Your first parents’ evening.
An evening that you might not be looking forward to. All thirty parents have signed up to discuss their child’s progress.
You, however, would rather undergo a wisdom tooth extraction.
You’ve heard that one of the mothers complains (loudly) about her concerns, whereas another won’t let you get a word in edgeways.
They eat NQTs like you for breakfast.
But what if a parents’ evening could be a positive affair?
What if you came out of it feeling that the conversations were productive and, dare I say it, with a smile on your face?
It is possible and I am going to share with you my top tips for a successful experience.
What’s it really like?
My first parents’ evening took place in my Year 1 classroom.
We sat around a child-sized desk, on child-sized chairs, pretending we were comfortable.
I felt utterly daunted.
But most of the parents were lovely. Most of the parents were positive. Most of the parents were happy about their child’s progress.
Apart from one.
He worked in a school and his daughter’s reading was far better than I assessed it to be. The book band she was on was far too easy for her.
I was mortified…as well as a little flustered.
He wanted someone ‘more senior’ to have a look at her reading. Someone with the ‘necessary expertise’.
Wow, that stung! And it has stuck with me to this day.
But the funny thing?
It must have stuck with him too because I had his daughter again in Year 6 and at the last parents’ evening, he apologised for what he’d said all those years ago and told me what a positive influence I had been for his daughter.
I, of course, graciously accepted his apology and pretended as though it wasn’t a problem at all!
I’ll be honest with you, during my thirteen years of teaching, I have only ever had two difficult parents during a consultation.
One in my first year and one in my last!
However, I certainly managed the last one better than I did the first one, but that comes from experience.
But two parents in thirteen years?
Let’s look at this statistically. You ready? Hold tight…
Each year let’s say I’ve had 30 parents for the children in my class. That’s 30 conversations each evening.
Two parents’ evenings per year makes 60 conversations.
60 conversations x 13 years = 780 conversations.
2 out of the 780 have been negative, so that makes 0.25% of the conversations a less than positive experience.
See? Statistically, you’ll be fine… Put your feet up, grab a glass of vino and relax.
But hang on! There are those 0.25% to consider. Let’s think about how to manage those consultations, shall we?
10 Ways to Successfully Manage your First Parents’ Evening
Preparation is key. Go through your class list and make a few notes about each child, remembering anything pertinent to discuss with parents.
Refer to things that are individual to that child, e.g. if they like Batman and have told you about them hundreds of times, make sure you mention it.
It shows that you know their child and this means a lot to any parent.
Apprehension may be written all over your face.
You don’t mean to scowl, but the nerves are getting the better of you.
Shake hands, make eye contact and smile at each parent at the start of every meeting.
If it’s the first time they’ve met you, introduce yourself and say how nice it is to meet them.
Most parents will know what to expect at a parents’ evening, but there is no harm in running through what you’ll be discussing in the ten or so minutes you have with them.
Reassure them that it is fine for them to ask questions at any point, especially anything that isn’t quite clear.
4. Ask for their opinion
Start the parent consultation by asking the parents how they feel their child is getting on at school.
If it is the October/November parents’ evening, ask if they feel that their child has settled in well.
Give your take on this too and respond to their comments, even if it’s just a reassuring nod.
5. Have ‘props’
Have the children’s books to emphasise any points you want to make – both positive and negative. Put post-it notes in relevant pages to make them easy to find.
Have something with you that the parent will be proud of or pleased to see.
These small touches mean a lot.
6. Use the sandwich technique
You may have heard of this strategy before.
Start your feedback to parents with a few positive points, then ‘sandwich‘ in any areas for improvement’. Finish off with another positive.
This makes things sound less negative for them.
They are going to remember the areas for development the most, particularly if it is behaviour-related, so finishing with a positive should take the sting out of it.
7. Be aware of time
Keep an eye on your watch/clock. You’ll only have time to discuss the core subjects and the child’s general participation. Don’t worry about fitting absolutely everything in.
8. Don’t use jargon
It’s very easy for teachers to use terminology that sounds like a foreign language to parents.
If you use any ‘teacher phrases’, explain them so that parents don’t feel bewildered.
9. Finish how you started…
…with a smile and a shake of the hand.
You want them to remember you as friendly, professional and open to discussion.
Your body language is key here.
Give them anything that is needed (e.g. their child’s targets) and discuss how they can support their child at home too.
10. Offer your time
Remind parents that your door is ‘always open‘.
They need to know that they can make an appointment to see you at any time, should they have anything they wish to discuss.
The ‘What-ifs’ of Parents’ Evening
No matter how prepared you feel or how much you’ve planned the structure of your parent consultations, a few surprises can come your way.
What if… you get ‘The Angry Parent’?
This is the parent that all teachers are worried about.
