How to provide effective feedback: parents’ evening tips for teachers

Parents’ evenings are too often dreaded by parents and teachers alike, but they represent a crucial opportunity to build relationships between parents and teachers and talk openly about each child’s progress and development. In this article, we take a look at useful parents’ evening tips for teachers and consider how teachers can provide the most effective feedback for the benefit of all.

Preparation is key

This is an obvious one, but is the most important tip of all. Parents’ evenings take place at the end of a long working day, when teachers are already tired. Don’t leave preparation for parents’ evening until the last minute: make sure that marking is up to date and the child’s books or curriculum records are ready for parents to look through. Write index cards or notes for each child outlining the key points that you need to discuss. For secondary school teachers, talk to your colleagues before parents’ evening so that your points are consistent. It’s always important to look back at previous reports to see what past issues may have been raised. The more preparation you do, the more confident you will feel on the day. Most of all, don’t forget to look after yourself – have something to eat before you start and have plenty of drinking water ready to keep your energy levels up.

Start with the positives

The best way to provide effective feedback on a child’s performance, behaviour and development is to start with the positives. Parents’ evenings might be a teacher’s first opportunity to fully engage with parents, and starting off with negative feedback or criticisms will always put parents on the defensive and it’s tough to come back from this. So look for positive points about each child to start discussions, whether that means talking about their attainment, attitude, behaviour or relationships with others.

Avoid educational jargon

Another tip for parents’ evenings is to keep your language clear and avoid educational jargon. This will break down barriers with parents and encourage open discussion. If a pupil is present, ask them what they think you are going to say; this will give you a useful insight into how they think they are doing and can help feed into discussions.

Back up feedback with examples

Once you start giving more detailed feedback, try to always back it up with examples. This will strengthen each point that you make and will also give parents confidence that their child is more than a statistic on an assessment sheet. Of course, teachers see hundreds of children each week and there’s a limit to how much detail they can provide, but look for examples wherever you can. So if a child at secondary level is strong on performance arts but their theory needs to improve, you can explain this with examples to help parents encourage their child in this area. Or if a child isn’t contributing enough in group discussions and is clearly lacking confidence, you could share tips on how to build self-esteem at home as well as in school. Effective feedback is all about giving parents tangible information with clear goals and action points.

Awkward questions to prepare for

Getting awkward questions during parents’ evenings is inevitable, but being prepared can make all the difference. Parents may ask about their child’s attainment compared to their best friend or others in the class. Rather than enter into a discussion that could lead to giving out unnecessary information about other students, you can simply ask the parent how they think their child is doing, or suggest practical tips to give the child extra support if needed.

Teaching resources available

There’s plenty of help available when preparing for parents’ evenings. If you are a newly qualified teacher, speaking to more experienced colleagues or sitting in with them at parents’ evenings can be very helpful. TES has a wide range of resources to use at parents’ evenings, designed by teachers across the UK. There are also some excellent educational videos available for teachers, such as The Classroom Experiment which challenges some of the most established teaching methods and looks at the social issues around education. Another interesting watch is Testing Times, which examines parents’ perceptions of state education and follows the selective testing process of certain private schools. Both videos explore perceptions about education and give an insight into some of the pressures faced by parents in today’s society.

Parents’ evening may be a daunting experience, but if managed well it can build relationships with parents and give them practical tools to help their child reach their full potential at school. BBC Active Video for Learning provides a superb range of top quality educational videos, including resources for teachers. These videos are ideal for bringing a wide range of subjects to life in the classroom.