January Blog 2024
How to run a successful Parents evening appointment.
I have never done a blog on parents’ evening before, and with the next one rapidly approaching, I thought that this was a good time to share some useful advice for these evenings. When I was training to become a teacher (yes, that was a while ago now...) we were never trained for these evenings and it was literally a case of sink or swim. There is far more research out there now and I have investigated the National College for teaching to support this Blog. I hope it helps and if you have any questions, please feel free to come and speak to me or your HOS.
I have often thought that communication is what we do best and is probably a reason why we became teachers in the first place. We hopefully deliver clear explanations, impart knowledge, simplify complex concepts, give effective feedback and build positive relationships with those around us. We use our voice to manage behaviour and control situations, as well as to inspire and motivate.
However, for many of us, especially those new to the profession, the thought of holding conversations and giving feedback to parents/carers about their children and young people can feel particularly daunting, especially when we know that some of that feedback might be hard to hear. If this sounds familiar, this is the blog for you!
Firstly, you are not alone in feeling like this, as every teacher at one time in their career has had to face a parents’ evening for the first time, and most of us (if we’re honest) will remember feeling slightly intimidated by it. Secondly, feeling a bit anxious about a parents’ evening means that you care; you see its importance and you want to do a good job! The good news is there are lots of things you can do to ensure the experience is successful, purposeful and even enjoyable. It is an unpredictable night, but one we can plan for to support with the more challenging moments.
The benefits of a parents’ evening
A parents’ evening is a great opportunity to give positive feedback to parents/carers about their child and to give them an insight into their child’s life in school. Parents/carers ultimately want to know that their child is safe, happy and learning, and this is the opportunity to reassure them and to feedback what their child does well. There are always positives! This is your chance to show parents how much you value teaching their child. Watching parents light up with pride is such a rewarding part of our job.
We encourage students to accompany their parents/carers, so students get to hear the positive praise you are communicating. This can really boost students’ motivation and sense of pride which means they will continue to strive harder in class. Parents’ evening will also allow you to get to know your students even better, as you often find out things you might not have known.
Parents are often keen to tell you what their child is like at home or what their outside interests are, and this can really help you to build positive relationships with your students in class.
Obviously, one of the main purposes of parents’ evening is to feedback on students’ progress and what they are learning about. Make this conversation effective and purposeful by thinking about the key messages for each child. This is your opportunity to communicate what could be improved on.
Use this conversation to get parents onside and to get their support with their child’s learning or behaviour targets. You can even make suggestions about how they can support their child. Most parents/carers will receive constructive advice well if framed in a conversation which shows that, like them, you want the best for their child. (More about that later.)
How to prepare for parents’ evening
- Make sure the assessment record is up to date and be prepared to show the parents all the assessment and homework marks the student has received this year. Make sure the parent knows how to access this on ItsLearning and how to check what homework has been set.
- Know your students! I know this sounds silly, but go through your class list/s in advance of the day. Have ClassCharts up and what rewards and sanctions have been awarded in your subject area. Start with the positives or any improvements seen.
- Check the student books in advance, as you will want to share these with parents if possible. What can you show the parent on what the child is doing well, and where they can improve? Make sure the marking is up to date.
- Go armed with short notes about each student. Your conversations need to focus on student progress and targets, as well as their attitude to learning. Think carefully about how you will give difficult messages in a kind way.
- If you are a new teacher, practice and role play with your mentor some different scenarios. Practice how to conduct the appointment and iron out any issues.
Practical tips for the evening itself
- Look the part. You are the public face of the College on parents’ evening, so it’s a good idea to represent it as professionally as possible.
- Arrive ahead of time. Rushing into the hall to find a queue of parents does not give the best impression, so aim to dismiss students/students swiftly that day so you arrive before parents.
- Bring a drink and ensure you have eaten.
- Ensure you have a name sign on your desk, so you can be found. (This is usually organised by the support team.) You will need at least two chairs but be aware that some parents bring other family members and the student/s themselves. (Don’t be afraid to send the student away to sit in the waiting area if you wish to address the parents in private, though.)
- Have School Cloud open with the appointments but bring notes and data as well as paper and a pen to note down actions resulting from your conversations.
- Keep an eye on the time. If things look like it won’t be resolved, explain that you will call them the following week to speak about this further. Note this down on your pad!
Dos and Don'ts of an effective conversation
- Do stand to greet the parents/carers. Shake hands, smile and thank them for coming, then invite them to sit down. They may be nervous too, so make small talk about things such as the weather or if they managed to find you okay. Help them relax. Make sure you have the right parents in front of you in case someone has not shown up. Most parents/carers offer the name of their child in the first instance.