If a parent shouts or vents their anger at you, you’ll feel as though you’re not doing your job well enough and that the whole room has its eyes on you.
In my 12 years of teaching, I never had someone shout or become volatile during parents’ evening. The two more negative experiences weren’t done in an aggressive way.
This isn’t to say it won’t happen to you, but it isn’t very likely. If a parent wants to air a grievance, they’ll do it well before parents’ evening.
However, if you do feel as though a situation is getting heated, you need to keep a cool head.
- Reassure the parent that you are keen to fix whatever the problem is.
- Apologise about how the situation has made them feel.
- Suggest that you investigate things further and get back to them. This will give you breathing space.
- If you know you’ve cocked up, apologise for it there and then and move on.
- If appropriate (and it is a serious claim, e.g. bullying) make notes about the situation.
- LISTEN – this is a big one. Let the parent air their concerns without interruption.They will feel listened to and reassured that you’re going to do something about it.
- If voices start to rise in volume, suggest they come and see you when there is more time to discuss the situation. This will take longer than a 10 minute slot.
Say things such as, ‘I know this is upsetting for you, but we need to keep our voices at a respectable volume.’
Remain calm and professional, even if you want to cry or answer back.
- If necessary, request that you get a senior leader to continue the conversation with them in another room.
Don’t struggle on by yourself – ask for help when it is needed.
What if… they are not happy with progress?
Some parents are keen for their child to be as academically successful as is humanly possible.
Don’t get me wrong, all parents want their children to do well, some are just keener to get their views across.
- Listen to them – give them a chance to properly voice their concerns – don’t cut them off and say, ‘well, we already do that.’
- The work their child receives should be appropriately differentiated and matched to their level/ability, so let the parents know that.
- If the child is ‘bright’, show examples of how you’re challenging them and providing them with work to continue their progress.
- Suggest other activities that the parents could do with them at home – are there any websites that the child could access alongside their parents? Any books you could recommend they read?
- Offer to speak to the subject leader for further ideas on supporting their child.
- If there is a possibility of SEND, this shouldn’t be the first the parents are hearing about it. Arrange a separate meeting with the school SENCO or ask that they attend parents’ evening to support you.
What if… their child’s behaviour is poor?
You’re going to have to be honest.
But I am going to have to be brutally honest with you too.
This shouldn’t be the first time they are hearing about this. Call a meeting with parents as soon as behaviour becomes an issue.
But do give them an update on parents’ evening and ensure it is a combination of things.
Find something, anything, that the child has improved on behaviour wise. Don’t let it all be negative as this is really difficult for a parent to hear.
Talk about strategies that you’re trying. Ask how behaviour is at home and what they’re noticing or trying themselves.
Discuss any behaviour targets that may be appropriate and arrange a follow up meeting for a few weeks time, if necessary.
What if…the parents don’t turn up?
Some parents don’t attend parents’ evening. They don’t like coming into the school and they avoid discussions with teachers at all costs.
Sometimes this is down to their own experience of school and the feelings that they associate with it.
You need to do everything in your power to engage these parents.
Start things off informally at pick up time – go out and chat with them. Pass on information about their child, e.g. ‘they have worked really hard today’ or ‘they told me that they had fun doing such-and-such at the weekend.’
They still might not come to parents evening, but it could be a possible way in.
If they don’t attend, don’t make a negative comment-remember the behaviour we see is only the tip of the iceberg. Ask them if it is possible to see them one day after school.
No luck with that? Ask them if you can phone them or, as a last resort, email them with an update.
Read the signals; if they are becoming stressed or uneasy with your approach, back off for a bit.
However, don’t just ‘give up’ and put them down to being ‘that family.’
You never know, you might be the positive reason that the parents come into the school more often. The personal touch really works well here.
What if…the parents have English as an additional language?
Often, parents with EAL are not as confident about coming in and speaking with the class teacher
Ask your EAL coordinator if there are any parents who might benefit from an interpreter. Most local authorities have access to EAL support and interpreters, and this could make all the difference.
The family might make their own arrangements and bring another family member to interpret for them.
Don’t just talk to the interpreter – make eye contact with parents too!
You’ll be shocked to know that parents are often more nervous about seeing you.
When I was an NQT, I had a parent confess that she was really worried about coming to see me!
Me, a 23 year old NQT was ‘scary’ to a woman who was 10 years older than me and a police officer!
But your greatest asset needs to be your listening skills.
Don’t talk at them, sounding like an express train that is slowly running out of steam. Make it a two-way conversation that involves their opinions and views.
Always reinforce that their child will progress much more effectively if school and home work as a team.
If the parents do support their child at home, thank them for it! It is tough fitting homework in for most families, so they will gratefully receive any extra support.
Now go out there and take parents’ evening in your stride. You may even enjoy it!
Have you got any tips for surviving parents’ evening? Share them in the comments box below.