Softly, softly

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
Here are five golden rules for surviving the dreaded parents' evening. Stephen Calladine-Evans reveals what to do

For the teacher who is new to the profession or even just new to the school, parents' evening can be a nerve-wracking experience. It can perhaps be best compared to three hours of speed dating with no prospect of finding the love of your life. However, the worst of the anxieties can be eased by following these five rules.

1. Prepare well but don't bring too much evidence

A few notes beside each pupil's name will suffice for most sessions. The general trend of grades, their level of attainment and a target clear enough to be remembered the following day are sufficient. So, rather than: "She is very quiet in class", instead compliment her written work and suggest: "She should aim to answer one question in each lesson".

2. Accent the positive but don't avoid bad news

If you have bad news, tell the parents or carers at the outset, but make it clear the story is not all doom and gloom. So phrases like: "I'm sorry to tell you that ." should be replaced with: "I'm going to tell you some of the good things that he has been doing and then I'm going to pick up on some areas for development".

3. Make it personal but not too much

Make sure you praise the child but be critical of the behaviour or action. It is the behaviour or actions that need to change and that is best facilitated by explaining how the child will benefit from the alteration.

4. Remember it should be a dialogue

Keep your questions open: "How do you think they feel about the subjecttopic?" If their response is hostile, keep a calm and collected expression, neither confronting nor confuting. Note down the issues and recap them.

When you have read back the points, tell them that these clearly require more assessment than is available in the limited time. Arrange an interview or record contact details and assure them you will work with them to resolve the matter.

5. Stand up

When greeting, stand up and shake hands. Welcome them. Smile with your mouth and your eyes. Invite them to be seated. By doing this you are asserting, in the nicest possible way, three important features: You are happy to see them. You are there to collaborate not confront. And you are in control.

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