How to prepare for parent evenings
Parent evenings can be very stressful, especially coming on top of a day’s teaching. Speaking to parents about their children can be daunting but they basically want updates on the progress of their little ones.
Even though you’re snowed under with planning, marking and teaching, investing time into preparing thoroughly for parents’ evening is essential. Keeping parents properly informed will strengthen your relationship with them which will only help you in the long run.
Think of parents’ evening as a consumer-provider situation. The secret to happy customers is preparation. Here are some tips that might help you with your preparation:
Know your audience
All parents want the best for their children. They want to feel that their children are in safe hands that you know something about them, that you like them and that you know what you are talking about!
Keep them onside
Don't be fooled into thinking that parents' evenings are just about how the pupils are doing - you are going to be judged too. If you don't get parents on your side, your work will be much harder. Remember that they might say one thing to your face - but, like a post-match commentary, whatever you say will get analysed later, especially if you don't handle the situation well.
All in the preparation
You'll feel a lot more confident if you get ready for the meetings. Be sure that marking is up to date and everything is organised, especially displays and any work that you're going to show to parents.
Ask your line manager to talk you through the school's procedures for parents' evening, and to let you know about any "difficult cases" and any handy tips about how to deal with them. You may want to ask about observing a colleague’s meeting
Plan your timetable
Plan your timetable of meetings with care and give yourself breaks wherever possible. Anticipate more difficult meetings and allow more time for these. Don't assume that there will be a few gaps - you'll end up with a logjam and run beyond the allotted time.
Keep strictly to time
Remember a parent who arrives feeling mildly irritated about a missing jumper is likely to be even angrier after a 20-minute wait to see you. Keep a clock or watch on the table, so that you can keep to time, although this is hard to do.
Keep notes on each pupil
Identify each pupil's strengths and areas for development - social and academic. Choose a piece of work that illustrates what the child can do well and an area in which the child needs to improve. Keep the notes on separate pieces of paper so that parents can't see what you're going to say about other children in the class.
Give your pupils a voice
It can be useful to ask children what they think you'll say and what they'd like you to say. Their insight might even surprise you.
Don't contradict other staff
Check the last written report on each pupil so that you know what parents have been told before. You will probably be reinforcing what has already been said but if you're planning to say something that contradicts previous reports, make sure that you have plenty of hard evidence to back up your comments.
Make it easy on yourself
In the week of parents' evening, make your teaching timetable as easy as possible. You won't have the time or the energy to do marking or planning, and you'll need all your strength to survive - especially the day after the late night before!
Look the part
Parents might feel twitchy if they know that you're new to the school or newly qualified. If you look young, it might give the impression that you don't know what you're doing. So look smart and dress professionally to give yourself an air of confidence.
Keep paperwork to hand
Make sure that any paperwork you might need - examples of pupils' work, relevant records, curriculum documents - are easily accessible should you need them.
Stand in parents' shoes
Watch out for Year 7 parents in particular - the structure of secondary parent evenings comes as a nasty and bewildering shock - all those strange teachers sitting in the hall, all that queuing.
Remember that these people are used to sitting in a cosy classroom with a person they've heard heaps about and who spends all day with their children.
Parents want to hear how their child is getting on - not a lot of waffle about what you're covering in the curriculum. You have a degree in educational jargon, but don't expect lay people to know what you mean.
Do your homework
Try to predict the issues that individual parents might raise and think about your answers. What are you going to say when someone gets cross about a missing coat, work that's too easy or too hard, or maybe about bullying?
Don't go it alone
If you know of any parents who might cause you problems, arrange for another member of staff to be nearby. Perhaps you could get a colleague to bring you a cup of coffee at a prime time.
Have you got the right pupil?
Keep a list of appointments and tick off parents' names when you've seen them. This should stop you from getting confused and talking about the wrong pupil - that has happened.
Keep introductions simple
Don't use parents' last names unless you are sure of them, can pronounce them and know their proper title - the potential for offence and wasted time is too great. Stick to a phrase such as, "Hello, you've come to talk about [student]."
Stay calm at all times
Be careful what you say and how you say it. It's easy to slip into meeting aggression with aggression and to "look the way you feel" - bewildered, confused, irritated, tired. Remember that you're a teacher now and you need to remain calm and professional throughout.
Take tips from colleagues
Ask other teachers for their tried and tested responses - such as, "Thank you for letting me know your concern - I'll look into it."
Be a good diplomat
Show tact – remember even the most troublesome pupil is someone's precious baby! Show some tact - if a pupil is lazy, say the child hasn't really worked hard so far but that there is still time to turn things around.
Take parents seriously
Listen carefully to what parents have to say. Follow up any concerns they might have, and do whatever you've promised to do. Where appropriate, refer any significant issues to more senior colleagues.
Keep your distance
Always maintain a professional detachment - no matter how well you might know the parents. And stay focused on your discussion of the pupil in question.
Time is short - use it well
Have a structure that allows you to make best use of your time. An example is as follows:
Introduction Stand, shake hands with warm eye contact, sit down and get straight down to business. “Hello, you’ve come to talk about [student's].”
- Headline - “[student] has settled in well and is making progress.”
- Strengths (social and academic) - “I’m particularly pleased with …” - Have some work that illustrates your point.
- Areas for improvement (social and academic) - “However, [student] still needs to work on …” Again, have some illustration.
- Parents’ views - “How do you think [student] is doing? Do you have any concerns?” - You could ask this after your headline but you’d risk losing time for your agenda. If you know what they are likely to raise, plan a response. Make a note of their concerns.
- Parental help - “Could you make sure [student] practises …”
- Conclusion - Look at your watch, stand up, offer your hand. “Well, thank you for coming. If you have concerns in the future please let me know.”
What happens at the end?
How will you draw your parent evenings to a close? Use body language that sends the right signal to those sitting at the other side of the table that the conversation has reached a conclusion, such as gathering and shuffling of papers . Perhaps stand up, offer your hand for shaking, walk parents to the door and say, "Thank you for coming. If you have concerns in the future, please let me know."
If the parent has more issues to discuss but time has run out arrange an appointment for later in the week
Top up your fuel
Don't forget those all-important drinks and nibbles to keep you going. It's always a good idea to keep a bottle of water, mints, or tea and biscuits with you.
Remember to look confident even if you don't feel it. Most parents will as nervous as you so you're not alone during the meeting.
You’ll feel a great sense of achievement when it’s over, so celebrate with a glass of something nice with colleagues.