Should parent-teacher meetings shift online?

Should parent-teacher meetings shift online?

Holding parent-teacher meetings is an important and long-standing function of schools, but they don’t come without their downsides.

One familiar issue for educators is that they can sometimes devolve into chaos when emotions run high.

The most recent data on principal health and wellbeing shows that 9.3% of school leaders report being on the receiving end of physical violence by parents – an alarming trend that educators say can only be addressed as a broader, societal problem.

Parent-teacher meetings can also run into issues when parents may not be too busy to make the trip to the school.

They are typically scheduled at the end of busy work days, requiring both parents and teachers to juggle home commitments, and may be conducted en masse in spaces that allow for minimal privacy.

However, these problems may one day be a thing of the past.

Early feedback from Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) members’ schools on positive gains resulting from COVID-19 restrictions indicates that parent-teacher meetings held by phone or on digital platforms have been rated a huge success by parents and teachers.

AHISA CEO Beth Blackwood said that with the shift to phone or virtual parent-teacher meetings to comply with COVID-19 arrangements, most of the logistical challenges of parent-teacher meetings had been minimised or had evaporated entirely.

“A bonus of this shift is that parents of boarding students, who may have already have been meeting with teachers by phone or Skype, are now having the same experience as families of day students,” Blackwood said.

“It’s inclusive.”

Blackwood said schools are adopting a range of approaches to remote parent-teacher meetings.

“The meeting might be conducted by phone or on a virtual platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams,” she explained.

“The time is scheduled, like an appointment, to suit families, and parents can join the meeting from home or wherever they might be, even if travelling in a car”.

Blackwood said some schools report that teachers have permission to conduct interviews from home, too.

“No one’s time is wasted, and no one is inconvenienced”.

Blackwood said some schools were using their Learning Management System to create an online booking function for meeting times, with the relevant schedule then forwarded to teachers and used as a log to note that conversations have been completed.

“An interesting aspect of the virtual meetings has been that students often find they are the tech support for their parents, demonstrating some of the skills they have gained from remote learning,” Blackwood said.

“While schools recognise the value of face to face meetings, the convenience value to parents of telephone or virtual meetings means they are likely to remain an important part of the way teachers report to parents on student progress”.

Tips for virtual parent-teacher meetings

  • Take into account privacy considerations of video calls which might be recorded by parents, especially if teachers are conducting meetings from home.
  • Teachers using their own home phone or mobile to make calls to parents can protect their privacy by setting their phone to ‘no caller ID’.
  • If using a digital platform such as Zoom, be prepared to screen share examples of students’ work.
  • Consider providing teachers with a script for opening and closing the conversation with parents.
  • Create a contact protocol and communicate this to parents. For example, the protocol might provide for a teacher to call once and then again in three minutes if there is no answer to the first call attempt. If there is no answer on the second call attempt, it will be assumed parents are not available, no further call attempt will be made and parents will need to arrange another meeting time at the convenience of the teacher.
  • Ask parents to nominate the best contact number for the meeting if it is to be held by phone.