A parent information evening at school can be hit and miss. I’ve sat through nearly 40 such meetings as a parent and that many again in my professional capacities so I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t.
Parent information evenings usually miss the mark when they are too long, too formal and too focused on the teacher. Often they result in grumpy parents who are simply glad to be out of the meeting room, and reluctant to return for any other instalments you may have in store.
They’re usually a hit when they are structured, when the atmosphere is relaxed and the focus is firmly on parents and their children. The result is happy parents who leave singing your praises, as well as increasing the likelihood of them making a return visit if that’s what you have planned.
These 10 tips will help you make sure your next parent information session hits the mark and gets parents talking about you for the right reasons:
1. Know your purpose
The main aim of a parent information evening is to give parent information, rather then get information or problem-solve. The latter two are best achieved through individual meetings. The purpose will vary from school to school but generally it should serve three purposes – give you a chance to set your teaching agenda for the coming year; familiarise parents with you and the learning environment, and let parents know what you expect of them to support their child’s learning.
2. Think three
Give your evening structure by organising your information under three main headers. (The best speeches are always framed around 3 themes/ideas/principles, etc.) This will negate the possibility of your parents leaving with the awful feeling of information overload. Start by thinking of three themes or organising ideas such as 1. My focus this year 2. A typical day 3. How you can help? Then organise your information accordingly. Some points may not shoe horn exactly into each of your headers but make them anyway when appropriate.
3. Make it memorable
Parents obviously won’t remember everything so provide a handout with your main points, and outlining briefly the expectations that you have for parents this year. Make the handout attractive, easy to read and include your best contact times.
4. Link parents to their child’s learning
If possible hold the evening in a learning area that their child will use. This familiarity will help spark more in-depth parent-child conversations about learning throughout the year. Alternatively, walk parents through their child’s learning areas prior to the meeting so they can see where their kids spend their days.
5. Show and tell
Parent information evenings can quickly turn into talkfests, which may suit some parents, but not all. Illustrate what you are saying by including samples, pictures or even incorporating a (very) short movie clip to cater to the learning style of adult learners.
6. Keep the night tight
Avoid waffling on about……… Just avoid waffling. There are two important times in a parent information evening. The start. The end. Start on time and end on time. Do both and your parents will respect and appreciate you.
7. Let the air out of the room
The start of the evening can often feel stiff and formal. If this is the case use an ice-breaker to loosen things up a bit and help you relax into the evening. Avoid being too clever or complicated with your choice of ice-breaker. A simple activity such as asking parents to tell the person next to them how their child has settled in, should do the trick. The key is to get them talking to each other and parents love to talk about their kids.
8. Be friendly and firm
The friendly part is obvious. You need to be welcoming and approachable so people feel comfortable with each other and with you. That’s usually the easy part. The hard part is being firm enough to keep the evening bubbling along without being railroaded by a parent who tends to take over by asking too many personal questions or steering the night down a path of their making. Politely and firmly steer the night in the direction you want. Most parents will thank and respect you for your leadership.
9. Keep information practical, relevant and doable
If you keep your information-giving to the practical (stuff they can do), relevant (stuff that makes sense to your teaching, your classroom and their child) and doable (stuff that’s within the realms of achievability for parents) then you’ll ensure that parents leave with a grab-bag of information that they can digest and hopefully be willing to take on board.
10. Be an ambassador for your school
Talk your school up and be mindful that as (one of) their child’s teachers you are a link between home and school for most parents. Discuss other programs and teachers respectfully and be clear whether or not you expect parents come to you to discuss issues or problems children may have in other parts of the school. If so, this requires you to be an advocate for parents and ambassador for your school. That means you’ll need your best diplomacy skills...which is a subject for another article.
For great advice, tips, workshops and courses to help teachers work more effectively with parents go to parentingideasschools.com.au
Alternatively, phone 1800 004 484 during school office hours to find out more.