Parents of school-aged children: brace yourselves. Parents' evening season is upon us.
For the uninitiated, parents' evening allows you to discuss with your child's teacher how your son or daughter is getting on at school. It's also the perfect opportunity to ask any questions you might have about their progress and wellbeing. As a teacher, I can vouch for the fact that when parents' evening works well, it really does provide a great opportunity for dialogue between home and school. The best appointments let me get to know families better and develop a more rounded idea of the children I teach by talking to the most important educators in their lives: their parents.
If this is your first parents' evening, there are a few things I feel duty-bound to share. You will have to sit on one of those tiny plastic chairs if your child is at primary school. They are not a comfortable resting place for an adult body. If you have an appointment towards the end of the evening, it will start late as other appointments overrun (word to the wise: always get onto the appointment booking system quickly to bag an early slot if you can). If you're cramming in a load of appointments with secondary school teachers it may feel both frenetic and repetitive - a bit like speed dating but without the alcohol and flirting. And you may well walk away from the meeting only to realise there were ten other things you wanted to ask.
True, there's not much that you can do about the furniture, your child's teacher's time-keeping or the pace of the appointment system. But you can prepare for your meeting and ask the right questions to make sure you get all the information you want about how your son or daughter is doing. Here are five useful questions to ask:
1. Ask your child what they think they do well at at school and what they want to get better at. Does their teacher agree? If they give the same areas for development as your child, ask for one thing you could do at home to support them. If your child thinks they are bad at something that their teacher thinks they're doing well at, discuss what you can both do to improve your child's confidence in this area.
2. Ask your child if there is anything they wish their teacher knew. You might be surprised at the response. Maybe there's something they haven't understood but they haven't wanted to voice this in class in front of their peers. If your child is still very young, you might discover that they feel anxious about the noise in the lunch hall and that they haven't managed to tell their teacher. Little things can make a big difference to the wellbeing of little people. And even the most empathetic teacher will miss things sometimes with 30 or more children in their care.
3. Ask the teacher for advice about the things YOU need help with regarding your child's learning or the social side of their schooling. Use your appointment as a troubleshooting opportunity. Finding it tricky helping your child choose their GCSEs? Ask different teachers why they think your child should choose to study their subject. Not sure how to support your young child's reading? There may be an approach the teacher can share that you haven't thought of.
4. Ask how resilient your child is as a learner. Being able to accept and act on feedback and sticking at things when they are tricky are important skills that will equip your child well throughout their education and beyond. Ask about strategies to help build resilience if you're concerned.
5. Ask what makes your child happiest in school. When I ask my son what was good about his day, he regularly answers by telling me what he had for lunch. Maybe the school kitchen's pasta bake really is that good. Or maybe this tells me he worked so hard in the morning that he really enjoyed the break at lunch time. But I know his teacher will be able to shed more light on what he enjoys in class and this will help me phrase my questions about his day at school better so they are more centred around his interests.
Above all, remember that parents' evening should be a two-way dialogue. Most teachers would much rather have a conversation with you about your child than talk about their attainment for the duration of your slot.
And take snacks. Heck, take snacks for the teacher. After all, when it comes to your child's education, we're all in this together.
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