We are all becoming increasingly aware of the concept of the Flipped Classroom, but if we follow this idea further where will it take us?
Flipped Learning allows us to look at how we use our time with students, with a view to being more effective as teachers. What would happen if we looked at how we interact with parents through the same lens?
I am sure that we have all experienced parent's evenings, either as a teacher or a parent and come away frustrated by the process. Hanging around in a school hall for hours to have a series of 10 minute conversations is not a constructive use of anyone's time, never mind the challenges of trying to cram a year's worth of information into such a short timeframe. If we could identify what was the most important part of these meetings and find a way to focus on this, then surely we could make the whole process more effective and satisfying for all concerned. So let's look at what happens in a traditional parent's meeting and see if we can remove those aspects that could be dealt with in a different way.
Generally, the conversation will seek to look at how the student is doing in the classroom, talk about their progress, (including grades and achievements) before moving on to goals and targets for the rest of the year. Frequently, parents will have a list of questions and take copious notes throughout the process. Of course there are parts of the meeting that need to take place face to face and we need to concentrate on those; in this case it should be the discussion over goals and targets. Once the parents know what their child needs to do in order to improve, then they are in a better position to support them in this process. So can the idea of flipped learning help in this regard?
Now let's look at the other parts of the meeting, which are largely about how the student is performing, either in the classroom or in terms of academic progress. What we are talking about here is providing information rather than discussion and as such it is perfectly feasible to provide this to parents before the meeting. This should help to ensure that their questions are more pertinent and potentially fewer in number and this is where the concept of the flipped classroom starts to become familiar; parents don't need a teacher to read grades to them, they need advice on what action to take following those grades.
So how do we go about implementing the 'flipped parent's meeting'? There are two possible options here. We could produce a short report on each child and distribute this to parents before the meeting takes place; some schools already do this, hosting the parents' evening shortly after reports have been published. However, such an approach is not without its complications. Asking teachers to produce a further report in the academic year will not be popular and changes in performance or behaviour can feel a lot more dramatic if they are only announced at certain points of the year - this can lead to some 'interesting' conversations at the meeting itself.
Alternatively, if the parents receive regular updates throughout the year, then they will arrive at the meeting with a more balanced, long term picture of their child's progress. This is also less stressful for the child and the teacher as they are not preparing for a test or a piece of work that will inform the meeting at any one point. We should be able to adopt this approach for any meeting with parents - as they are better and more frequently informed of their child's performance, discussions can be centred on how to work with the student and not the performance itself.
Taking such an approach is not without its difficulties; parents will need to be 'educated' so that they understand that a movement of grades up and down from topic to topic is a normal part of the students progress so they don't need to contact the school every time there is a change in the marks being attained. There will be a flurry of contact in the initial phase, but as they get used to the system, this should settle down and parents will become more comfortable with the normal ebb and flow of work that students produce. The same is true for the students themselves; some may feel under the microscope in the initial stages, but as they get used to the idea, continuous assessment and feedback will be part of their educational experience and not one to be unnecessarily concerned over.
Education is an interaction between the different parties involved: teachers, students and parents, and as such the human element of
this process is an essential one. However, the real benefits of these face to face discussions can all too easily get lost while we talk about the data and facts that inform them. The flipped model allows teachers to spend their time more effectively with students and there is no reason why the same strategy should not work with parents as well. A successful student is the product of teachers, student and parents working together and this will always be helped by effective communication. The flipped model allows us to ensure that we are always communicating with parents in such a way as to get the very best out of the information.