Planning a Successful Parents’ Evening: Top Tips for Teachers
In this blog, Eve Hedley, education consultant, experienced senior leader and specialist leader of education, provides a guide to parents’ evening for teachers, explaining how they can engage parents and carers in meaningful and constructive conversations and support pupil progress.
As part of our role as teachers, we have to engage in a range of professional conversations with others every single day. We have to communicate with our pupils/students, colleagues, leadership team, SENCOs and TAs, as well as outside agencies.
Communication is what we do best and is probably a reason why we became teachers in the first place. We deliver clear explanations, impart knowledge, simplify complex concepts, give effective feedback and build positive relationships with those around us. We use our voice to manage behaviour and control situations, as well as to inspire and motivate.
However, for many of us, especially those new to the profession, the thought of holding conversations and giving feedback to parents/carers about their children and young people can feel particularly daunting, especially when we know that some of that feedback might be hard to hear. If this sounds familiar, this is the blog for you!
Firstly, you are not alone in feeling like this, as every teacher at one time in their career has had to face a parents’ evening for the first time, and most of us (if we’re honest) will remember feeling slightly intimidated by it. Secondly, feeling a bit anxious about a parents’ evening means that you care; you see its importance and you want to do a good job! The good news is there are lots of things you can do to ensure the experience is successful, purposeful and even enjoyable.
The benefits of a parents’ evening
A parents’ evening is a great opportunity to give positive feedback to parents/carers about their child and to give them an insight into their child’s life in school. Parents/carers ultimately want to know that their child is safe, happy and learning, and this is the opportunity to reassure them and to feedback what their child does well. There are always positives! This is your chance to show parents how much you value teaching their child. Watching parents light up with pride for their child is such a rewarding part of our job.
Some schools allow pupils to accompany their parents/carers, so pupils get to hear the positive praise you are communicating. This can really boost pupils’ motivation and sense of pride which means they will continue to strive harder in class. Parents’ evening will also allow you to get to know your pupils even better, as you often find out things you might not have known.
Parents are often keen to tell you what their child is like at home or what their outside interests are, and this can really help you to build positive relationships with your pupils in class.
Obviously, one of the main purposes of parents’ evening is to feedback on pupils’ progress and what they are learning about. Make this conversation effective and purposeful by thinking about the key messages for each child. This is your opportunity to communicate what could be improved on.
Use this conversation to get parents onside and to get their support with their child’s learning or behaviour targets. You can even make suggestions about how they can support their child. Most parents/carers will receive constructive advice well if framed in a conversation which shows that, like them, you want the best for their child. (More about that later.)
How to prepare for parents’ evening
- Observe experienced colleagues conducting a parents’ evening in advance. As you observe and listen, take notes on things like:
- how they start the conversation
- the language they use
- the questions they ask, and how they respond to questions from parents/carers
- how they bring the conversation to an end - remember you will only have ten minutes per conversation
Not only will you learn some top tips from the experienced practitioner, but you will also get a feel for the types of things parents ask, and the fact that most of them are wonderfully supportive and appreciative.
- Know your pupils and students! Go through your class list/s in advance of the day. Visualise every child as you read their names. This is especially important for teachers who have multiple classes and many pupils to remember. Pay particular attention to those who don’t demand a lot of attention in class; you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you can’t put a face to the name.
- It’s a good idea to have a five-minute interview with each pupil/student in advance of parents’ evening to find out how they are doing and feeling. Do they enjoy your lessons? What do they find easy? What do they find difficult? What would help them improve? Any issues? This might be helpful as feedback to parents as well as helpful to you.
- Go armed with short notes about each pupil. Your conversations need to focus on pupil wellbeing and progress, as well as their attitude to learning. Think carefully about how you will give difficult messages in a kind way.
- You may want to take pupils’ or students’ books/work along so that parents can see what their child has been producing. This can help when you are praising an individual for excellent work, or perhaps when you need to indicate what their targets for improvement are.
Practical tips for the evening itself
- Look the part. You are the public face of the school on parents’ evening, so it’s a good idea to represent it as professionally as possible. Wearing a suit can also make you feel more confident and self-assured.
- Arrive ahead of time. Rushing into the hall to find a queue of parents does not give the best impression, so aim to dismiss pupils/students swiftly that day so you arrive before parents.
- Bring a drink and ensure you have eaten.
- Ensure you have a name sign on your desk so you can be found. (This is usually organised by the support team.) You will need at least two chairs but be aware that some parents bring other family members and the pupils/students themselves. (Don’t be afraid to send the pupil away to sit in the waiting area if you wish to address the parents in private, though.)
- Bring your list of appointments, notes and data as well as paper and a pen to note down actions resulting from your conversations.
- Keep an eye on the time.
