26 ways to survive parents' evening

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Not all mums and dads will be what you were expecting - but they all want the best for their kids, writes Sara Bubb

1 Know your audience

All parents want the best for their children. They want to feel that that their kids are in safe hands, that you know something about them, that you like them and that you know your stuff.

2 Keep them onside

Don't be fooled into thinking that parents' evenings are just about how the pupils are doing - you are going to be judged, too. If you don't get parents on your side, your work will be much harder. Remember that they might say one thing to your face - but, like a post-match commentary, whatever you say will get analysed later, especially if you don't handle the situation well.

3 All in the preparation

You'll feel a lot more confident if you use some of your 10 per cent reduced timetable to get ready. Be sure that marking is up to date and everything is organised, especially displays and any work that you're going to show to parents.

4 Anticipate conflict

Ask your induction tutor to talk you through the school's procedures for parents' evening, and to let you know about any "difficult cases" and any handy tips about how to deal with them.

5 Avoid traffic congestion

Plan your timetable of meetings with care and give yourself breaks wherever possible. Don't assume that there will be a few gaps - you'll end up with a logjam and run beyond the allotted time.

6 Keep strictly to time

Remember that a parent who arrives feeling mildly irritated about a missing jumper is likely to be even more angry after a 20-minute wait to see you.

7 Keep notes on each pupil

Identify each pupil's strengths and areas for development - social and academic. Choose a piece of work that illustrates what the child can do well, and just one area in which the child needs to improve. Keep the notes on separate pieces of paper so that parents can't see what you're going to say about other children in the class.

8 Give your pupils a voice

It can be useful to ask children what they think you'll say, and what they'd like you to say. Their insight might even surprise you.

9 Don't contradict other staff

Check the last written report on each pupil so that you know what parents have been told before. You will probably be reinforcing what has already been said but if you're planning to say something that contradicts previous reports, make sure that you have plenty of hard evidence to back up your comments.

10 Make it easy on yourself

In the week of parents' evening, make your teaching timetable as easy as possible. You won't have the time or the energy to do marking or planning, and you'll need all your strength to survive.

11 Look the part

Parents might feel twitchy if they know that you're newly qualified. If you look young, it might give the impression that you don't know what you're doing. So look smart. If necessary, keep a spare set of smart clothes to change into before the evening starts.

12 Keep paperwork to hand

Make sure that any paperwork you might need - examples of pupils' work, relevant records, curriculum documents - are easily accessible should you need them.

13 Stand in parents' shoes

Watch out for Year 7 parents in particular - the structure of a secondary parents' evening comes as a nasty and bewildering shock - all those strange teachers sitting in the hall, all that queuing.

Remember that these people are used to sitting in a cosy classroom with a person they've heard heaps about and who spends all day with their children.

14 Avoid "teacherspeak"

Parents want to hear how their child is getting on - not a lot of waffle about what you're covering in the curriculum. You have a degree in educational jargon, but don't expect lay people to know what you mean.

15 Do your homework

Try to predict the issues that individual parents might raise, and think about your answers. What are you going to say when someone gets cross about a missing coat, work that's too easy or too hard, or maybe the bullying?

16 Don't go it alone

If you know of any parents who might cause you problems, arrange for another member of staff to be nearby. Perhaps you could get a colleague to bring you a cup of coffee at a prime time.

17 Have you got the right pupil?

Keep a list of appointments and tick off parents' names when you've seen them. This should stop you getting confused and talking about the wrong pupil - that has happened.

18 Keep introductions simple

Don't use parents' last names unless you are sure of them, can pronounce them and know their proper title - the potential for offence and wasted time is too great. Stick to a phrase such as, "Hello, you've come to talk about X."

19 Stay calm at all times

Be careful what you say and how you say it. It's easy to slip into meeting aggression with aggression and to "look the way you feel" - bewildered, confused, irritated, tired. Remember that you're a teacher now and you need to remain calm and professional throughout.

20 Take tips from colleagues

Ask other teachers for their tried and tested responses - such as, "Thank you for letting me know your concern - I'll look into it."

21 Be a good diplomat

Show tact - even the hulks are someone's precious babies. If a pupil is lazy, say the child hasn't really worked hard so far but that there is still time to turn things around.

22 Take parents seriously

Listen carefully to what parents have to say. Follow up any concerns they might have, and do whatever you've promised to do.

Where appropriate, refer any significant issues to more senior colleagues.

23 Keep your distance

Always maintain a professional detachment - no matter how well you might know the parents. And stay focused on your discussion of the pupil in question.

24 Time is short - use it well

Have a structure that allows you to make best use of your time. Perhaps use a headline: "X seems to have settled in well"; a strength, "I'm pleased with..."; an area to improve, "But X needs to work on." And finally, "Do you have any concerns?"

25 What happens at the end?

How will you draw your meeting to a close? Perhaps look at your watch, stand up, offer your hand for shaking, walk parents to the door and say, "Thank you for coming. If you have concerns in the future, please let me know."

26 Top up your fuel

Don't forget those all-important drinks and nibbles tokeep you going. Your school should organise something for you, but it's always a good idea to keep a bottle of water, mints, or tea and biscuits with you.

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