How to make the most of parent teacher nights

Your child has handed you a letter from school inviting you to parents’ night. How can you ensure that you make the most of those precious five minutes with their teacher?

Many parents feel unsure of how to handle these meetings.  You might feel slightly intimidated if the teacher uses lots of jargon which you don’t understand; you might find it hard to raise the points that bother you; and often parents come away feeling that they haven’t found out what they really wanted to know.

So how can you make the most effective use of your time with your child’s teacher? It is worth recognising that this meeting is there to give you an up-date and a snap shot of your child’s progress.  It is not the time for in-depth discussions on certain issues.

First, plan ahead.  One of the main complaints from teachers is that they don’t see the parents they would really like to talk to – so if you work full-time you might need to take some leave.  Having a wriggling, chattering younger child in tow is not the best idea either – so arrange some child care for brothers or sisters, if possible.

What should you discuss and what should you not discuss?  Many teachers I have spoken to say that parents often raise issues which require more time than is available at a parent’s night.  For example:  friendships, bullying, a child’s long-term problems with motivation, or homework issues.  From a teacher’s point of view, they would much rather a parent made a separate appointment to discuss these very important issues – and not save them up for parent’s night – where time is limited to a five or ten minute slot.

But what do parents think?  Emily is typical of many parents – “I had so many things I wanted to talk about, but the teacher set the agenda.   She spent a lot of time talking about Harry’s SATs levels; I didn’t really understand the difference between a level 2a and 2c, but didn’t dare admit that.  Then she discussed his last maths and spelling tests, and the time was up.  I felt very frustrated.”

What can you do to avoid being caught in this situation?  Plan. Yes, make a few notes the day before, covering what you want to talk about.  The worst thing you can do is turn up at parents’ night without any idea of what you want to ask.  Think about all the main topics, such as academic performance, friendships, motivation, confidence, and anything that worries you in particular about your child.  But remember, this meeting is not for any really big issues that need longer than a few minutes.

Don’t worry about admitting that you don’t understand something – teachers become so used to talking in jargon that they often forget that parents don’t understand.  So if you don’t know that a SATs level 2a is higher than a level 2c, say so!  If you aren’t sure about synthetic phonics, ask.  And if your child is struggling with something, try to agree together what would help.  Ask to see their work if it isn’t on display, ask how they are progressing compared to their peers, ask what you can do at home to help – all teachers love to hear that!

Above all, remember that school and home is a partnership, with your child’s progress at its heart.  Parent’s nights are there to iron out any problems before they become bigger problems, and for you to find out more about your child’s progress.  A bit of time spent preparing can ensure you make the most of them.

© Glynis Kozma

Aspire Coaching provides professional coaching across the UK. Glynis Kozma is a qualified, experienced Life Coach with a Diploma in Life Coaching, and is a Member of the Association for Coaching.

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