It’s the start of a new school year, which means that teachers have a whole new set of parents to get to know. Most schools have two parents’ evenings each year: the first, in the first term, and then a second in the final term. Your first parents’ evening is an opportunity to get to know your students’ families, set up an open dialogue and start building a positive relationship. After all, when parents and teachers work together as partners, you’re setting your students up to succeed!
So, with that in mind, here are five tips to make sure that your first parents’ evening of the year is a success:
1. Preparation is key
In order to make the most of the short interview time, it’s a good idea to get introductions out of the way beforehand. Give parents an insight before parents’ night by sending a letter home at the start of the school year. This letter is an opportunity to introduce yourself, explain a bit about your academic and professional background, give a brief overview of the pedagogical philosophy of your classes, and outline what their child will be learning this year. That way, you’ll have more time in your interviews to go into detail about their child.
It’s a good idea to make notes on what you want to say about each child, so you don’t forget anything on the evening. Parents will appreciate it if you can share a printed copy with them – that way, they can take it home and reread it in their own time.
2. Structure each appointment
At the very start of each meeting, apologise for the fact that you only have ten (or however many) minutes. This helps parents be aware that their time is limited. If you stick to your schedule, you won’t end up running behind and having to deal with impatient parents who need to get home to their children.
Start off with a general overview of their child’s performance in class, taking in both their academic performance and their behaviour. Choosing specific examples beforehand is a good idea to reinforce what you’re saying and show that the overview is based on your observations in class.
Then, move on to areas where their child could develop or improve. Again, this could be academic or behavioural. Use examples if you can, and talk about how you and the parents can work together on your student’s development. Make an action plan, and book in some follow-up communication so you can keep them posted on how it’s working out.
Finally, ask parents for feedback. Take notes on what they say to help you remember, and to show that you value their insights.
3. Go into detail
Obviously, you only have a short window to talk, but parents will be keen to know about their child’s day at school, their learning style, their progress, and how they can support their child’s learning. They’ll also be interested to hear about how their child behaves, socialises and plays with the other students, so while academic performance is important, it’s good to cover social behaviour too. The more detail you can go into, the more parents will get out of your meeting.
However, it’s important not to drop any bombshells about big problems or issues their child is struggling with. If there’s a significant issue, it’s better to address it when it first comes up, before parents’ evening, either at pick-up time or with a phone call for an older student. That way, you can explain how you’re planning to resolve the issue, and report on progress during parents’ evening.
4. Establish a partnership
If you do need to address a difficult issue, for example disruptive behaviour or mental health concerns, this is a good opportunity for a more in-depth conversation to get a fuller picture of what else is going on in your student’s life. For example, maybe a close family member has recently passed away, or your student has a new sibling.
It’s important to approach these conversations delicately, in order to avoid a bad reaction from parents. For example, if a student isn’t completing work, a good approach is to open the discussion of this issue with a question:
“How is Sophie’s concentration at home? What kind of activities does she get really absorbed in?” Then, once you’ve heard what the parents have to say, you can say something like:
“I’ve noticed she struggles to stay focused during maths activities, and often doesn’t complete her work. I wonder if there’s a way for us to work on that together.”
Aim to establish a partnership with the parents so that you can work on overcoming your students’ difficulties together. If you have criticisms of a student’s work or behaviour, try to balance it with praise earlier in your overview so that parents don’t get immediately defensive.
5. Leave time for questions
Even if you have a lot to cover, it’s really important to leave a couple of minutes for questions at the end of your meeting – because parents will definitely have questions, and otherwise you’re bound to run over your interview time.
If a question or issue comes up that you’re not prepared for, don’t panic! You can always tell the parents that you will get back to them on that point later on – just make sure you make a note so you don’t forget.
Equally, you may have questions for them. Perhaps you’ve noticed a tricky behaviour, and you’re wondering if anything has changed at home? Now is your chance to ask for any additional information you need which can give you insight into your student and any issues that they’re having.
If you’re a new teacher, you’ll be able to get lots more useful tips on parents’ evening from your more experienced colleagues – most teachers will be delighted to share their hard-won insights! They might even be able to forewarn you about difficult parents, so you’ll be prepared for a trickier meeting. Read more about finding a teaching mentor.
Parental involvement makes a big difference to students’ academic outcomes, so learn how to boost parental engagement in your school.
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