There’s only so much that can be said at a tightly timed appointment in full view of other parents and teachers.
Here’s some practical advice to make the most your parent teacher consultation meeting.
Who am I? I’m Hayley Hobbs, the owner Griffin Teaching, a tutor agency in the UK. Every year we prepare 200 students for the 11+ and the ISEB Common Pre-test. We also have 100+ students in our writing club, which is weekly online writing & handwriting writing classes for kids.
As you can imagine, I meet parents at their most stressed and anxious. These parents need plenty of support and hand-holding through the whole secondary transfer process.
I’ve been on both sides of the desk at parent teacher evenings. I run my own equivalent of Parents’ Evenings two times a week throughout the year. I’m also the mother of 3 children, so I’ve sat on the other side of the desk too.
What is the point of a parents’ evening?
The Parents’ Evening (sometimes called a Parent/Teacher Consultation Evening) is a simple meet and greet at which you will be given a brief overview of your child’s progress.
See it for what it is and try not to load it with emotional baggage. Feeling angry? Or worried you’ll burst into tears? If so, you’ll need to talk yourself down before you go, or else book a private meeting with your child’s teacher, away from the hoards.
What will the teacher focus on at my child’s parents’ evening?
Your child’s teacher will have back-to-back meetings booked with sometimes 20 or more sets of parents. They know your child well and will want to communicate the basics of how your child is doing in class.
Additionally, they may wish to raise a concern with you or share with you something exciting your child has achieved. Anything that warrants greater discussion will be followed up in a private meeting at another time.
How do parents’ evening meetings usually begin?
When you sit down, there are two ways the action is likely to play out…
First option is that the teacher asks you a general question about how you think your child is getting on. The purpose of this is, honestly, to give themselves a break. They’re recovering from the full 7 minutes of in-depth conversation they had with the parent who sat down before you.
Another reason a teacher may choose this opening question is that it allows them to gauge your mood before they give their prepared speech. If you are hanging on to feelings of worry or anger they can adapt their tone going forward.
Second option is that the teacher launches straight into their prepared speech. Content is likely to include the focus of recent lessons, perhaps an overview of the bigger picture, and a quick run-through of how your child is getting on. This speech will take most of your allotted time. It has the added benefit of saving you both from staring at each other in embarrassed silence.
Think of the parents’ evening as a PR (public relations) exercise
The PR opportunities of Parents’ Evenings work both ways. The head teacher presents the school in its best light to parents. Usually colourful new displays are set up in the classrooms, shiny photographs of smiling children are in the corridors, and the staff are wearing formal attire. You may even get a short speech from the deputy head to welcome you in.
If your child attends a private school then the Parents’ Evening is a marketing event. Expect soft music played live by a student, maybe on a full sized harp. Glasses of dry white wine or elderflower cordial. A beaming head teacher in pinstripes.
Remember though, that you’re also being judged by the teachers. Not on purpose perhaps, but you are all the same. Don’t worry about dressing smartly. They are not judging your fashion choices (and teachers aren’t well known for extravagant tastes anyway.) What you’re being judged on is your warmth and your commitment to your child’s education. Act accordingly.
How to come across well at parents’ evening
Be punctual. The school day is a long one and your child’s teacher will be grateful for good time-keeping that late in the day.
Look pleased to be there. If you have a partner who isn’t able/keen to be alongside you, then apologise right at the start on their behalf, and explain how devastated they are to be missing the event. It’s game-playing, but it works.
Greet the teacher warmly and make good eye contact. As you’re sitting down, tell them how much your child loves being in their class. If you really don’t feel that, then swap this for a compliment about something specific they have done recently in class. A science experiment, a pond dipping trip, or the class reading book—anything at all really. And do this particularly if you are expecting a rather serious meeting. As a teacher, it’s very difficult to be stern when you’re blind-sided by warmth and positivity.
Respect the teacher’s judgement at all times. Preface any question you have with a word about their experience or knowledge. Make them feel valued and they will warm to you.
Why be warm? Why all the charming game-play? Because their ‘fuzzy’ feelings about you will make their way quickly back into the classroom and your child will benefit. It humanises you as a family and the teacher will unwittingly try that little bit harder for you for the rest of the year.
Finally, always leave the teacher with a big smile and the line: ‘[Your child’s name] absolutely loves being in your class. Thank you so much!’
10 questions to ask at parents’ evening
Inside the few minutes you’ll have, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to ask more than a couple of these questions. Here are some ideas of questions to ask at your parents’ evening consultation, and why you might want to ask each question.
- Has my child settled well in class?
This one is vital for your child’s wellbeing and mental health. If anything comes up, make a mental note to book a separate meeting.
- Does my child engage well with the teaching?
Undiagnosed learning difficulties are a feature of the modern classroom. Try to read between the lines here if the teacher is being a little anxiously evasive. It’s quite a thing to suggest to a parent that their child may have something specific holding them back. You should be listening particularly for focus and attention span issues, spelling (a red flag for dyslexia), writing fluency and reading issues. Inability to manage friendships and maintain eye contact are also relevant.
- How can I encourage my child to read more?
Don’t be embarassed. This question is a classic these days. It’s not just your child who is pushing back at reading time.
- What specifically would improve my child’s writing?
If you don’t get a satisfactory answer to this question, I’ll just mention that this is a passion of mine. I run wonderful weekly online writing classes for kids to fix and extend children’s writing, individually and enjoyably. For just £29 per month with 20 minutes per week I can transform your child’s writing.
- How best can I support my child’s learning?
You need to know if your child is tired in the mornings or too shy to ask questions in lessons. Or maybe they are a bit boisterous in the playground or they are missing the odd homework. Easy fixes are available, but you need to know about the problem first.
- Is there anything I should be doing out of school with my child?
Funny story. When my son was 4 years old, my husband and I were told that outdoor play at home with him in the garden and the park would transform his lack of confidence/skills at school. We were doing masses of that already—clearly to no avail.
- What does that term/acronym mean?
In school teachers are bombarded with acronyms and develop their own everyday jargon. Don’t be afraid to ask what a term or phrase means if you don’t understand it.
- How does the school assess when a child is ready to move up a set?
Be careful here. If you feel your child needs to move up a set ask for details of how the moving process is managed. Is there a key test coming up that you need to know about?
- Can you recommend a learning app my child might enjoy?
There are some brilliant apps out there—particularly for arithmetic and languages—and your teacher may have a favourite to share with you. Regular use of the right apps can really pack a punch.
- What do you think of my child’s academic progression?
If you’re not happy, try not to load this question with emotion or passive aggression. Teachers go into teaching because they want to make a difference. If your child is doing well asking this question will reassure you. When children are not reaching their full potential in class there is often something else going on. This question should help you get to the bottom of it. Knowledge is power.
What question should you avoid asking at parents evening?
‘Our tutor says: [insert specific opinion]. Do you agree?’
Teachers hate this type of question.
I’m a mega-tutor though.