Over the course of the last two years, schools have had to look for new ways to work with parents whilst they could not physically be in school. Many schools, and parents, have discovered the benefits of online parents’ evenings, with technology simplifying the process of booking and managing time slots much easier for everyone involved. Furthermore, the option of attending the meeting remotely has meant that parents are more likely to attend as it doesn’t require them to waste an entire evening in a draughty school hall.
The benefits of virtual parents’ evenings
To start with, 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 conversations themselves have also tended to become much more focused in their nature. Historically, the discussion at parents’ evenings centered 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 and can all too often take up the bulk of time, when it is the second part that is actually the most important. With conversations forced to be shorter, schools are providing information to parents before the meeting 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.
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.
Looking forward and making a change
Of course you can’t change parents’ evenings 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.
Parents’ evenings changed dramatically for many schools over the course of the pandemic, with schools embracing a new way of connecting with their wider community. Technology is allowing us to focus on the purpose of parents’ evenings, and look at how we might use them more effectively. They have 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.
We have an opportunity to change parents’ evenings for the better, making them a less frustrating and more productive process for everyone involved, and it is one that we should grasp with both hands.
Looking for ideas on how to manage virtual parents' evenings effectively?
Wellingborough school 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.