Successful parents’ evenings: Tips and advice for teachers

Parents’ evenings can be extremely productive and beneficial for parents, pupils and teachers alike when they are successful.

Conversely, they can also be ineffective and frustrating for all parties when the objectives of the evening aren’t met.

How do we ensure that the valuable opportunities of parents’ evenings are realised, what are the pitfalls that should be avoided, and what constitutes a positive parents’ evening?

Schools have a statutory requirement to report and consult with parents on their child’s education and progress, as outlined in The Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005.

Parents’ evening is one of the ways in which schools achieve this duty, by dedicating an evening, usually yearly, to meeting parents.

With research showing that parental involvement has a significant and positive effect on children’s educational achievement, the benefits of fostering a positive teacher-parent relationship are clear.

Before we look at best practice for a successful parents’ evening, let’s look at research and feedback of some of the less effective approaches.

Power and Clark’s research paper ‘The right to know: parents, school reports and parents’ evenings’ notes that from a sample of four secondary schools, there was an almost universal criticism of the organisation of parents’ evenings, with parents reporting frustrating and unproductive encounters.

They also point out that this was particularly the case for parents with little or no English, and for those whose children had difficulties at school.

The ‘Cultivating positive relationships between teacher and parents’ article draws on a number of factors that parents look for in their meetings with teachers.

These include teacher-parent meetings where enough time is given to develop a real dialogue, meetings take place with a clear framework, meetings refer to evidence of their child’s progress, behaviour and achievement, and at the end of the meeting, all parties go away knowing what targets have been agreed.

Parents’ feedback on developing productive relationship with teachers certainly highlights parents’ evenings as an opportunity to engage with parents in ways they find constructive and meaningful.

However, these meetings also present logistical challenges due to number of parents who need to be seen in a short space of time.

This calls for careful and precise time management to ensure parents’ evenings are as productive as possible.

In a BBC news article on education, a survey claims that of 2,000 parents of primary school children in the UK, 55 per cent felt parents’ evenings did not really tell them how their child was progressing.

While some parents noted that their child’s teacher was unprepared and vague during the parents’ evenings.

The article goes on to say that while parents may think parents’ evenings fall short of their expectations, more than three quarters arrive at these meetings without having made any preparations or thought about what information they want.

For those parents who are unprepared, this admission points to a frustrating experience for all parties involved, while reaffirming a negative perception of the value of parents’ evenings.

We have looked at feedback from what is considered to be unsuccessful and unproductive examples of parents’ evenings, so now we will explore suggested approaches for more positive parents’ evenings, starting with the teacher’s role.

‘Tips on handling parents’ evening’ points out that greeting parents with a handshake and welcome from the outset creates a friendly and professional atmosphere.

It also suggests starting the discussion by highlighting a child’s successes before broaching areas that could be improved.

In TES’s article ’26 ways to survive parents’ evening’, it recommends that teachers dress smartly for the occasion, as wearing more formal attire projects a professional image, and gives teachers confidence in engaging with parents.

Both articles point out the merits of careful planning and preparation in advance of the evening.

Best practice approaches suggest having relevant paperwork, examples of pupils’ work, and curriculum documents available and ready to show parents during their meetings, as well as ensuring that marking is up to date.

To help stay on top of managing what is a potentially large number of parents, and keep track of who you have seen, TES recommends keeping a list of named appointments that can be ticked off as you see each set of parents.

This should also help reduce the risk of mixing up parents and pupils, and avoid any awkward moments or situations as a result.

Time, or lack of it, is a recurring theme of parents’ evenings, making careful time management a necessity.

Tried and tested approaches include using an A, B, C structure while in conversation with parents.

So start with a strength, move to an area where there’s room for improvement, and finish by asking parents if they have any questions.

This method ensures brevity, while also covering the essentials.

Of course, even with the best planning and management, parents’ evening can still present hurdles, and particularly for the teacher faced with an angry parent.

In the run up to the evening, aim to identify and anticipate where and with who problems might arise.

Collaborate with colleagues to agree on the best way to handle any problematic encounters, and during the evening itself stay calm, focused, and professional.

Schools’ successful parents’ evenings have common themes in their preparation, organisation, and management.

What does this look like in practice? One school in the midlands operates a system where parents choose up to nine teachers to see, and the start and end of each session is indicated by a bell.

Several schools use online booking systems to give parents greater flexibility in arranging appointments for parents’ evening.

Finally, some schools give parents an information pack on arrival, which includes a map, helping to ensure that parents can find their way around the school and organise themselves to get the most out of the evening.

Successful parents’ evenings: Tips and advice for teachers by Lorraine Clarke Reilly

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