Are parents evenings anachronistic?
Perhaps this is a question we’re not supposed to ask, but what exactly is the point of parents’ evenings in this day and age? Traditionally, the purpose was for the teacher to tell the parents how their child was doing. That was pretty pointless too, because the parents’ evening always came after the reports had been sent home. So all the teacher would do was repeat what had already been said in the report.
These days, you can keep parents updated on a minute by minute basis if you want to and if you have the right software (such as Emerge). If that’s felt to be too much, you can send an email or a text message when appropriate.
There are, of course, other reasons for parents’ evenings. Importantly, they enable the parent and teacher to see each other face to face and so, to some extent, get each other’s measure. I found, for example, that parents usually responded well if I was perfectly honest with them, even to the point of bluntness. A pupil who takes no notice of a teacher’s demands that he work harder can become surprisingly prolific when threatened with being grounded for a week.
We are also in the era of savvy parents who know how to work systems, and how systems work. They know how to get the most out of the health service, and who to complain to at their local supermarket — and they may come to parents’s evenings armed with all sorts of questions, like . Those are good questions. Could you answer them? Are you able to have a real, knowledgeable and even enjoyable conversation with parents?
If the traditional sort of parents’ evening is no longer strictly necessary from a pragmatic point of view, it can be used to engage parents with the life of the school.
For example, if the arrangement is that you see parents in your classroom rather than a hall, why not arrange for some pupils to give parents a guided tour of the wall display, or have a presentation running about what your subject is all about?
Even if you have to see parents in a large hall, making those suggestions difficult or impossible to implement, you can still take the opportunity to get parents interested in the context in which their child is working.
For example, you might give them a flier outlining what goes on in your subject or your classroom, or have a tablet handy not only for looking up their child’s data but also for showing them the photos from your class’s last school trip.
Of course, if you have only a few minutes with each parent, that last suggestion may not be practical. But fliers, with a relevant website address that parents can visit afterwards, are completely doable.
One very useful thing to do, if your school’s reporting system allows it, is to include contextual data at the top of every child’s report. Not the War and Peace version of the syllabus, but literally a one liner saying, for instance, “This term we have been looking at how too rate a Computer program using Scratch, which is a very visual application for making programs”. Then, when parents read a your comment stating that “Julia has done very well in our Scratch classes”, they won’t think you have taken leave of your senses.
Regarding the question posed in the title of this article, the answer is probably ‘yes’. But parents’ evenings are not going to disappear any time soon. Therefore do what you can to ensure they are as useful as possible for parents, the school and, of course, the pupil.
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