I remember, almost as clearly as it was yesterday, my first parent’s evening as a fresh-faced teacher. Would I mix my words? Could I really say something that needed to be said to a parent? Would I be able to remember the names of all the students I taught (there were a lot!) so that I was not talking to the parent about the wrong individual! All teachers will have their fair share of tales they can tell from parents’ evenings and I’m no different – but when I think back I need not have worried. These events are, of course, a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements of children and focus on what they can do to improve even more.
Even so, the management and organisation of parents’ evening can be a stressful experience, so here’s our top tips for a successful and positive event.
1. Be organised from the outset
Being well prepared for the evening from the get-go is a key priority. It might sound like the obvious thing to do, but definitely make sure that your marking is all up to date, you have prepared notes on all your pupils (even just a couple of lines to get the conversation started), listing the highlights (or low-lights), of their recent assessments, performances or results, depending on how you’re measuring their attainment.
Add in details on their behaviour, conduct and overall attitude to being in the classroom and you’ll have the basis for a constructive, organised and focused discussion with parents.
2. There are two sides to every story
Parents’ evenings are a great opportunity for parents to have their say too, which can either shed some light on the reasons for results and performances or possibly confirm your own thoughts. For instance, if a parent reports that your lessons are their child’s favourite subject, yet they’re disengaged and disruptive in the classroom, then you know there’s an inconsistency coming to light.
3. Stay calm in the face of a variety of responses
Despite your best efforts to deliver your assessments fairly and sensitively, there will always be some parents who don’t deal well with news on their children’s performance. While most parents will be aware that their child is unlikely to be perfect in all aspects, some may be surprised, shocked or disappointed to receive anything they feel as negative. In such a scenario, it’s likely that they might become overly defensive over their child and will insist on putting forward a wide range of explanations for why their child is finding an area tricky.
4. Take a positive approach
Although (rarely, in my experience) parents’ evenings can become confrontational situations, it’s important to remember that they’re an opportunity to highlight areas for development, rather than arguing the details over reasons for children’s conduct.
By sticking to an approach based on facts, real-life examples and, where possible, statistical data to support your assessment, teachers, parents and pupils can work together to create measurable plans for development and action so that everyone can benefit.
5. Make a schedule and stick to it
Much of the stress around parents’ evening comes from time pressure – teachers will have spent a long day at work by the end of the evening while parents will probably have had to rush to the event and will have lots of teachers to see. By sticking to a rigid amount of time per pupil and following a set-in-stone schedule (which you’ll want to print and display on the evening), you can help avoid unexpected wait times and additional grumpiness – from the parents, at least! One school I worked at, the Headteacher rang a bell every five minutes and everyone had to swap round!
Above all else, remember that parents’ evenings are there to make sure that pupils are on the right tracks or, if they’re in need some additional support, that there’s an actionable plan in place for development. With everything laid out clearly and concisely, you’ll have every chance to ensure engagement from parents and pupils and a successful evening all round.
And, unless you have some helpful students serving drinks to the staff (again, something we had at one school I taught in) remember to bring your own water, tea and something to eat – it could be a long evening!
Making sure that your parents’ evenings run smoothly can be a challenge – Parents’ Evening System is a dedicated online solution that manages the booking process for events, allowing parents to book their own appointments via their computer, smartphone or tablet. Find out more about Parents’ Evening System or register for our overview webinar on Monday 18 June.