Treat parent consultations as if they were job interviews
Parents who have the time to spare and who care deeply about their child’s education usually come along to parents’ evenings/consultations. It is a great opportunity for you to build good relationships with these key individuals, and to find out new information about your students. A parent usually wants the following from a parent-teacher meeting:
- To feel welcome and valued
- The teacher to listen carefully to what he/she is saying (without interrupting them)
- The teacher to show that he/she genuinely cares about the success of the student
- Lots of useful, easy-to-understand, accurate data about the student (it’s great if you can actually give a copy of this to the parent)
- To receive good advice and to have his/her questions answered accurately
The teacher should treat any meeting with a parent just like a job interview. This means that you need to do the following:
- Be punctual to the meeting (ideally you should be sat at your desk before the parents arrive)
- Dress appropriately
- Smell good: This may sound patronizing, but parents always remember a teacher who smells bad. Remember: you’re supposed to be a role model, right? Make sure you’ve deodorized and taken a breath mint before the consultation begins. If your parent-teacher meeting is immediately after a busy day at work, it is easy to forget to do this. First impressions count, so make sure that yours is a good one.
- Look fresh: Make sure you’ve had a good sleep the night before, and make sure you’ve prepared all of the documents and data you will need for the meeting well in advance (the day before at the latest).
- Prepare all of your student records well. If you have time, then prepare individual copies for parents. Remember to rehearse in your mind what you will say about each student. Never leave a parent-teacher meeting to chance; you can’t afford to be ad-hoc in your approach.
- Speak clearly. This is especially true if the parent you are speaking with is not a native English speaker. Try not to mumble, and don’t talk too fast.
The overwhelming majority of parents want their children to succeed in life. In most cases, hard-working students will become successful people and go on to further study or climb their way up the business ladder. For some students, however, immense amounts of hard-work are not enough to overcome personal barriers such as poor language proficiency, Special Educational Needs or even domestic issues beyond their control. However, no matter what the circumstances are surrounding the life of the child, parents will expect teachers to deliver results. So, how do we satisfy parents when enough is never enough?
In truth, no matter how great a teacher you are there will always be parents who are dissatisfied with something. In many cases these parents do have legitimate concerns, and the first and most effective way to begin tackling these issues is to listen, carefully! This may seem like an obvious and simple point to make, but how many people actually know how to listen? Have you ever spoken at length to someone who was fiddling with their smart-phone instead of making eye contact with you? How did that feel? Did you ever explain something to someone who seemed as though they were listening, only to then ask them a question and be met with confusion? “Sorry, what did you just say, darling?” Have you ever been rudely interrupted mid-conversation before getting your main point across? How did you respond to that?
Business leaders, sales executives, psychologists and counselors understand the power of good listening skills. When a person is allowed to talk at length, the following happens:
- The person feels valued and important
- Heightened emotions diffuse away as the person ‘gets something off their chest’
- A feeling of reassurance is induced
- A friendly connection builds between the speaker and the listener
I remember taking a long flight from London to Abu Dhabi (and then on to Bangkok) as I relocated to start my first international teaching post. A very friendly Thai lady was sat next to me on the plane; she was going home to see her family and friends for the first time in four years. For the entire flight she told me all about her family members, her employment history, funny stories about her time in the UK and she even taught me some Thai phrases. I listened attentively, and I laughed and smiled with her as she recalled awkward situations when she couldn’t speak English properly and was misunderstood, and when she had to find unusual ways to improvise as she cooked Thai food using British ingredients. At the end of the flight, when it was time for us to say our goodbyes, she said something which I’ve never forgotten; “You know, Richard, you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met”. Interesting? Wow! How could that be? I hadn’t spoken about myself at all during that flight; all I had done was listen to her!