparison with distractions at home. The key, though, is that we offer both approaches to suit everyone's needs.

2. Timings

A game changer for many teachers and parents has been the online timers. Many digital platforms that specialise in online parents evenings assign five-minute slots to parents and teachers that both must stick to.

There is a visible timer too, so conversations simply cannot run beyond this as the sessions will abruptly end.

This solves a common problem with parents' evenings, where a planned schedule disappears as conversations go way beyond five minutes, resulting in parents waiting or being late for their next appointments.

Of course, if conversations need to be longer than five minutes, they can be followed up - but the important thing is that no one has to wait around, instead having swift appointments at the times scheduled from the comfort of their home.

And for teachers, if the last appointment is scheduled for 6pm, then it is guaranteed to actually take place at 6pm.

3. Logistics

There can be some logistical issues with parents' evening, such as parking and traffic towards the end of the evening.

Parents can get lost around the school building or not factor in travel time when scheduling appointments.

There can also be the issue of noise with so many conversations happening, which can be distracting and problematic. But online, attention can solely be dedicated to the conversation between the teachers and parents, without interruptions.

Mark Leppard MBE - headmaster of The British School Al Khubairat, where I teach - says he is convinced that online parents' evenings should be here to stay, too.

"For years, I have been pursuing an alternative to the traditional parents' evenings that have not changed since I was a student at school, which was many, many years ago," he says.

"The pandemic and restricted access to school has forced us to find a solution and appears to be a great move based on the evidence from our parental evenings. This is something I believe we will continue in the future beyond Covid."

Of course, parents should always feel welcome in school and there are occasions such as open evenings, concerts, sporting events and so on where parents' attendance is encouraged.

But when we discover a new way of working that offers benefits to teachers and parents, let's not overlook it - no matter how much we might crave a return to normality in other areas of our lives.

Kate Jones is head of history at The British School Al Khubairat, Abu Dhabi. She is the author of Love To Teach, Retrieval Practice and Retrieval Practice 2. She tweets @KateJones_teach

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