During much of the past two years, schools have been a physical no-go zone for almost everyone but staff and children, forcing school leaders to look for new ways to work with parents.
Many schools – and parents – have discovered the benefits of online parents’ evenings, with technology making the process of booking and managing time slots much easier for everyone involved.
Furthermore, the option of attending the meeting remotely has meant that parents are more likely to attend.
There are many benefits of virtual parents’ evenings. To start with, the evenings themselves tend to run more smoothly as each meeting is forced to keep to time.
With the length of each appointment controlled by whichever platform is being used, conversations must be to the point and cannot drag over into the next meeting. “Computer says no” is far more compelling than a teacher desperately trying to bring the meeting to a close whilst the family in front of them is determined to continue.
Conversations have tended to become more focused in their nature.
Historically, the discussion at parents’ evenings centred on children’s learning and progress, before moving on to goals and targets for the rest of the year.
However, the first part here is merely about providing historic information, when it is the second part that is the most important.
With conversations forced to be shorter, schools are providing information to parents before the meeting begins, often in the form of continuous reporting. This helps to ensure that questions are more pertinent and potentially fewer in number.
Sticking to the point
Parents don’t need teachers to read grades to them – that much can be communicated continuously through the year.
What they need is advice on the actions to take following those grades.
Education is an interaction between the different parties involved: teachers, children and parents, and the human element of this process is an essential one.
Unfortunately, the real benefits of these discussions can all too easily get lost while we talk about learning and results.
Of course, you can’t change parents’ evenings overnight. If you are going to engage parents in this way, then some of their previous assumptions will need to be challenged.
They need to understand that ups and downs are a normal part of children’s progress – in other words, that they don’t need to contact the school every time there is a change.
Many teachers have already discovered that flipped learning allows them to spend time more effectively with children, and there is no reason why the same strategy should not work with parents as well.
Technology is allowing us to focus on the purpose of parents’ evenings and to look at how we might use them more effectively. They have become a forum through which to discuss how to improve a child’s learning, rather than a snatched conversation in which to cram a whole term’s worth of feedback.
Improve your feedback from virtual parents’ evenings with this suggested questionnaire for parents. Ask parents to complete it then review new procedures for next term’s meeting.
Did you find it easy to book an appointment slot? Yes/No
Was five minutes enough time to discuss your child’s progress? Yes/No
Did you feel able to ask the questions you and your child needed to? Agree/Disagree/Other (please specify)
Did you feel your child’s teacher knows your child? Yes/No/Other (please specify)
Did you feel informed about your child’s learning plan and next steps? Yes/No/Other (please specify)
Do you have any other comments or areas we could improve on for our parents’ evening next term?
Simon Hay is co-founder and CEO at Firefly, the school engagement platform. Find a short guide to effectively managing virtual parents’ evenings here.