Rethinking the Evening Parent Counseling Meeting
by Trinity Walsh, School Counselor, Highlands High School
All day you’ve been dreading this night. It’s relatively uninspired and the words that will come out of your mouth could easily sound like a robot. It’s 7:00pm on a Tuesday, and you stand in front of an audience of approximately 100 parents. You give the same basic points that you have for years and you reference the recycled PowerPoint presentation that you created at least 10 years ago; each year you edit to reflect new guidelines and details. There are some parents that you have seen in this audience every year since you started this job (they have 5 children), and they could give the presentation and even deliver your bad jokes. Not only are you less than enthused to give the presentation, clearly the parents aren’t that excited either — if you’ve managed to get a fourth of the students’ parents there, you are a rock star!
Probably one of the most frustrating questions any educator can get from a parent is, “Is this meeting/presentation going to be important?” Of course, it is! Why else would we be spending an hour or two of our evening to present this information if it wasn’t? So, while you know the information you are giving is important, you know deep-down why they are asking the question. The reality of the situation is that they do not want to sit stagnate in the high school auditorium only to hear the information that you, the school counselor, deem to be important. We have become quite an active society, and even parents who claim that technology is the downfall of our children, are equally needy of immediate gratification. (I admit, I too, fall into that category often.) The days of sit and listen are numbered for not only our students but the parents as well. So, how do we make our important parent meetings more engaging for our parents? In addition, how do we allow our parents to realize that they are not the one’s flying this educational plane? It’s actually the student who is the captain, and the parents are there as the co-pilot and navigator.
Putting the Student First
There have been more articles than I could possibly ever read on the “helicopter parent” and the helplessness of Generation Z. While we may not have a complete solution to this problem, we are trying ways to combat the issue. Over the last several years my school counseling office has very purposefully changed the title of our evening meetings to student/parent meetings. Note, student is first! We consistently encourage both the student and the parent to come to these meetings. While the students often know what we are presenting inside and out, it gives both the student and parent the opportunity to hear the information together, and hopefully have a meaningful discussion about the STUDENT’S future. We are giving the student the opportunity to fly the plane and not just have their mom or dad return home from a meeting to say, “I know what you’re going do after high school…”
This change to STUDENT/parent meeting is a VERY slow transition. For years, it’s always been just mom and/or dad to attend; there are evening sporting, club, and activities going on for the student; homework and more homework; reasons why a student can’t attend that I can’t even fathom. But, we persist! Not only is it difficult for our parents and students to latch onto this concept, it is difficult for our administrators as well. It certainly isn’t because they don’t want students involved in their education, it’s just a paradigm shift.
While the students often know what we are presenting inside and out, it gives both the student and parent the opportunity to hear the information together, and hopefully have a meaningful discussion about the STUDENT’S future.
Engaging Both Parents and Students
Beyond tackling the appropriate participants for our evening meetings, we have to tackle the relevance, value, and find a way to engage the immediate gratification society. As school counselors, we really are a jack of all trades, and a master of none. We disburse so much information on a variety of topics that it is nearly impossible to hit the important highlights of everything we should discuss in a one-hour student/parent meeting. Some things to consider:
- How do we not bore the mom who has already heard our presentation 4 times, and really only wants to hear if there is something new when it comes to college financial aid?
- Why not let the students and parents actually choose what it is that they need more information on and only have to listen to what is important to them?
Arming Parents and Students with Tools for the Future
In addition to being a “master of none,” school counselors are some of the best networkers out there. We know people from college admissions staff, financial aid specialists, state level employees who deal with a variety of state mandates and procedures, military representatives, test prep coordinators, and have contacts in just about every major career field. Some things to consider in preparing for meetings:
- Why not tap into these contacts?
- Why not let our contacts be the master of their content and present their expertise?
A New Approach to Conferences: Giving Families the Power to Choose
As school counselors, and educators, we attend conferences often, and most of the time we have a choice as to what sessions we attend. Why is this approach so successful? Because we get to drive our own learning and experience. So, why would this concept not be as applicable to our families?
This past January we ditched the old counselor PowerPoint presentation model and used a conference approach. While the one-hour timeframe certainly doesn’t work for this model, students and parents have the flexibility to see the presenters that are most relevant to them and spend the time that they have seeing these presentations. Rather than having three separate evening presentations for grades 9, 10, and 11, we invited them all on the same night (for our school that’s approximately 750 student families), and had approximately 200 students/parents attend throughout the evening. Our Student/Parent WinterCon (as we called it) was scheduled from 5:30pm — 9:00pm, and attendees had the option to attend sessions on: financial aid, State grant/scholarship money, military options, standardized test prep, 2-year colleges, college AND career technical education programs, career consulting during college and after graduation, completing the Common App, using Naviance, and scheduling classes for the next school year. Each session was presented several times and ranged from 30–45 minutes in length. Students and parents could come and go as they pleased, as well as attending just the sessions that were important to them. In addition, we brought college to them by having a mini college fair! 15 college admission reps were available in our hallways to interact and speak to our families before, during, and after presentations.
Rather than having three separate evening presentations for grades 9, 10, and 11, we invited them all on the same night (for our school that’s approximately 750 student families), and had approximately 200 students/parents attend throughout the evening.
As a school that has transitioned to a one-to-one model, much of what was available in terms of schedules for the evening, presentation descriptions and feedback methods were electronic/online, although we did have some paper copies of the schedule and descriptions available that evening. All of the sessions were well attended, and the overall rating for this new format was very positive. We even heard several students say that their friends who didn’t attend should have definitely come, and a few were texting them to “get up here to school.” Parents were pleased and happy that the monotony of the “Parent Meeting” had been broken up.
I preach to my students on a regular basis that one of the best skills that they can have is the ability to use their resources, yet for years we were not using ours to its full potential. Reach out to your resources! They are willing to volunteer and help, as by nature most of them are in a “helping” profession. Year one was tough. Making this non-traditional transformation certainly required far more work that just repeating the same recycled robot presentation. But, I know that we were able to better service our families by bringing the experts to them, as well as “getting with the times” and adjusting to Generation Z and the immediate gratification society we’ve become.
For more information on our STUDENT/parent WinterCon event, visit:
Trinity Walsh is a School Counselor at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. As a 14-year veteran in the school counseling field she’s been fortunate to work at two outstanding high schools in the Greater Cincinnati area. She has had the pleasure of helping hundreds of students achieve their dreams and helping their parents to find the perfect balance between driving force and sideline coach. While she always knew that she would be an educator, school counseling was not the initial plan (high school band director), but she couldn’t imagine doing another job. This is definitely what she was born to be!
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