Admit it - how many of you actually find Parents’ evenings constructive? Four and a half hours of rapid-fire, five-minute chats with parents are never enough for them and exhausting for us. Furthermore, the ‘speed-dating’ effect of these evenings means that by the twelfth meeting of the night, it is hard not to become repetitive, and increasingly difficult to formulate worthwhile thoughts about each child as an individual
Trust me, parents’ find these evenings even more frustrating. What can start out as a carefully planned series of meetings soon descend into chaos as meetings overrun and the evening becomes a series of cups of tea while you hover, ready to swoop on the unfortunate teacher the moment they are free.
If we are honest, parents’ evenings are broken. Waiting hours for brief conversations is not a constructive use of anyone's time and is ill-suited to communicating an entire academic year and the future ahead. Giving parents and teachers a time to communicate is paramount, but what if we could do better? What if we could look at not only how we go about managing them, but also what we use them for?
Many schools turned to online parents' evenings this year, as they look for ways to engage parents whilst they cannot physically be in school. The good news is that these schools, and parents, have discovered that this can actually be a positive development. Technology has made the booking of available slots much easier for everyone involved, whilst the option of attending the meeting remotely has meant that parents are more likely to attend as it doesn’t require them to lose an entire evening in a draughty school hall.
The unexpected benefits of virtual parents’ evenings
The evenings themselves tend to run more smoothly as each meeting is forced to keep to time. With the length of each appointment controlled by the platform the school is using, conversations have to be to the point and cannot drag over into the next meeting. “Computer says no” is far more compelling than a teacher desperately trying to bring the meeting to a close whilst the family in front of them are determined to continue.
The other effect of running meetings in this way, is that schools have had to consider what the meeting is actually for. Historically, conversations at parents’ evenings centred on students’ classroom performance and progress, before moving on to goals and targets for the rest of the year. However, the first part here is merely about providing historic information. Education is an interaction between the different parties involved: teachers, students and parents, and as such the human element of this process is an essential one. Unfortunately, the real benefits of these face-to-face discussions can all too easily get lost while we talk about homework and results.
With meetings forced to be shorter, schools are providing this information to parents before the meeting even begins, often in the form of continuous reporting. This helps to ensure that their questions are more pertinent and potentially fewer in number. Parents don't need teachers to read grades to them - that much can be communicated continuously through the year. What they need is advice on the actions to take following those grades.
Looking forward and making a change
Of course you can’t change parents’ evening overnight. If you are going to engage parents in this way then they will need to be 'educated'. They need to understand that the movement of grades up and down is a normal part of student progress - in other words, that they don't need to contact the school every time there is a change in weekly grades. Many teachers have already discovered that Flipped Learning allows them to spend time more effectively with students, and there is no reason why the same strategy should not work with parents as well.
Once teachers, parents and pupils are used to the idea of continuous feedback, parents’ evening can become a forum through which to discuss how to improve a child’s learning, rather than a snatched conversation in which to cram a whole term’s worth of feedback.
Parents’ evenings have had to change in recent months, and schools have had to embrace a new way of connecting with their parents. However, teachers, students and parents have discovered that technology is allowing them to redefine what these evenings are for and how they might use them more effectively. We have an opportunity to ‘mend’ parents’ evening making it a less painful and more productive process for everyone involved - it is one that we should grasp with both hands.
Looking for ideas on how to manage virtual parents' evenings effectively?
Wellingborough school recently shared their experiences and top tips in our webinar - watch the recording here. You can also read our short guide which includes checklists to share with administrators, teachers and parents.