That time is here again! Here are ten suggestions to keep parent-teacher conferences smooth, calm, informative and positive.
A month before:
1. Schedule your evening with booked breaks: If you don’t have an automated booking system, be organised with a list of times, fill it in with a pencil once your reply slips come back and, critically, be ruthless about booking yourself breaks every 1.5 hours: they will help you think.
A fortnight before:
2. Like when report writing, you’ll need to prepare comments about the student as a whole so carry out an ‘All about me’ activity with your students. This needs to only be a small sheet of paper asking their hobbies in and out of school, asking their friendship circles and the rather revealing: ‘what I think you’ll tell my parents about me’. You may know your students really well, but this helps when you’ve got a lot to tackle. These notes will help you write reports later too.
A week before:
3. Catch at the gate or telephone the parents who have not booked a slot. Face to face is highly valuable, especially for vulnerable students, so offer what you can to make them comfortable – coming in another night if necessary.
4. Prepare your notes now! You will be grateful not to have to recall the history of every student on the night. Create an A5 prompt grid per student detailing the key indicators you need to direct the parent conversation. Your conversation starter boxes might be: community (friendships, settling in and contributions), attainment levels/age related expectations, spellings scores, times table scores, homework habits and next key target per subject. If you do the whole cohort’s on one long Word document on your PC you can paste similar targets between students where appropriate.
On the night:
5. Print your notes document. Arrange the notes and the students’ books/papers in order of appointments.
6. Don’t use parents evening for reporting back when students are not on track – you should have done that long ago. No parent should get a surprise on parents evening. On the night, refer to a success then share the next subject target/next step and how you and the parent can collaborate to support that learner. Use the meeting for forward thinking – what potential challenges are coming up?
7. Parents look to you as the pedagogy expert so don’t be afraid to give some solid coaching strategies. Is no one listening to that child read at home? It’s absolutely within your remit to authoritatively advise them on the impact of it.
8. Time keep: you’re leading this meeting. To remain firmly on time, you need to minimise stray questions and story telling that some parents do enjoy, so use body language. Stand up and offer a hand to shake when you’ve both finished the meeting as structured on your prompt grid.
9. Hand parents a feedback slip for their child and invite them to stay for a few minutes to read their child’s work and write a message to leave behind. You might print of a pile of slips that start: “I am impressed with your…”. Having their parents’ validation and feeling pride is a priceless motive for the learner. Be ready with a few spares from the head or yourself.
10. Community back-up: it may sound terrifying but consider hosting parents evening in a hall so your Head, Deputy or department head are on call.
And as an extra one: Why not synchronise all the teachers’ 20 minute booked breaks and all bring in an item for a shared buffet dinner in the staffroom? You will undoubtedly already have some good feedback to share.
Preparation is key, and the important thing is to remember your ideal outcome. Perhaps that is to fill every parent with a positive feeling about how you view their child, or to open a door to collaborate triangulated support for that student to get the very best out of their learning time.
What other great strategies have you discovered to make parents evening fly?
About the author
Katie Newell BA(Hons) PGCE is an ex-primary school teacher, Head of Maths, Head of Year five and languages specialist. Katie qualified in Psychology at Liverpool then specialised in Primary Languages for her PGCE at Reading. Before teaching, Katie was a financial commentator and is now the Content Manager for eteach.com and fejobs.com. Katie feels passionately that teachers are the unsung heroes of society; that opening minds to creative timetabling could revolutionise keeping women in teaching, and that a total change to pupil feedback is the key to solving the work life balance issue for the best job in the world.