Creativity for control freaks

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Parents' evening

Some time before the end of the term you've probably got parents' evening to contend with. Sometimes they are great, with the kind of feedback that spurs you on: "They couldn't write their name when they came into your class - fancy securing a Hollywood deal for a first novel!"

Of course, you also get the usual moans and gripes, but it pays dividends to concentrate on the majority who come in with the intention of having an honest discussion about their child who, after all, spends more of their weekdays with you than with them.

Cast your mind back to parents' evenings when you were a child. I know circumstances and experiences will vary, but the usual emotions were nervousness and more than a little anxiety. Here were two groups of people meeting to talk about you. Both of them knew you very well, but they hardly knew each other at all. Very few pupils, even those who have every right to be confident, don't get worried about this meeting of minds, peeking uneasily through the door if they have come with their parents, or through the curtains if they are waiting at home.

What I was staggered to find is that it feels exactly the same for the parent. I am confident in my job and equally confident that my own daughter is gorgeous and taught extremely well by a friendly teacher. Yet I am reduced to that peeping child of yesteryear when it's my turn to sit in the parents' chair. So here's how I found some peace in that meeting and now seek to give it to the parents who shuffle into my room with sweaty palms and nervous laughs.

First, put as many photos around the room as you can of pupils enjoying themselves and having fun. Ask all class members to check there is one of them and cover every bare space. Not only is it lovely for parents to see a happy image of their child, it proves a useful reference point during discussions. I sometimes find I have less work to show than some of my paper-based photocopying colleagues and it is prudent to have some photographic evidence to hand of the kind of practical learning you are describing.

Then display lots of work by everyone and put large labels, showing pupils'

names, on or alongside the work. Parents can spot it straight away and any accompanying pupils will recount the process that went into the work.

Finally, make the environment parent-friendly. Use the last few minutes of the day to get pupils' help in moving some furniture so it is more comfortable. Bring in some adult-sized chairs. For more nervous parents, have some water and glasses, tissues and even a few mints to hand. They might even forgive you for running 20 minutes late.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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