It’s easy to understand why some students feel 'subjected' to Parents Evening. With little or no say in the exchange between parents and teachers, they often experience a sense of powerlessness.
With untold stories of teachers scrambling to remember names, parents being herded from one 10-minute appointment to the next and disconcerting journeys home attempting to make sense of cryptic ‘teacher talk’ (‘your son has a unique personality’ is rarely a promising proclamation), it’s no wonder that the experience has inspired countless comedy sketches and well-visited advice pages.
“When you put a teacher, a student and a parent or guardian in a room, it should be a powerful combination, but it too often ends up as a damp squib,” says Tom Gilliford, who was at the helm of a collaboration between The RSA and The Teachers Guild, that took place earlier this year to explore the issue.
With gusto the team set about gathering global educators to answer the question – How Might We Redesign Parent-Teacher Conferences?
As a creative facilitator with a commitment to re-imagining education, the initiative caught my attention. An invitation to join an online conference between several stakeholders gave birth to a wealth of interesting ideas. I came away from the conversation with one clear thought - what would happen if we turned Parents Evening on its head and put students at the center of the experience? With that, the Student-led Icebreaker Quiz was born.
The quiz would be a fun and effective way of providing young people with the means to contribute to Parents Evening. A panel of students would be tasked with creating a range of questions exploring what it is to be a young learner. Select parents and teachers would form teams and pit their knowledge against each other - think pub quiz meets game show. If students hosted the affair and presented an aspect of their learner journey in a fresh and exciting new way, it could be a real game changer. Like most games, a quiz has the capacity to break down social barriers. Instead of assuming a passive role in proceedings, learners could open the dialogue, and in doing so, take greater ownership of their learner journey. And let’s face it, it would make a nice change if teachers and parents could celebrate something they have in common – the challenge of understanding the workings of the teenage brain.
Once posted in the Teachers Guild forum, the idea rapidly gained momentum, as educators from The US to Zimbabwe contributed their thoughts. From an initial index of 102 ideas, the quiz was iterated and improved (with the invaluable input of mentors from global design company IDEO and innovation experts Fluxx). The humble quiz went on to be shortlisted and was eventually selected by a panel at The RSA, as one of the final Top Ten projects.
“We obviously loved the Icebreaker Quiz idea,” says Emma Scripps, Program Designer for The Teachers Guild at IDEO and panel judge. “We can’t wait to see how it grows and scales from here. We want to see this idea inspire implementation!”
In June this year, the team ran a consultation with Big Creative Academy, a 16-19 school in London offering cutting-edge courses in the creative industries. We interviewed parents, teachers and students about their Parents Evening experience and presented the idea of a Student-Led Icebreaker Quiz.
Feedback was overwhelmingly positive and the desire to make Parents Evening a more interactive and impactful experience was evident. As a consequence of the consultation, the principal, Sacha Corcoran MBE, has agreed to incorporate the quiz into the academy’s parent engagement strategy.
“Often we hear that teenagers are a mystery to us; well ask any teenager and they will tell you the exact same about adults and their parents,” says Sacha, who is also a long-standing fellow at The RSA. “This project will provide an opportunity to bridge the generation gap and enhance the most important relationship a child has - with their parent. Innovative ways of embedding the importance of communication between teenagers and their parent or guardian will support our vision to have the parent at the heart of the academy supporting us to support their child to be successful.”
As we prepare to launch the next phase we would like to take this opportunity to invite schools, education institutes, technology partners and RSA fellows to get involved. We’re keen to hear your ideas around piloting the project and developing online resources to help schools create content that is informative, fun and reflective of their specific learners.
With your help we can turn Parents Evening into a dynamic forum for meaningful, engaging and inclusive exchange. If you would like to get involved please leave a comment below or contact us at: [email protected].