Parent's evening: tips for before, during & after!

'Do your homework' is the wise teacher’s mantra. When you are approaching parents' evening, make sure you know the kids - know their progress, know their levels, know everything!

A really wise teacher interprets it more broadly, however. Know your kids, but know your audience too.

Spend a few minutes trawling the likes of Mumsnet and you’ll see parents make the same points over and over. They want to see that you really know their child, they want some positivity, they want lots of honesty, and they want to know how to help their child move forward.

What they do not want is to be told everything’s fine when it isn’t, or to be fed bland platitudes applicable to 90% of the class. And don’t get them started on teacher jargon.

If you plan and deliver parents’ evening with their viewpoints firmly in mind, this can only make it a less stressful and more productive experience. Happy parents = happy teacher (+ happy children).

Try these tips for a parents-friendly evening:

Before

Arrange pre-emptive strikes
Dropping a bombshell on the night makes you look unprofessional (why haven’t you told them about the problem already?) and may lead to distrust and defensiveness. By contrast, if you’ve already raised the issue, you’ll be updating them on the progress made towards fixing it: a far better starting point.

Make sure your notes echo the meeting
However you’re going to structure the appointment, structure your notes accordingly, and it’s bound to flow better. Both could take the form: Summary > Strengths and Progress > Areas for Development > Action - what you’re doing and what they can do. The sandwich approach used here (good - bad - good) allows you to be honest but soften it with positivity, which will be much appreciated. Also essential is a box to note down parents’ key comments, queries or requests.

During

Use strategic clock placement - Place one clock in your eyeline but also one clock in theirs, and you’re both less likely to lose track of time. Delays mean flustered teachers and frustrated parents - not a good start.

Bookend the meeting with quick, positive summaries
Aim to distil what’s coming into a couple of upbeat opening sentences, e.g. I’m really pleased with x this term, especially the way they’ve done y. His/her most important next step is z and they’re working on this.Getting straight to the point but in a positive way helps parents relax. On closing, a two sentence recap leaves them with a clear take home message.

Think dialogue not monologue 
Avoid a long speech, instead breaking it up with pauses to invite discussion (within reason - time is against you). Asking for parents’ thoughts on a given point shows you value their input, as well as helping you gauge their reactions to what you’ve shared. Then you can judge how best to get across your points while keeping them onside, softening or strengthening as appropriate.

Give out takeaways
Pick out common themes from the ‘action’ section of your notes - vocabulary? Times tables? Editing? Take the time to copy useful sheets or write down links to good websites, and have it all to hand. Parents are often unsure about how best to help their children at home, so specific, concrete tips will be warmly welcomed.

After

Remember follow up communication
Keeping your notes close by in the weeks following parents’ evening will remind you to take action. Then get in touch as soon as Little Johnny improves, either in person or by sending home a quick note or photocopied example of good work. This never fails to delight parents who have been fretting since the meeting about an issue raised. 

So: use a sandwich structure for your meetings that’s echoed in your notes, and open up a dialogue with parents - before, during and after - with an emphasis on what action to take next. Add some sharp dressing and a suitable amount of caffeine and sugar, and you won’t just be surviving the evening, but nailing it.

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Jodie Merritt was a primary teacher in Kent for several years.Currently Jodie is supply teaching part time while writing on her free days.