The Covid-19 pandemic has been a game-changer in many ways. Schools have been forced to think differently about how events that usually take place can still go ahead with the impact still behind them.
Parents’ evenings were included in this. It simply wasn’t possible for schools to consider allowing hundreds of households to intermingle in the corridors. And so many, including my school, looked to a virtual platform instead.
There was great anxiety as the evening arrived but it turned out to be a revolutionary change.
I am a parent, of two children, myself. That used to mean sorting childcare for both parents’ evenings, balancing timings with other family commitments, such as driving children to after-school clubs, providing a meal and making sure all other tasks were completed.
With an online parents’ evening, the journey to school was removed and only took 10 minutes out of our evening in the comfort of our home. We had the same discussion that we would have had in person and I found that, because the environment was not a loud and bustling school hall, we could actually focus better.
As a teacher, the online parents’ evening was far easier to plan and time manage. Parents were less particular about what times would and wouldn’t suit because they didn’t have to plan the journey out.
The waiting-room function on our virtual platform meant that we could see which parents were waiting and when they arrived rather than having to crane our neck outside the classroom door.
And we could easily check the time on the corner of the screen without social convention making us feel rude for checking our watch or looking at the clock on the wall. I even found I was able to call up the parents who did not connect via Zoom for their appointment because everything was much calmer, more composed and ran to time.
Preparing the school and the classroom for parents’ evening has always been an added pressure. Does the room look just right? Is the date right on the board?
How do we direct and guide parents who only step into the building twice a year to where they are meant to go? With a virtual event, all that was required was informing parents how to join the Zoom room.
After that consideration, along with setting some online standards – which were well-publicised for home learning anyway – the planning for parents’ evening was smooth.
I think this is something that senior leaders should strongly consider keeping for the future.
There will, of course, be things that are missed from meeting parents in person. Parents would not be able to look at the children’s work (if your school makes that an option as they wait for their appointment), for example. However, it can be a problem that has multiple solutions as the threat of Covid-19 eases in the future.
One thing is for sure, though. We may well have stumbled on a way of making some of the more frantic and busy evenings of the school term far less stressful.