What is the meaning of parents’ evenings?
But before I respond to the blog, I want to go back to some principles and ask:
‘What are parents evenings actually for?’
From Ainsworth’s blog, and certainly in my experience, the purpose seems to be one of reporting. The time scale suggested in the blog, gives this impression that the teacher tells the parents what’s been taught, how the child has done and (significantly) what the child needs to do improve.
So my question is – what’s the point?
All that could be done – and quite possibly has been done – in a report. Admittedly, one minute is allowed in which parents can ask questions, although how much of an answer they receive in that timeframe is debatable.
So I ask again, what’s the point?
All this reporting and informing can be achieved in other ways. Surely if parents are physically present, it would be better to spend the time in discussion rather than information-giving? Teachers in the UK are highly skilled in conversations-around-learning, so wouldn’t parents’ evening be a good place to utilise those skills?
That brings me to my second point.
Ainsworth says teachers need to manage parents – but what he describes in the blog is actually about managing time. And I agree, that needs to be managed carefully, for everyone involved. So, I’d like to suggest a shift in emphasis.
- What would parents’ evenings be like if they were not about reporting, but rather about learning?
- What if, rather than being focused on the teachers, the event was focused around a partnership between parents and the teachers to support learning?
I said above, that it was significant that the blog mentioned that teachers should highlight what the child should do. Wouldn’t the time would be better spent suggesting how parents and teachers, together, could support learning?
Wouldn’t it be better if parents and teachers could support learning, together?
A perfect world:
In a perfect world, we’d all have a great deal of time to talk to each other, and a lot of schools are changing the traditional parents’ evening to allow that to happen. For schools that are still using the traditional forum however, I’d like to offer some other tips for parents’ evenings to go along with those suggested by Ainsworth.
- Parents’ evenings are often held when everyone involved is tired and hungry. It might be worth ensuring that there is food and drink available for everyone (and it’s certainly worth being aware of anything that might impact on large groups of parents, such as religious holidays and fasts).
- Focus on learning: how can parents support that learning? Be prepared with simple ideas parents can easily implement – because we know that one of the main barriers to engagement is simply time.
- Recognise and acknowledge what parents are already doing to support their children (such as coming into the school at the end of a busy work day, perhaps having to find childcare; dealing with transport issues, and so on). Ask parents ‘what they can tell you about their child?’ and the child’s learning that will help you support the child.
- Treat parents with respect. Do not assume you can use their first names if you insist on being Mr or Miss. Remember, that while the school is a familiar and comfortable place for you, for many parents it’s intimidating and may bring back unhappy memories of their own school days. Therefore …
- Harness and use the skills you use in the classroom when dealing with parents and family members. For instance, making parents feel welcome as you would to make a new student in your class feel welcome. This will be a lot easier if the focus is on learning – see parents’ evenings as a learning event for everyone.
- Before the evening, send home all the information you can so you don’t need to report it on the night.
- Some of the schools I’m working with at the moment, also send home a list of questions parents might like to ask at parents’ evenings to help them prepare for the event. Isn’t that a great idea all schools could utilise?
Parents’ evenings are often rushed, tiring and not overly helpful for everyone involved. Shifting the emphasis from reporting to supporting, could make them much more fruitful, and importantly, actually have an impact on children’s learning. And really, isn’t that the point?
Written by Janet Goodall, EdD.
Janet works as a Lecturer in Educational Leadership and Management and Director of Studies.