Parents’ evenings – from the other side

30th October 2015 at 00:00
It’s late and everyone’s tired. So what can teachers do to make these events easier on everyone? Two mothers reveal all

primary

I have a confession to make: I missed a parents’ evening at my son’s school. Alert the authorities! Add me to your blacklists!

I returned the paperwork and waited to be allocated my slot, but no appointment came. When I mentioned this, his teacher said we could arrange another meeting if we wanted to. In the end, we didn’t get around to it.

The thing is, I had been to a parents’ evening a few months earlier, had just received a lovely school report and, ultimately, I saw his teacher several times a week anyway (my son was in Year 1 – every pick-up is a mini parents’ evening in itself).

The parents’ evenings I have attended have simply left me vaguely assured of my son’s status as a quiet, good student. They’ve also made me frantic with the logistics of arranging babysitters, and left me with a slightly sore back from sitting on a child-sized chair. In short, I don’t think I missed out on much.

I felt bad for missing it, nonetheless, and I’ll be at all the rest of them, clerical errors notwithstanding. Because I do want to talk about my son and find out how school is going. (And, yes, to make it on to the list of “engaged, interested in their child” parents that I imagine the teacher keeps.)

Most importantly, though, I want to come away knowing a little more about what I can do to help my son succeed at school – what he needs extra help with and how I can give it to him at home.

Ultimately, with three children, I am going to be spending a lot of time on little chairs in classrooms over the next decade. That’s my time, yes, but also a lot of the teachers’ time, and none of us want to waste that – so let’s make it count. With that in mind, I spoke to parents about their experiences and came up with a list of five parents’ evening tips for teachers:

1 ‘How do you think school’s going?’

Please don’t start off this way. All it does is make me think: “I really don’t know, that’s why I’m at this parents’ evening in the first place! Isn’t that your job?” It just feels like a bit of a cop-out from the teacher and can lead the rest of the conversation in an unhelpful direction.

I know how drop-offs and pick-ups go, but what happens in between is a mystery to me. I’m here to find out, so tell me. And, while we’re at it, please tell me more than just the academic box-ticking stuff.

2 Do compare my child with other pupils

I don’t mean a specific list of children my son is better/worse than. But knowing how he compares with the rest of his peer group would help to put things into context.

3 Schedule flexibly

Offering a few dates for a parents’ evening really helps. And although face-to-face meetings are the ideal, we really appreciate alternatives.

One parent I spoke to joined a parents’ evening via speakerphone from a foreign work trip. Others found that it helped to be able to opt for email communication instead.

Speaking of schedules…These evenings often run late, we know – but if teachers could leave examples of children’s work out while we wait, the time isn’t wasted.

4 Tell us straight

We know full well that “challenging” means our child is naughty. You can tell us the truth – we can take it, and we might even be able to help.

5 Give us something to do

If teachers could take the time to identify one really important thing that would help my son, one area he needs a bit more one-to-one time on, I’d be so happy to do it.

And a plea: give us proper chairs

“Well, they make you sit on tiny chairs…” was the comment everyone started with, when I asked around about experiences of parents’ evenings.

Grown-up chairs are more comfortable; they make us feel less anxious and more of an equal. Plus, if we can all sit on normal chairs we are also less likely to make “Oh, this takes me back”-style small-talk, freeing up precious minutes of the parents’ evening.

Fiona Hughes is a freelance writer from Devon. She blogs at www.940sundays.com and tweets at @superfiona

secondary

If I’m honest, I dread parents’ evening. It’s usually chaotic and noisy, with dozens of teachers and hundreds of parents and pupils crammed into the assembly hall, all rushing round trying to find the right person, and with very little space to manoeuvre.

A series of brief encounters at small tables is reminiscent of speed-dating, but without the glass of wine to calm the nerves. It all just adds to the pressure to make a good impression and get as much information as possible in your allocated time.

Parents’ evenings always feel like a missed opportunity. I seem to spend far too much time queuing (and getting annoyed at queue-jumpers) and not enough time having meaningful and constructive conversations with the teachers.

That’s not to say I hate the idea of parents’ evenings. Rather, I’d love to attend one where I felt the time was used well and both parties got something out of it and it was, dare I say it, even a bit enjoyable.

So, here are my suggestions for making parents’ evening a better experience for everyone:

1 Don’t use euphemisms

“Challenging”, “finds the work difficult” and “finds it difficult to stay on task” are jargon to most parents. Please break it down into plain English and give it to me straight. If “challenging” means she is misbehaving instead of working then please say that. I’m a big girl, I can take it, and if I know what the real issues are I can work with you to try and resolve them.

2 Ten minutes is not enough

If it’s at all possible to rework parents’ evening so it is not a mad rush from one teacher to the next with inane chats, the following is what would work for me (and I suspect a lot of other parents too):

Use an inset day or study day to do the parent/teacher meetings. Give the parents up to 30 minutes with the form tutor, then 20-30 minutes with each subject teacher. It might seem like a lot of time, but this is an ideal opportunity to strengthen those home-school relationships and get a better understanding of how the parent and teacher can work together to help the child achieve their potential.

Or, rather than giving parents specific time slots for each teacher, offer a start and finish time for the whole thing. For example, we could have a meeting with the form tutor at 1pm, then have until 4pm to speak to subject teachers, with start times staggered for groups of parents. Parents could then work the room, deciding which teachers to see and choosing the shortest queue (this also solves the problem of queue-jumpers).

3 Give me the headlines

If it has to be just 10 minutes then let’s make the most of the time: tell me what I need to know. Are they making progress towards their end-of-year target? If not, what is holding them back? If they are below target, how can they get back on track? How can I best support them at home? Ideally, give me a list of the best ways to support my child, including recommended resources and websites. Oh, and if it really is 10 minutes, maybe use a timer so each parent gets the same amount of time. If you need more time with someone, make a follow-up appointment.

4 Don’t drop bombshells

This is a big one. Apart from the issue of confidentiality (and eavesdropping) in such a crowded space, parents’ evening is not the time or the place to tell me my child may have dyslexia/dyspraxia/autism, etc. If this is the first time it’s been mentioned, it will be a shock, and the parents will want, and need, to discuss it in more detail. Better to contact them as soon as you suspect it’s a possibility and arrange to meet them in person.

Similarly, if my child is a nightmare in class, or is well below target, don’t wait until parents’ evening. Let’s nip it in the bud.

5 Don’t let the pupils make appointments

Please. Otherwise we end up with a 4pm appointment with the history teacher then a huge wait until we see the maths teacher at 6pm, and the teacher we really need to see (usually the one my child doesn’t like) isn’t even on the list! I’d rather use an online booking app that allows me to arrange times that work for me. This could also allow parents to send a note to a teacher if they want to discuss a particular issue.

Jean Ward lives in the North West of England. She blogs at www.notsupermum.com and tweets at @notsupermum

What else?

Use this parents’ evening form to collect notes on individual pupils.

bit.ly/ParentEveningForm

This review aims to get pupils to reflect on the issues raised at parents’ evening.

bit.ly/ParentEveningReview

This Teachers TV video teaches better communication with parents.

bit.ly/TVcommunicate

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now