With the half-term break upon us, I am sure many of you will be thinking about upcoming Parents' Evenings. Understandably, these elicit a range of emotions in teachers. While it is exciting to have the opportunity to celebrate the successes of students with parents, the flip side to that, depending on your school and parent expectations, can be the dread of feeling judged and having to engage in some potentially tricky conversations.
As my ‘Parent Consultation Week’ comes to an end, here in Dubai, I wanted to share some of the tips and useful ideas I have picked up over the past few years that help me effectively manage parent meetings and make what can feel like a never-ending, arduous evening/week feel more positive and rewarding.
Before the Meetings
1: Manage your workload
Not directly linked to the meetings themselves but rather, related to your time management to support your wellbeing (and ensuring you’re not working unrealistically long hours during an already busy week): think about your marking. To make marking a little quicker, be strategic in what you plan and teach during the week of Parents' Evening. I always try to plan more practical or collaborative learning tasks that don’t require in-depth marking, where possible, or where work in books and more detailed marking is required, I try to keep it as simple as possible. For instance, rather than a ‘big write’ which requires a lot more of my time to give specific individual feedback, I plan shorter writing opportunities to revise key punctuation or grammar, making the marking process quicker.
Bonus tip: While on the matter of marking, if there is bookwork you will need to mark, get the students to make a pile with their books open on the correct page. Such a simple action but saves precious time!
You are already likely to have done a full day of teaching before starting your meetings so an energy boost is a must. Luckily, at the schools I have worked at, the Headteachers have always dropped by with a drink and some biscuits and there is usually a TA floating around to help make tea/coffee as a way of helping teachers out. Don’t assume this is the case though! If you know you have upcoming meetings, make sure your snack drawer/cupboard is replenished in time, and make sure you have plenty of water.
Bonus tip: I also HIGHLY recommend investing in a flask - this is an absolute teacher lifesaver daily, not just during Parents' Evenings. It means you can prepare yourself a hot drink in advance and not worry about it going cold before you have time to stop, breathe and take a sip!
3: Be comfortable
You never really know whether the area you're going to be in for your meetings is going to be too hot or too cold. I know back in the UK I’d be sat there for quite a while. Parents' Evenings would often take the best part of 4 hours and it would sometimes get quite cold if the central heating system was turned off after a certain time! With that in mind, dress comfortably and practically so you can add or remove layers as required.
Bonus tip: Unless you're already lucky enough to have a very comfortable chair, bring a cushion too to make sure you can sit comfortably. There is nothing worse than feeling numb and uncomfortable but not being able to walk around in the middle of back-to-back meetings.
Although it sounds obvious, be organised and make sure you know what your key messages about each child are. Your school may request that you share particular data, work samples, etc. with parents, whereas others might not. If you are required to, plan and make sure you will know where to find these easily during the meeting. I’m quite lucky that I generally have a really good understanding of my students and can look at books and think, "Right, how can we bring this child forward?’' and use their books as the focal point of my discussions with parents. However, I know other teachers benefit from making notes beforehand and using these to guide meetings, rather than student workbooks. Whatever you do though, be prepared; there is nothing worse than hearing the stories about teachers whose meetings were incredibly awkward because they didn’t know the students well enough to talk about them.
Bonus tip: Have a notebook and (working) pen ready to take with you to the meetings in case you want to make any notes.
During the Meetings
5: Be kind to yourself!
There may be a point where you have to say that you’re just going to have to quickly get some water or go for a toilet break and then come back to begin the next meeting - this is allowed! Parents understand that you are human which leads us nicely onto...
6: Be human
What do I mean? I mean, be personable and make sure parents feel like you know their child. No parent wants to sit through a meeting with you reading through an assessment sheet where you're just talking about levels and data; parents want to know about their child overall, including their social skills, emotional development, etc.
7: Ask questions
I always start my meetings by asking the parents straight away, “How do you feel your child is getting on?” That question always pulls up some really interesting stories. Some parents think that their child is doing badly when the opposite is true. Sometimes parents then tell you about behaviours that are happening at home that you just don't see. I think teachers sometimes feel like the ones who have to give all the information, but don't forget, this is your opportunity to get to know the child even further by asking the people who have known them for the longest, the parents, those questions. With this in mind, make sure that you're empathetic with any problems that they're sharing with you; again, be human.
8: Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help during challenging conversations, or if you don't know the answer to a question you have been asked. The schools I have worked in have always ensured a member of leadership is available to support in case there are any particularly challenging conversations or questions they can assist with.
9: Manage your own time
Don’t be afraid to draw a meeting to a close if you run out of time. Politely explain that it is a conversation you highly value and would like to continue, offering to schedule another meeting to continue the conversation. Similarly, if leadership support is required, advise you will do your utmost to ensure leadership are made aware and act as soon as possible. This is where it is useful to have your notebook and pen, so you can make notes and ensure you don’t forget to follow up on things you discuss.
10: Be honest
Following on from the previous two tips, don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you realistically know there isn’t time in your timetable to schedule an additional three reading sessions for little Fred, don’t tell the parents you will. Of course, be positive and professional, making it clear that you will do everything you can to support Fred’s reading but don’t put pressure on yourself to follow up unrealistic promises. Similarly, if a child isn't working at the 'expected' standard then diplomatically and gently say that. It will only cause you more complex problems further down the line when you have to explain to the parents at the end of the year why their child all of a sudden isn't 'expected' or 'exceeding'.
I hope some of these tips are helpful. If you have any more tips that you think others would benefit from, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
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