Perhaps this rings true for some of you. I’m not sure how you see parents evening or how they work in your school but I’ll do my best to make sure that there is something for everyone.
I firmly believe that strong relationships facilitate greater progress in the classroom. Parents evening offers a unique opportunity to build two relationships. Empathy and enthusiasm are crucial in those few hours.
1) Student – Teacher. Parents evening is one of the few times you will get where you can talk to the child about their progress without their peers being around but with a level of accountability, as their parents heard it.
2) Teacher – Parent. Parents might have heard from their offspring that you are a fire-breathing ogre with a volcanic temperament, liable to go off at the slightest infraction. Conversely, they may have heard that you are a “legend”. Either way, it is an opportunity for the parent to put a face to a name and to have a dialogue about their child’s progress.
Making the most of parents evening:
In my current school students seek you out for appointments and you are encouraged to seek appointments with them. They bring you a flurry of pieces of paper (these diminish as they progress through the years) and you try and pack them all into 3 hours. Other schools do their appointments online and I’ve seen that be quite effective.
Once my appointments are written in then I do three things:
- Locate data and assessment results for classes being taught
- Look at the list of names and note the first few things that come to mind for each student.
- Penny – presentation, homework variable, good effort in class.
- Leonard – speaking good, needs to increase detail and variety in written work.
- Howard – off-task, focus, incident thurs.
- Raj – equipment, off-task, consider seating move?
- Make sure that I have a mug of tea ready.
I have seen a variety of approaches at parents evening. Some teachers ask the student questions “how do you feel you are progressing?” “How do you think Spanish is going this year?” My feedback from students is that they do not enjoy this moment of being put on the spot and are not always certain about what to say. Most students will likely opt for a conservative response irrespective of how they are progressing, as it will minimise fallout if they feel they are not doing so well.
Personally, I prefer the following:
- Know your student. A couple of words about the student shows that you definitely know them. “This is the second year I’ve taught Anakin”. “Teaching Luke in year 7 and now in year 9, it’s great to see how far he has come”. “What has pleased me most about Rey this year is how she has…”
- Data and progress. Talk about how they have performed in assessments or data-drops. Are they where you expect them to be? If not, why not? Was it the assessment or the revision? How can they get there? How can home be involved in helping them?
- What’s next? Explain that there are a couple of things they could do “to really help themselves move forward”. Keep it short, simple and to the most important stuff. If a parent is writing notes then feel free to say more. Consider that if there is a conversation at home afterwards then what do you want them to remember? There may be more, but that parent might have had 7 appointments already.
- Any questions? Leave a minute or two for the parents to ask any questions that they have.
With year 10s and 11s I have taken sheets of useful revision websites for parents to take away. The students may have already been given this sheet but an extra copy at home never hurt!
Less positive appointment:
- Know your student. A couple of words about the student that shows you definitely know them and have caught them being good. Even the very worst students I have taught have not been 100% bad for 100% of every lesson. Key point to consider here: how can you build that relationship? How can you involve home in bringing about a turnaround in fortunes for that student?
- Data and progress. Talk about how they have performed in class. Are they where you expect them to be? If not, why not? How can they get there? How can home be involved in helping them? At this point, the student or parent may suggest something that would help. Make a note of it and then deliver on it. This could be a seating plan change, a resource, a need for greater help, checking understanding prior to starting a task. This shows your intentions to secure the best outcomes for their child. Actions speak loudly.
- Issues. If the issue is behaviour or homework then talk about where things need to improve. Most parents appreciate honesty. If the parent appears supportive then tell them you will give them a ring, or an email, in 2-3 weeks to review how things are going. As you do this, write it in your planner and then do it. Sometimes parents will engage positively with you at this point. Others may choose not to.
- Finish well. Find a way to finish the appointment on a positive note. No kid should feel like they are a lost cause.
- Any questions? The parent may well wish to question you further. Do not be afraid to involve your Head of Department if you need to. Perhaps warn them prior to the appointment if you know of a particular tricky parent. If the parent is taking up undue time then politely suggest that you continue the discussion at a later date, possibly with your Head of Department present.
Take a sheet
In previous years I have brought copies of the following to parents evening:
- Sheet titled “how to help my son/daughter succeed at languages”.
- Sheet titled “effective revision techniques for MFL”.
- Sheet with QR codes for revision websites.
Each one has gone down well with parents. It takes a bit of prep time but you can reuse them most years.
Parents that care will likely read the sheet. Those that do not care will not but I have seen them appear in Spanish books, or have heard that it was stuck to the fridge or useful later down the line.
What do you do when they say….?
- “Why does he/she need languages?”
- “He/she is never going to go to France/Germany/Spain”
- “I was never any good at languages”
- “Why does he/she have to do a language?”
- “Everyone speaks English”
- “You can give it up in year 9 anyway”
If you read my previous blogpost Blogging for Languages without nodding off, then you will have an idea of my answers to these questions. Firstly, I started Spanish at university at the age of 18. Secondly, I never planned to teach languages. Lastly, I never thought I would ever end up in South America. However, all of these things happened. I find this normally works as quite a disarming start to a number of the above statements. After this, I can then talk about the importance of languages, the doors they opens and the benefits for their child. You will need to come up with your answers to these questions and similar ones. If you want some statistics to back up your answers then have a look at the Year 9 Options post or some things I picked up at the ISMLA conference. The main thing is delivering them with empathy and enthusiasm.