It can be very overwhelming, so we’ve pulled together our views on how to get the best out of your session – from our experience of sitting both sides of the desk!
Like a good Scout, be prepared!
Know what you’re walking into. If you haven’t been to parent/teacher consultation before, you can expect to be shown examples of your child’s work, maybe whilst waiting for the appointment. Also expect a discussion where the teacher will provide feedback on your child’s performance against expected standards for their age group.
Often a teacher will seek your insight into why your child is doing things a certain way, so be prepared to listen and talk. Ask around, other parents at the school gate are likely to have older siblings. They can give you the lowdown. Even basic information can help you arrive not in a fluster: which school entrance to use and whether your child can come in to listen. Academic progress. Social interactions. Emotional wellbeing. Any special needs.
It’s such a lot to cover in a relatively short time. It may be obvious but come along with a list, with a view on which are most important for you to discuss.
If your child is lucky enough to have more than one adult attend it is worth making sure you’re aligned in what is most important for you to discuss, otherwise one of you might leave disappointed. If there is something that needs detailed discussion, you could use the consultation to hear the teacher’s feedback and ask for a follow-on meeting.
The teacher might need a moment to sip their cold tea or re-group, as they’re on their 11th session, so they might start with a question. It might be as big and tricky as ‘how do you think the first term has gone?’ or ‘how have they settled in?’ So, how do you think the first term has gone? Has your child seemed their normal self in the last two months? Are they struggling with something? How do you feel their performance in the classroom reflects their abilities? Can you see them struggling with anything when you’re doing the daily and weekly homework tasks? If you haven’t got an answer a little smile and ‘I really don’t know’ is perfectly fine.
Keeping it cool at the consultation
A smile, a handshake, a “I’m Alex, how are you?” and a comment about some of the work on display. A simple way to make you feel more comfortable if you are feeling slightly anxious. Feel free to insert your own name.
There are some phrases that are clear ‘teachers code’ for something else. Listening to the hidden message is such a critical part of the parent evening. You might find yourself having to explain the quirks of your child’s personality or their place in a sibling pack. Be prepared that you may hear some things, or you may have to talk about things, that make you emotional.
Most teachers have dealt with it before. Happy tears can be laughed off. If you need to talk about something you find raw yourself, stick a tissue in your pocket. Real life can be tough for families sometimes.
Teachers want to help your child succeed and will support them. If, when you think about it, you think a discussion longer than five minutes is needed, drop them an email or call in via the school office and ask another appointment. How to deal with something that you don’t know how to respond to?
Use questions to allow yourself time to absorb the information: “How long has it been going on for?” “What action have they taken already?” “What can you do at home to help?”
If you need more time, it is ok to thank them for telling you, indicate that you need to reflect on it and ask for a follow-on discussion.
By the way, as a bit of perspective, anything that is being brought to your attention for the first time at parents’ evening is probably not a biggie in the grand scale of life. If the teacher was really concerned about it or it were really negatively impacting your child, they’d have asked to speak to you during the first term.
Talking to your child. Children love to hear what things their teacher has said about them. And it is important to discuss what was said with your child. Keep it positive. Tell them the great things their teacher said about them.
Also tell them about the areas highlighted for improvement. A good framework to do this is to describe the situation, what the impact is and what the child needs to do.
Just as a couple of examples: “Mrs Foster says that sometimes you talk to George rather than listen. It means that not only do you and George miss the instructions, but she has to talk to you two rather than the class. She would appreciate you being quiet during circle time. What can we do to help you do this?”
“Mr Bevan told me that you seem to be finding maths hard, which he has noticed is making you feel sad. He is going to arrange for you to have some extra help at school. Would you like to find some games we can play to practice your 6x tables?”
If your child needs a plan either to make them more confident or boost their skills there are lots of great resources out there. See what your teacher recommends.
What do we know as educators? Little and often, gets results. Obviously, we’d recommend our apps if it is either maths, English, tables and spelling that need that little extra attention at home.