Staff at sixth form colleges and further education institutions will often come into contact with parents as well. Most colleges will have times during the year when staff will be expected to be available to talk to parents.
Don't save up big issues for parents' evenings; these should be dealt with as appropriate throughout the term.
Try to make yourself accessible to parents; never allow them to talk to you during lesson time, but make an appointment as soon as possible if they want to discuss something with you.
Sort out problems as quickly as possible, before they spill over into the classroom and prevent a child from progressing. The more satisfactorily you handle difficulties, the greater will the parents' support be in the future.
At meetings, have your marking up-to-date and attendance records and attainment levels to hand. If you are seeing a parent who is known to be difficult or aggressive, ask a colleague (perhaps a senior management team member) to be present.
Avoid using educational jargon as far as possible; it could be lost on your audience. Instead, focus on the progress a child has made.
You can prepare for parent evenings by talking to the previous year's form teacher to find out if any parents are likely to be difficult and in what way. Make notes on anything you want to discuss with individuals.
On the day itself, have each student's work to hand, marked up to the previous day's date at the latest. Make sure your classroom is tidy.
During interviews, you may find the following tips helpful:
- be friendly but professional
- try to stick to the timetable - don't let latecomers over-run and disrupt the next parents on the list
- stand up to welcome parents with a smile and shake hands, and when they go, thank them for coming and for any help or support they have offered
- only have one set of parents in the room at a time
- make notes of any issues to be followed up as you go along.
Whether or not you carry out home visits, there are a number of ways you can build partnerships with parents and help children to settle smoothly into school.
Arrange to meet parents and children at the pre-school setting, where possible. This will enable you to observe the children in an environment which is familiar and in which they are in control, and to talk to parents in a safe setting. If you are in an area with Sure Start, there may be opportunities to make links with some parents through this route.
Gatherings of new parents and children can be arranged so that you can show parents a typical session (or a video of one if the meeting is in the evening), or talk them through a typical day.
Invite childminders and other carers where children are cared for by them during the day. Events like this enable parents to come into school in a relaxed way and make links with other parents, as well as providing an opportunity for you to provide information about the school and to answer questions.
Invite the children into a session during the half-term before they start. Parents could stay at the beginning but leave once their child has settled. This could be arranged over a couple of weeks so that a small number of children come in each session.
Make opportunities to listen to parents, informally over a cup of tea if possible (with another adult to keep an eye on the child). This could happen before the child begins school as well as after the child has started. Invite parents to share information with you about the home, items of family interest etc.
For more suggestions of best practice in developing partnerships with parents, refer to Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage, published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
If you have a problem in your relationship with parents - such as unreasonable criticism or aggression - it's important to alert your line manager or induction tutor about what's going on.
The parent's comments should be listened to, but if you feel they are unfair or unreasonable, calmly state that you will raise what she/he has said with your manager and a meeting will be arranged during which these matters can be discussed.
The headteacher or another senior staff member could talk or write to the parent to help reach an understanding. Constant undermining serves no positive purpose and you don't have to tolerate it.
If you feel that this situation has not been handled sufficiently by your managers, and it has not been resolved satisfactorily, you may want to discuss matters with ATL.
If a parent has a history of aggressive behaviour you should not be expected to meet him or her on your own, and it would be perfectly reasonable for you to request that another member of staff be present when you do meet.
Aggression of any form should not be tolerated, and these precautions can help you to avoid being in a situation when aggression may arise:
- put your personal safety first
- always meet in a public area rather than behind a closed door and aim for you both to be seated
- always have a third party present
- if the discussion deteriorates and you suspect that anger and aggression may follow, terminate the meeting and explain that it will be better for you to talk another time.
Don't feel that have to change or soften what you say for fear of a reaction from the parent. If you are reasonable and can back up everything you say with examples, you are perfectly justified in saying it regardless of whether the parent wants to hear it. Aim to work in partnership for the benefit of the child.
If an encounter with a parent has been aggressive or violent, report the matter to your headteacher immediately and make a written record of exactly what happened. Ask your witness to do the same.
It is never acceptable for a parent to put a teacher in a position that they feel is inappropriate. Politely remove yourself from the situation (give an excuse, for example, being late for a meeting) and make a written record of exactly what happened, what was said, what was intimated and any actions that took place.
As soon as possible report the incident to your headteacher. You may also like to seek advice from your school rep, your branch secretary or ATL.
You should expect total support from your headteacher in resolving the issue. It could be that the parent is communicated with about the incident, but whatever happens you should feel safe and supported.