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Redesigning parent-teacher evenings

In spring 2016, we joined in with The Teachers Guild and the RSA in a collaborative project to come together and reimagine better parent-teacher evenings.  Educators from over 19 countries took part and 184 people made contributions.

We offered the parent voice to the collaboration - inviting parents to take a simple survey on your thoughts about parent-teacher evenings and feeding that information in.  This is what you told us…

5 things you told us about parents' evenings 

What was your best and your worst parent-teacher interaction?

 

Favourite - 5 key themes

Worst - 5 key themes

Relaxed meetings"I was invited one morning by a Yr3 teacher into classroom to have a 'quick chat'.  We covered more in that brief 10 minutes than in any parents evening so far!"

Whether they're quick chats before lessons start, or impromptu chats at social event, meeting away from parents evening take away the time pressure - a great potential benefit of being involved with your child's school.  

You also praised classroom based demonstrations of work, available to view at your own pace.

Unprepared teachers: "Teacher wasn't organised - When the teacher answered "I'd need to check about that," to nearly every question I posed."

"A supply teacher who didn't know my child."

One parent described a teacher taking a photo of another parent's child from their file after mistaking which parents were there. They talked about the wrong child for five minutes before the mistaken identity was cleared up.

Information specific to my child:  You were keen to know exactly how your child was doing, and loved hearing details about them.

"One of my daughter's teachers obviously knew my child and was proud of her achievements and development." "A teacher praised my child for his determination and enthusiasm".

You also appreciated it when teachers described the child you knew, when they spoke directly to them, and being given time to ask questions about what you'd heard.

Generic responses: "I didn't feel the teacher actually knew who my son was." "Teacher saying, 'I have nothing really to say as everything seems fine'." "Teacher not realising that my child had been absent from class the day before when I asked if he had missed anything important. Reading from a list of results with no explanation."

It's important to ask teachers for detail if you don't feel they're giving enough - but be prepare to admit that sometimes there just isn't much more to add to "they're doing fine."  Giving constructive feedback about parents' evenings can help teachers improve their approach, and it can be worth arranging a separate follow up meeting at a less busy time if you have serious concerns.

Appropriate setting:  You liked being treated as an adult.

Comments about good experiences included:

"Sitting at adult sizes tables with my child's work in front of us." "Talking though relevant points to her as an individual as opposed to a score/level on a sheet." "At a 121 focused on a specific issue. The teacher listened and brought solutions to the table."

Feeling condescended to:  "Being told off, homework book thrust at me, asking if I knew what my 9 year old had written."  "Sitting in a tiny chair, faced with a teacher who had absolutely nothing to say about my child apart from 'she's doing fine'."

It's understandable that teachers have to use what's at hand in the classroom - but it's hard to feel dignified when sitting on a tiny chair. It's uncomfortable physically - and if you didn't have a good school experience yourself - emotionally too.  We got a LOT of comments about chairs. Teaching staff: take note! .

Supporting parents to help their children at home.

This was a very common theme. Comments praising this included: 

"Sharing of lesson material to use at home." "Teacher proposed strategies for helping my daughter's progress and ways we can support this." "Being told constructive ways of helping my children to succeed." 

Distrust between teacher/parents: "Kept asking teacher questions about progress as [answers] were not forthcoming." "My child’s teacher did not give me eye contact and then cut me off saying they were looking for someone, apologised half-heartedly and left." "When a teacher gets defensive if you are trying to clarify something."

Parents understand that teachers face challenges, and the vast majority want to help to do the best for their child.  An honest exchange at parents evening, with both sides respecting the other, should be the ideal opportunity to break down barriers between home and school. 

Opportunites to meet informally:

Being involved with your children's school gives lots of opportunites for more natural meeting, which many of you found more valuable than the parents' evening itself.

You listed:

"Meeting at social events." "A quick chat in playground after pick up." "Chatting in class while doing an activity." "Joining in on a school cleaning day." "Working on stalls together at fetes and fairs."

Being rushed:  Many parents thought that parent-teacher meetings were too rushed - especially those who also felt they were important.  "One that was rushed, levels thrust at us and just told everything was OK." "Waiting ages to see a teacher then only being there for five minutes."  Others felt that meetings could be better organised.

Parents don't like being hurried, or feeling like they are only commanding half of the teacher's attention. Making every parent feel that their child is important, and addressing the points the parent has are key. But parents for their part need to appreciate the limits on the teacher's time, and go in prepared to make the best use of their meeting - the tips above can help with this.

What three words would you use to describe parent evenings?

“The insights of Parentkind members were an important part of this collaboration. They provided us a detailed understanding of the parent perspective and brought to the surface themes, ideas and emotions that were not explored elsewhere. Many of the solutions that have emerged from the collaboration have drawn directly on these insights in their design” 
Thomas Gilliford, RSA.

Ideas

The final favourites voted for by the contributors and mentors in the programme often reflected your concerns around the need for more informal meetings, trust building, equal relationships, relaxed setting – bigger chairs!!! Now the teachers who took part are working to look at how they can implement these and scale some up to a wider audience.

Take a look at some of the ideas here. You may recognise the work that your PTA already does to encourage good parent/teacher relationships in some of these!

Student Led Icebreaker Quiz: How Well Do You Know Us? (UK) 
Students often feel 'subjected' to events such as Parent Teacher Conferences. This fun icebreaker aims to turn the experience on its head. Try the icebreaker out for yourself and feedback your views.

Tapas and talk - a time for sharing (Australia)
Small group tapas discussions with parents and students. Almost like dinner for 8 but with focused conversations co-created via the menu.

Guideposts to Success (USA) 
Promote opportunities for parents & teachers to communicate informally prior to & after conferences to make more meaningful partnerships.

Multiple Moments of Meeting (UAE) 
Instead of focusing on 'an' evening, we want to create Multiple Moments to include all styles throughout the year.

Goodbye report card, hello Learning Infographic (USA)
Let's leverage the power of images and purposeful graphics to capture AND inspire a conversation on learning rather than a talk about grades.

Student-Led Instead of Parent-Teacher Dread (USA) 
Students should have the opportunity to have a say so in their learning and discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and career goals!

Learning journey (Australia)
Students share how their thinking has changed, their roadblocks, and the journey of their learning.

 
Reviewed: February 2018

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