How to Have a Successful Parents Evening: a Step-by-Step Guide
How to Prepare for Parent's Evening
Let's face it, the teacher's workload can be staggering. Lesson plans, coursework, reports, after-school clubs and detentions all vie for your time. To make matters worse you must balance this effectively with a personal and family life that always seems to come second (or third...or even fifth). And then every now and then, a Parent's evening pops up to steal yet another of your evenings and devour yet more of your time.
Parent's Evenings (conferences, engagement days etc.) are part of the statutary framework that all teachers sign up for. So if you have to be there, you might as well make sure this is an evening well spent. Follow these steps to ensure you have a productive, stress-free, effective parents evening
Beware Pushy Parents
1. Prepare Thoroughly
Parents Evenings are like exams - each parent is going to thoroughly grill you on their child. "What grade are they working at?" "How is their behaviour?" "Is their homework good?" The questions will come thick and fast, and each parent (rightly) expects you to be an expert on their child.
Just as you expect your pupils to prepare thoroughly for tests, you must do the same for any meeting with Parents. You must know all your childrens names for a start (and be able to recognise them on sight). The following checklist should be your starting point. You need to know, or have to hand:
- Child's Name (and photo if possible!)
- Target grades and working at grades (ideally taken from a recent test)
- Homework hand-in and quality thereof
- Notes on learning issues
- Optional - but can be used to make a point - examples of pupils work
- Notes on behaviour issues
This will ensure you cover all the vital points...even if you really have no idea this child was even in your class!
(HINT: If you really cannot remember the name of the pupil striding towards you, ask them to initial a register to confirm attendance. While they are doing this, flick through your notes whilst keeping a surreptitious eye on which name has just been marked off)
2. Look After Yourself First
This is going to be a long night. Parents Evenings can last anything from 90 minutes, to a few hours, to an entire day (where they are called Parent Conferences or Engagement Days). The parents will only be with you for a few moments, but you have a duty to be as professional, fresh and copus mentus with your last parent of the event as you were with the first.
- Before the event starts, make sure you are properly fed and watered. Then use the restroom - first to relieve yourself of your 15th coffee of the day, then to check you don't have mayo on your chin/nose/tie/earlobe or anything in your teeth.
- Find out where you will be, collect all of your notes and have your station prepared well before the event starts. This will prevent last minute rushes and flustering
- Ensure you have water (no not tea or coffee - they dehydrate you, make your breath smell and causes more frequent toilet breaks) to sip throughout. You need to keep yourself lubricated
- If the event is going on for several hours, don't be afraid to snack on something discreet. Breakfast bars and fruit are a favourite of mine.
- Try to schedule a break where you can stand up, get some fresh air and use the restroom if required.
3. Positivity Makes a Difference
Even if the child in front of you would make Beezlebub himself blush, you must find some positives. Particularly with difficult children, parents can be bombarded with the negative.
Parents Evening is NOT the time to have a 10minutes diatribe on the failings of Little Johnny/Sally. Parents are biased, and if you immediately start running down their child, there is a high possibility they will immediately move to the defensive (that's when all the excuses start pouring out). Equally you must not shy away from the negative
- Accentuate the positive.
- Give any negative feedback in light of their achievement
- Use hard facts to back up anything negative
- Make the parents believe you have their child's best interests at heart (fake it if you must!)
NB If there happen to be any issues with a pupil, parents evening should never be the first time parents hear about it - particularly if this has been an ongoing issue. Do the groundwork - follow school sanctions and call home first. My first parents evening resulted in a complaint to my Head of Department because I didn't do this. As the parents rightly said - "If this has been going on for months, why haven't we been told!?"
4. Remember your ABCs
Always Be Calm. Particularly true when dealing with over-zealous, over-ambitious, pushy or downright aggressive parents.
Use the same skills you utilise when recognising a pupil is about to blow - do you keep pushing them? I would hope the answer is no. Professionals change their tack to avoid a pointless confrontation and reach the desired outcome. In this case, the pointless confrontation is any arguing or bickering about their child. Repeat after me:
I cannot convince all parents that their child is golden/rotten/filthy/rude/abusive/notsentfromGod.
In this situation, your best weapon is a pen and a piece of paper. Carefully note down any concerns, threats or grievences on a piece of paper to pass on to the appropriate body later on.
Remember - you are not present to be abused. If at any time you feel unsafe, threatened, demeaned or overwhelmed call for a senior member of staff immediately
5. Keep to Time
Nothing annoys a teacher like a parents evening that runs thirty minutes over. But nothing annoys a parent more than waiting for a teacher who has allowed themselves to get 30minutes behind. Stick rigidly to your allocated time slots. To give you the best chance of sticking to these slots, outline to the parent the agenda, i.e "I thought we should start with current progress [positive], how they are doing against their targets, and then outline some areas for development" Then rattle through them. (Don't forget to give time for any queries or concerns the parent may have)
If you are reaching the end of your slot but the (useful) conversation appears to be ploughing on you have a number of options:
- Ask for contact details (phone, email) and a time where these issues can be discussed in full
- Ask for the parents to make another appointment where this can be resolved
- Write down three action points and promise to begin with these
- Direct the parent to a more senior colleague
To signal the end of an appointment, I find it best to put the lid on my pen, tidy my papers and stand up, whilst apologising for the short time slot. If they do not appear to be moving, offer one of the above actions to them, to make it clear you are taking their concerns seriously.
Hopefully, the above detail will result in you having a successful meeting with parents that is productive and stress free. There are one or two general things you can do to make sure these evenings are worth the price you pay in time:
- Follow up parental requests/inquiries
- Listen to the parents and the child (yes - I said both of them!)
- Look at things from the Parents perspective (is this their 12th consecutive poor report about their 'angel'?)
- Make your planning and marking easy in the week of Parents Evening. These weeks are great times to set revision lessons or tests (that are of course peer-assessed)
Where Next? Parents Evenings
- How To Get The Most Out Of Parents' Evening
Parents need to prepare for these events too! This video resource shows you how.
- 26 Ways to Survive Parents' Evening
Not all mums and dads will be what you were expecting - but they all want the best for their kids, writes Sara Bubb
- Dealing with your First Parents Evening
A resource for new teachers that does exactly what it says on the tin