Parents’ evenings: Do you look back fondly to the days of sitting in a crowded hall with poor acoustics frantically trying to ensure that appointments are kept to the allotted times, all after teaching a full day of classes? Probably not.
Throughout the pandemic, schools shifted to various online platforms in their quest to maintain effective communication with parents as part of their reporting processes. Commonly, video conferencing systems were used for Parent-Teacher-Student Conferences (PSTCs) or “parents’ evenings”. Given the circumstances, most would agree this was quite successful, aside from the frequent repetition of “sorry, but you’re on mute”.
As we emerge from the various restrictions across the world we should not be too quick to discard the systems that became so familiar and useful to us in order to revert back to the “old” way of doing things. If we do, we have learnt nothing.
A need for face-to-face interaction
Most teachers would probably agree that face-to-face interaction with parents and students is valuable. However, most would also agree that an online system allows for greater control over appointment times and are generally “easier” to manage, plus they can be conducted from the comfort of one’s own home. So how do we strike a balance between the needs and preferences in our school communities?
“How do we strike a balance between the needs and preferences in our school communities?”
Over the last six months, we have been looking to learn some lessons from the pandemic and look at what the future is in relation to “parents‘ evenings” at our school. This process involved a review of literature (there is not a lot out there), examining other schools’ systems, looking at attendance data from online conferencing systems, online system satisfaction data and conducting surveys with teachers, parents and students.
The result of this research is a series of key recommendations on how PSTCs should function. They are:
- Video conferencing should not be the sole method of conducting PSTCs.
- Conversations should extend beyond being academically focused.
- Opportunities need to be made for conversations to take place with tutors, specialist teachers, curriculum coordinators, heads of grades, heads of faculties and senior leadership teams.
- More time needs to be allocated to PSTC events. They should also start earlier in the day and end earlier in the evening.
- Students should be attending PSTCs. If they are not in attendance, they should be given learning to complete at their own pace/in their own time for when the PSTC event is taking place, should the PSTC be happening during the school day.
- More time should be allocated for an individual conference.
Post pandemic we retained a video conferencing system and it has proved successful with high attendance rates from parents and students. However, we now recognize that there is a need for face-to-face interaction, too. The literature we examined suggests that teachers who conduct face-to-face conferences show significantly higher satisfaction with the conference.
“Face-to-face communication may allow teachers to deepen the trust and support of parents.”
Further, National Institute of Education Associate Jason Tan in an article with CNA (2018) suggests that “face-to-face communication may allow teachers to deepen the trust and support of parents, and give both sides opportunities to develop a more holistic approach to students’ well-being” (Tan, 2018). That said, the efficiency of the online conferencing system cannot be ignored and it is recommended that there are opportunities made for both face-to-face and online PSTCs.
Some of the key data we collected suggested that parents wanted to know more about their children beyond their child’s academic data and progress. Parents suggested that during PSTCs they would like to speak with a variety of people regarding all aspects of their child’s life at school. Teachers agreed and the literature we examined also pointed towards this. As such, we are recommending that tutors are included in the PSTCs as are specialist teachers, student support teachers, university counsellors and wellbeing counsellors.
Timing is everything
One of the key lessons we can all take away from the pandemic is how we address the balance between working hours, working from home and the expectation of always being “available”. We want our system to reflect this lesson. It was clear in the teacher survey that teachers felt this too. In the teacher survey, the majority of teachers stated their wish for PSTCs to happen during their normal working day, preferably in the afternoon.
However, the majority of parents and students felt that their preferred time for PSTCs to take place is in the early evening, after office hours. In order to accommodate both of these perspectives we are suggesting a shift in the working hours for teachers during PSTC event days. We have reevaluated the idea that PSTCs happen after a full day of classes, so as to not add more hours to the teachers’ working day.
Not only are we recommending a shift in the timings, though, we are also suggesting extending the time allocated. We noticed that the online conferencing system has proved so successful that we can no longer fit all of our appointments into the allocated times for PSTCs. As such, we are recommending that PSTC events are longer in addition to starting and finishing earlier. We are also suggesting that the individual appointment length is increased, too.
“Parents wanted to know more about their children beyond their child’s academic data and progress.”
However, this is somewhat problematic. Given that historically PSTCs have sat outside of “school hours”, PSTCs have not previously impacted the days’ lessons. With a shift in the timings of PSTC events and appointments there will be a potential impact on daily classes. This raises the question as to how much time can be given to PSTC events and what students should be doing if they aren’t attending a PSTC.
Of course, the pandemic opened up the doorway to home-based learning, online learning and asynchronous learning and we should not simply discard this innovation. As such, we are suggesting that if students are not attending PSTCs they can work from home (or wherever), at their own pace, utilising the tools that we have developed over the last three years. (Has it really been that long?!).
Of course, trying to accommodate all of the recommendations is going to be difficult. And I’m sure there will be some compromises along the way.. But so far, the conversations regarding the recommendations have been positive. We are now in the process of refining the actual model we intend to use, discussing the lengths of individual appointments and negotiating how many PSTC “events” we can hold per year without compromising face-to-face/contact time.
I’ll let you know how it goes.