Whether the idea of parents’ evening fills you with dread, or doesn’t faze you at all, some degree of preparation can be beneficial to make the most of this opportunity. Here at TutorsPlus, our Client Manager and mum of 3, Olivia, knows a thing or 2 about these events. In this article, she offers her top tips on how to make your next parent / teacher meeting a success!
Olivia points out that “Children can be uncommunicative about their life at the best of times and few jump at the chance to talk about school with their parents. This can be frustrating, so parents evenings can be a crucial moment to get a clear view of their academic performance.”
“Time is short and so a little bit of preparation will go a long way towards making sure you get the most out of it for your child.”
Ahead of time, try to take a moment to think about how school is going for your child. Ask them how they feel and what they would like you to ask. Ideally, go through exercise books and look at teachers comments to get a sense of any changes in your child’s progress. Don’t be afraid to jot down questions and take them along with you.
If you have notes from the last parents’ meeting or the last set of school reports to hand, this will help you ask targeted questions about your child’s learning and monitor developments since the last time you talked with the teachers.
Let the teacher lead
With your detailed preparation done, don’t be tempted to set the agenda. You are there to hear how your child is doing, and the best way to do this is by listening. If your enthusiasm gets the better of you, there is a risk that you will go off-track and miss vital information the teacher wants to share. Listening first also sends the signal that you trust the teacher to do their job and have respect for their professional abilities. This will get your relationship off on the right footing and it is likely they will answer many of the questions you have in mind.
Keep up a united front
If you feel that you don’t quite connect with your child’s teacher, or even disagree completely with some of their points, keep in mind that teachers have good intentions at heart. The chances are they are trying their best to help your child even when you disagree with their approach. It can really help to avoid conflict if everyone keeps in mind that parents and teachers are on the same side. It will also help you both move towards a common goal together, even if you find you have different ideas about how to get there. Evidence shows that the is a link between strong parent/teacher relationships and positive educational outcomes for children.
It can also help to talk to your partner before the evening so you are both on the same page – this will also save valuable time on the evening. We know that with work, travel and other commitments it may hard for you both to attend. If this is the case then perhaps technology can give you a helping hand? You can ask to record the meeting on your phone and take pictures of your child’s work. You can also try calling in your partner to the meeting, so they don’t miss out.
Stay professional and polite even if the red mist descends
Even if the meeting runs smoothly, there will possibly be moments when you feel the teacher is not on your side. This is natural: we are parents and it is our job to protect our children and to stick up for them. However, we also want to find out how our children can get more out of their education and this will mean the ability to remain calm when our children are being criticised, even when that criticism is constructive (as it always should be). Let’s face it, few teachers are given training on how to give feedback to parents and may not deliver it in the most palatable way.
A few tactical deep breaths are better than letting emotions fly. Sandra Steiger, Academic Support Manager at TutorsPlus and veteran international school teacher advises
“our children are likely to be at the school for many years, perhaps even a decade, so try to be aware that letting emotions take control could make life difficult for you and your children for a long time.”
Use parents’ evening as the start of a conversation with your child’s teachers
Most of us feel harried and stressed 5 minutes into parents’ evening (and some meetings only last a few minutes).
It is often a rush to get there on time and the length of appointments can seem impossibly short. As your blood pressure rises you try to see everyone you are meant to meet, keeping up a friendly approach. Our advice is, be friendly but keep small talk short so you can get straight to the important topics. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if there is anything you don’t understand. Often teachers use a lot of jargon and there may be acronyms you don’t recognise. In particular, if you didn’t grow up in the same education system.
Think about those teachers with whom you actually want to start a dialogue and those who you simply want to listen to. Then you can use the little time you have to start a discussion and identify with the teacher how you will continue your communication e.g. via email, a follow-up meeting or a scheduled phone call.
Olivia advises that “parents’ evening is not the best moment to bring a big issue to the table that will require time to work through”. With that said, giving teachers some background into your family life can be very helpful. In fact, it will help teachers get a more rounded picture of your child. For example, illness, mental health challenges and other difficulties will affect learning and behaviour. Often, by sharing this, teachers can provide the support your child needs.
Don’t forget the follow-up
If your child hasn’t attended the meeting, it is always a good idea to discuss the main themes as well as any goals set with the teachers. Then your child is up to speed and will know what the teachers are looking for.
If you think of an essential question as you are leaving, do follow up with the teacher.
If you feel you could benefit from some support with your child’s education, please do get in touch with us at TutorsPlus. We can recommend one of our highly experienced teachers, or you can chat with one of our education experts.
By Olivia Coghlan
Olivia has been a client manager for TutorsPlus for over 6 years and is an expert on education in Switzerland.