Dos and Don’ts of an effective conversation
- Do stand to greet the parents/carers. Shake hands, smile and thank them for coming, then invite them to sit down. They may be nervous too, so make small talk about things such as the weather or if they managed to find you ok. Help them relax. Make sure you have the right parents in front of you in case someone has not shown up. Most parents/carers offer the name of their child in the first instance.
- Do take a moment to read your notes and look at the pupil’s data before you start talking.
- Do start with a question, eg: “Are you happy with what you’ve heard so far this evening about Sophie’s progress?” “How do you feel the first term is going?”
- Do start with a positive and a strength, even if the pupil is not making the progress they could: “His attendance is excellent, uniform impeccable and he is always on time.” “She wants to achieve and is keen to learn.” This part of the meeting is key, as it is here you show the parent that you care and want the best for their child. Parents will accept more constructive advice more readily if they know you are on their side.
- Do describe succinctly what the pupil has covered in terms of content, but focus more on their progress. Use words like “steady progress”, “good progress”, “very good progress”, “excellent progress”. Give examples of what they have done well. Identify strengths where you can.
- Do describe what they need to do in terms of improvement, and that includes attitude to learning and things they need to work on more. Be specific! For example: “If he is going to achieve a grade 7, he needs to use a range of different tenses in his written and spoken work. He needs to do some independent learning on verb formation in French so that it sticks.” “She always starts off the lesson being really interested, but she has difficulty maintaining focus. We have started using a sand timer and a checklist to help her concentrate. It would be good if she used these at home too, when doing homework.”
- Do take time to listen to parents/carers and their concerns. This is a two-way conversation. Make notes of actions to take forward. This will mean they see you are taking their comments on board.
- Do be truthful. Do be kind.
- Don’t be overly negative or use negative language, eg: “lazy”, “apathetic”, “rude” or “weak”.
- Don’t be excessively positive unless it’s true.
- Don’t comment on things that can’t be changed, such as a child’s personality. What is the point of telling a parent that their child is “quiet” or “talkative”? Being quiet doesn’t mean you aren’t learning and being talkative doesn’t either.
- Don’t be vague. Avoid, for example: “They need to work harder.”, “They need to add more detail.”, “They need to keep going.” Rather, be specific about actions which can help the pupil/student progress: “They need to be spending and hour each night using the revision techniques we have been using in class.”
- Don’t be afraid to get support if you need it. You can refer parents/carers to other colleagues if you need their expertise. SLT and heads of year will be present.
Dealing with negative feedback or bigger issues
It’s worth remembering that the majority of parents/carers are enormously grateful to teachers and often admire us for the job we are doing. Parents/carers will often feed this back and thank us for our support, which makes parents’ evening a really enjoyable and affirming experience.
On occasion, parents may use parents’ evening as a forum to voice their concerns. This is fine, but if a situation or concern is serious or complicated and can’t be resolved during this 10-minute meeting, don’t be frightened to communicate this.
- Firstly, listen carefully to the parents’ or carers’ concerns. Give eye contact and nod. Make notes so the parent/carer knows you’re taking their concerns on board.
- Express your concern: “I am sorry to hear that.”
- Ask what the parent would like to happen to resolve the situation (whilst not promising that you will follow their suggestions). If you can deal with their concerns in this meeting by suggesting some actions you could take, then do so. For example: “Ok, let’s try moving her to a different seat, so they are sitting apart. That just might resolve the problem.” However, if the issue is greater than that, explain that tonight’s meeting is only a ten-minute slot for feedback on their child’s progress, so an additional meeting will need to be booked which might involve other colleagues, such as the head of year.
- Try to get the meeting back on track by updating them about their child’s progress and wellbeing in school.
You may come up against some tricky questions. However, if you plan and prepare well, you can anticipate them and be ready with an answer. Remember, being tactful and diplomatic is key, whilst remaining honest and truthful.
Top tips for dealing with difficult questions
- Anticipate the difficult questions that could come up and plan your responses to them.
- Seek advice from experienced staff about experiences they’ve had, and how they would answer tricky questions.
- Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to a question. Simply make a note of it and promise to get back to them with an answer.
- If a parent/carer asks directly about how their child or young person is performing in relation to the rest of the class or year group, you need to be truthful but tactful. You could refer to age-related expectations too. If a child is below expectations, you can still communicate this in a positive way. For example: “ They are not quite where they need to be, but I am confident with the support we have in place, they will continue to make progress.”
After parents’ evening
Reflect on the evening and dwell on the highlights first. There will definitely be some. Think about what you handled well, and embrace the areas you are going to work on further. Seek advice from others and share your experiences with your colleagues on what went well, what was tough and what you learnt.
Remember to follow up on those actions you promised you’d do, so parents know you are true to your word.
Finally, give yourself a pat on the back and an evening off as a reward.
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