During the school closures and social distancing restrictions of Covid-19, we saw a new normal in education where parent-teacher conferences were held online. Now that schools have fully reopened, are in-person parents’ evenings back? In Singapore, many international schools are welcoming parents back onto campus – while also giving them the option to sign up for an online appointment.
There are several benefits to continuing with virtual parents’ evenings. The meetings run more smoothly as each appointment is forced to keep to time, and there’s no dash for working parents to leave the office and attend the school. Instead of balancing on a tiny chair designed for five-year-olds, you can sit comfortably in your own armchair, and rather than sipping on over-stewed tea in a paper cup you can enjoy a fresh cuppa. There’s also no risk of another mum or dad unintentionally (or possibly intentionally) jumping the queue.
However, some conversations are simply better face to face, and an in-person parents’ evening may be the only time in the year that parents have the opportunity to visit their child’s school, sit inside their classroom and see their work.
Paula Craigie, Head of Tanglin Infant School, explains why the school has reverted back to in-person Parent Teacher Conferences.
“We feel it is important for parents to come in and see the learning environment, look at their child’s books and meet the teacher face to face. This is not always possible though and so there is the option for parents to have an online meeting instead if this is preferred by the parent due to work or travel commitments.
“In our most recent Parent Teacher Conferences only about 4% of parents opted for this as the majority were really keen to come in to school.”
In Tanglin’s Senior School, there are two Parent Teacher Conferences (PTC) every year for all subjects, and there was a “fantastic attendance” of face-to-face meetings at the beginning of this academic year. Àlex Bosch Susagna, Assistant Headteacher (Academic), explains why the school is investing in the time and resources needed to continue with in-person meetings.
“It is very difficult to deny that passionate interactions about our craft, our young people’s progress, prospects and their potential are achieved in a much more meaningful manner when they happen face-to-face. There are, of course, pragmatic benefits to online interaction and Covid-19 has provided us with a plethora of platforms yet, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that in-person human interaction will always be better.
“While the world continues to battle over what takeaways can be gained from all-encompassing and disruptive experiences such as lockdowns and restrictions, our Senior Leadership Team at Tanglin decided early on that returning to face-to-face appointments was the way to go.
"In a school where community is pivotal to everything we do, bringing everyone together was of paramount importance, amongst other reasons, to remind ourselves of what was missing during the pandemic.”
Like several schools in Singapore, Dover Court International School has taken a blended approach to parents’ evenings, offering parents a choice between online and face-to-face. David Buckley, Head of Primary, says:
“We feel this provides our parents with greater choice and flexibility. Whilst some parents enjoy the immersive experience of coming into school and meeting their child's teacher in the space where their child spends a large part of their day, we recognise that this is not always practical for our parents.
“Providing a virtual option also allows out-of-town parents to attend which helps to better connect each child’s community of adults to further support their education.”
At International Community School (ICS), attendance at the most recent hybrid parent-teacher conference was 47% online and 53% on campus. Sarah Goh, Director of Advancement at ICS says:
“We are delighted to welcome our parents back on campus for Parent Evenings; that is the best format. However, for the few parent sessions during daytime hours, we now offer a hybrid format (online & on campus) for convenience. This hybrid format has evolved since the pandemic and is appropriate for any daytime parent sessions allowing parents to have convenient options to attend.”
Parent-teacher meetings may run differently from school to school, but you can generally expect to spend around 5-10 minutes with your child’s form and subject teachers. Here’s how to get the most out of your next meeting with your child’s teachers.
Arrive on time
Paula Craigie, Head of Tanglin Infant School, says:
“This will give you time to look at the learning environment, see your child’s books and create something for your child to receive the next day (we often ask parents to write their child a letter or draw a picture which the teacher then passes to the child – this reinforces the home/school partnership).”
Do your homework and take the time to review your child’s most recent school report and make a note of anything that concerns you or that you’re pleased with. This will help to ensure that the meeting can be a “dialogue-based interaction on student progress” where nothing should come as a surprise.
Àlex Bosch Susagna, Assistant Headteacher (Academic), Tanglin Senior School says:
“Parents’ Evenings are a time to sit in front of the teacher and obtain first-hand quality information on the children’s progress and approach to learning. However, we believe that given that both reports and Parents’ Evening play a key role in communicating with parents, they are inextricably linked.
"Consequently, every time we send a progress report to parents at Tanglin, a Parents’ Evening will follow where a dialogue can take place between all stakeholders about progress, objectives and targets for improvement and with the report as a starting point.
“We encourage parents to read the reports before the evenings in order to inform their questions to the teachers. We also urge them to bring the actual reports so that they can take notes on the content of the conversation which will be useful later on as they support their children at home.”
David Buckley, Head of Primary at Dover Court International School, adds:
“It is important that parents remain up to date with other information provided by the school, such as reports and SeeSaw (or other platform) posts. Collectively, these provide a more complete picture of your child’s learning, enabling you to flag potential concerns with the teacher, and have more meaningful conversations with your child about their education.”
Talk to your child
It’s important to ask your child how things are going at school, and if there is anything they would like you to ask their teacher.
“It is important to spend time talking with your child about their learning before and after the meeting. Their perspective on how it is going can also help inform strategies and next steps,” says Mr Buckley (Dover Court).
Ms Craigie (Tanglin) adds:
“Ask your child if they would like you to ask anything / share anything with the teacher. Again this demonstrates to your child that home and school are in partnership and on this journey together.
Mr Bosch Susagna (Tanglin) advises parents to bring their child to the evening if their school allows it. “At Tanglin, we call Parents’ Evenings ‘PTSCs’ Parent-Teacher-Student Conferences because everything that happens in them is for and about the students.”
Write down questions
To make the very most of the very short time you have with each teacher, write down your key concerns and questions. These could include:
Keep the focus on your child
These meetings should focus on your child’s progress and approach to learning; it is not the time to air any grievances with general school policies, the uniform, or the menu in the canteen. Save these questions and contact the school by email or phone on another day.
Mr Buckley has this advice for parents.
“These meetings are a valuable opportunity to further your understanding of where your child is at on their learning journey. To get the most out of these sessions, parents should first focus on their child’s progress and resist the urge to compare to other children.
“Every child learns in different ways and at different speeds. Your child’s individual progress from point A to point B is the best measure of how they are doing.”