- Do take a moment to read your notes and look at the student’s data before you start talking.
- Do start with a positive and a strength, even if the student is not making the progress they could: “His attendance is excellent, uniform impeccable and he is always on time.” “She wants to achieve and is keen to learn.” This part of the meeting is key, as it is here you show the parent that you care and want the best for their child. Parents will accept more constructive advice more readily if they know you are on their side.
- Do describe succinctly what the student has covered in terms of content but focus more on their progress. Use words like “steady progress”, “good progress”, “very good progress”, “excellent progress”. Give examples of what they have done well. Identify strengths where you can.
- Do describe what they need to do in terms of improvement, and that includes attitude to learning and things they need to work on more. Be specific! For example: “If he is going to achieve a grade 7, he needs to use a range of different tenses in his written and spoken work. He needs to do some independent learning on verb formation in French so that it sticks.” “She always starts off the lesson being really interested, but she has difficulty maintaining focus. We have started using a sand timer and a checklist to help her concentrate. It would be good if she used these at home too, when doing homework.”
- Do take time to listen to parents/carers and their concerns. This is a two-way conversation. Make notes of actions to take forward. This will mean they see you are taking their comments on board.
- Do be truthful. Do be kind.
- Don’t be overly negative or use negative language, e.g. “lazy”, “apathetic”, “rude” or “weak”.
- Don’t be excessively positive unless it’s true.
- Don’t comment on things that can’t be changed, such as a child’s personality. What is the point of telling a parent that their child is “quiet” or “talkative”? Being quiet doesn’t mean you aren’t learning and being talkative doesn’t either.
- Don’t be vague. Avoid, for example: “They need to work harder.”, “They need to add more detail.”, “They need to keep going.” Rather, be specific about actions which can help the student/student progress: “They need to be spending and hour each night using the revision techniques we have been using in class.”
- Don’t be afraid to get support if you need it. You can refer parents/carers to other colleagues if you need their expertise. SB and I are in the foyer in the Performing Arts if needed, and please direct any parents who are not happy to us.
Dealing with negative feedback or bigger issues
It’s worth remembering that the majority of parents/carers are enormously grateful to teachers and often admire us for the job we are doing. Parents/carers will often feed this back and thank us for our support, which makes parents’ evening a really enjoyable and affirming experience.
On occasion, parents may use parents’ evening as a forum to voice their concerns. This is fine, but if a situation or concern is serious or complicated and can’t be resolved during this 5-minute meeting, don’t be frightened to communicate this.
- Firstly, listen carefully to the parents’ or carers’ concerns. Give eye contact and nod. Make notes so the parent/carer knows you’re taking their concerns on board.
- Express your concern: “I am sorry to hear that.”
- Ask what the parent would like to happen to resolve the situation (whilst not promising that you will follow their suggestions). If you can deal with their concerns in this meeting by suggesting some actions you could take, then do so. For example: “Okay, let’s try moving her to a different seat, so they are sitting apart. That just might resolve the problem.” However, if the issue is greater than that, explain that tonight’s meeting is only a five-minute slot for feedback on their child’s progress, so an additional meeting will need to be booked which might involve other colleagues, such as the Head of House.
- Try to get the meeting back on track by updating them about their child’s progress and wellbeing in College.
Don’t hesitate to seek help from colleagues if parents become hostile or personal. This is very rare. If you expect this may happen in advance of the parents’ evening, ask that another colleague is present with you when the meeting takes place such as your HOS or SLT.
You may come up against some tricky questions. However, if you plan and prepare well, you can anticipate them and be ready with an answer. Remember, being tactful and diplomatic is key, whilst remaining honest and truthful.
Top tips for dealing with difficult questions
- Anticipate the difficult questions that could come up and plan your responses to them.
- Seek advice from experienced staff about experiences they’ve had, and how they would answer tricky questions.
- Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to a question. Simply make a note of it and promise to get back to them with an answer.
- If a parent/carer asks directly about how their child or young person is performing in relation to the rest of the class or year group, you need to be truthful but tactful. You could refer to age-related expectations too. If a child is below expectations, you can still communicate this in a positive way. For example: “They are not quite where they need to be, but I am confident with the support we have in place, they will continue to make progress.”
After parents’ evening
Reflect on the evening and dwell on the highlights first. There will definitely be some. Think about what you handled well and embrace the areas you are going to work on further. Seek advice from others and share your experiences with your colleagues on what went well, what was tough and what you learnt.
Remember to follow up on those actions you promised you’d do, so parents know you are true to your word.