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Parents, Don't You Just Love Them?

I have just finished two nights of Parent's Evening's at one school, and face another two at the other school I manage next week. I have a confession. I really enjoy them! I count them among the highlights of the school year. Yes I know they keep us all in school, or drag us back, on what are often long and cold winter nights at this time of the year. Or, they can keep us from enjoying the delights of spring or summer evenings, when the sun can be guaranteed to be shining invitingly outside. I also appreciate the time that teachers put into preparing for such evenings. But we do all this, to paraphrase the L'oreal adverts, 'because they are worth it!'

I am a firm believer in the positive benefits of true partnership working between schools, teachers and parents. Not the ticky-boxy, or one-sided type of partnership, but the type that is deep, sustained and valued as a means of achieving the best for all our learners. By establishing positive relationships with all our parents, as early as possible, often even before their children enter our schools, we are creating the necessary conditions for us to work together to help their children, and our pupils, to attain and achieve, and to address difficulties should they arise.

Parent's Evenings are crucial to the life of the school for so many reasons. They are firstly an opportunity for parents and teachers to share and celebrate the progress of the pupils. The best ones are a two-way exchange of information, not one-way. We'll tell you in an informed way about your child and their progress in all areas of development, cognitive, social, physical and emotional. In return, you can tell us about how they are developing at home and out of school. Hopefully , we have a relationship that enables you to share information, confidentially, about anything going on in their lives that may impact on their performance and attitudes in school.

Such evenings are another opportunity to demonstrate to parents how open and welcoming the school and the staff within it are. Many may not have very fond memories of their own school days, and this may cloud their opinions of all schools. They may be quite young, not too long out of school themselves, but this is an opportunity to demonstrate how schools have changed and moved on. You can even show how open, approachable and welcoming the headteacher and senior staff are!

I have always said a school is not a school without people in it. Then its just an empty shell of a building. People bring a school to life. The pupils, of course, staff and the parents are the ones who give it life and create the community, identity and culture of the school. On Parent's Evenings the school bursts into life and activity at a time, perhaps, when it would usually be empty and quiet. Its an opportunity to show itself off and demonstrate the qualities that make it unique, and give it identity. Teachers and pupils can demonstrate with pride the achievements and learning that is taking place each day and over time. Such evenings give parents an opportunity to share in successes and have their role acknowledged and appreciated.

Of course they are also an opportunity to share and discuss difficulties or barriers pupils may be facing in school, or at home. This should be done in a collaborative and supportive way and should help school and parents share strategies for supporting the young learners. For all pupils , teachers should be able to share details of their learning journey, where they were, where they are now, and where they need to move to next. Indeed, the learners should be able to speak about this also at an appropriate level.

They are a wonderful opportunity to reach out to those parents who are reticent or reluctant to engage with the school at other times. In my experience, the majority of parents will turn out for such occasions, some of them if not all. We should look out particularly for such parents and try to engage them to better support their children. We cannot give up on reluctant parents, we just need to keep reaching out however and whenever we can.

I understand that not all Parent's Evenings are, or can be, as positive as I describe above, but most are, and most parents see them this way. Yes you will have parents who come in all guns blazing, but we have to recognise the reasons behind this. Often, the reasons are deeper than particular incidents within the school and anger is a symptom of deeper lying frustrations, These can be difficult to deal with but both schools and parents can learn from them. Such frustrations and attitudes have to be dealt with before we can move on. Everyone wants the best for the pupils and confronting and dealing with issues is a key part of our role. If you have the right climate and relationships with your parents, such issues will have already been identified and sorted. There really should be no surprises for parents at Parent's Evenings.

I know every member of staff is shattered after such evenings, often two in a row, but I also know that they appreciate the opportunities provided. Of course it is also always good when parents take the time to thank teachers and the school for all their hard work and efforts, and this happens everytime we have such events. I encourage staff to remember these and use them as motivation when times get tough and they feel as though everyone outside the school is against them. Better to recognise how your efforts are appreciated by those who really matter and care, than to dwell on the slights of those who don't matter and possibly don't care.

So, let's hear it for parents and true partnership working!

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