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The Hierarchy of Parent Teacher Conference Organization

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With schools having seen so much change to the ways they ‘connect’ and communicate with parents over the last two years, it’s worth considering where your school is on the parents’ evening organization hierarchy (see graphic to the right). Should your school be looking to employ more technology, to increase parental engagement, grow attendance and improve welfare?

Every school is different, which is why it’s helpful to analyze what others are doing and considering whether those solutions might suit your challenges also.

Beginning in Tier One, these schools employ a traditional method of organizing parent teacher conferences, where paper forms are sent home via students to collect availability, followed by a process where teachers or administrators plot all parent appointment schedules by hand.

Schools who want to remove admin/teacher/classroom time can offer parents the facility to book appointments online. These are the schools in Tier Two. These schools import their timetable via an integration with their SIS database, for quick set-up of parents’ evenings. Due to Covid they may also be facilitating video meetings using a separate, 3rd party/free video platform such as Teams or Zoom but probably are not looking to continue this post-Covid restrictions.

Tier Three identifies the schools who started using a parent teacher conference platform with integrated video meetings during Covid or thereafter. By having their parent conference platform create video meetings automatically, with these meetings being timed and clever functionality moving participants on to their later meetings automatically, the school has removed as much administration as possible. They may be looking to continue these video meetings into the 2022-23 academic year and beyond.

Tier Four details the schools who are at the cutting edge with regards to how they offer a completely ‘joined up’ parental engagement solution. These schools not only offer video appointments through an integrated, timed meeting solution, but have the facility to offer a mixture of in-person and video meetings to parents, depending on their needs. These schools can choose to have some parent conferences by video, and others in-person, or vice-versa, or a mixture of both. The intention here is to capitalize on the advancements in technology and offer the best of both worlds, with the principle benefit being that the schools have the highest level of attendance possible, by offering teachers and parents greater flexibility, accessibility and the highest standards of welfare.

The term ‘hybrid’ is becoming ever more familiar as we emerge from the restrictions phases of Covid. Hybrid meetings are precisely what tier four schools are able to offer. Parents Booking customers generally found that their parent teacher conference attendances were at an all time high during Covid, and for many the lesson learned was that by lowering the barriers to access, such as simply having one link to click on to join all your parents’ evenings (whether you are a parent or teacher), attendances climbed steadily. After all, not all parents are necessarily able to visit the school on the night that parent teacher conferences are scheduled.

There will be a group of parents and teachers who would prefer an in-person meeting, but where this isn’t possible for some, many or all, the use of emerging technology – being able to offer hybrid meetings – is a fantastic advancement driven forward by schools’ need of technological solutions during Covid.

Simple. Intuitive. Versatile.

If your school is in tiers 1-3, and would consider employing more technology to offer a better solution for parents, teachers and the school management team, just reach out to Parents Booking for their advice on how to take the next steps. Schools can try Parents Booking for free here.

Hybrid Parent Teacher Conferences

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As we move out of the ‘restrictions phase’ of the Covid-19 pandemic and look forward to being able to meet in a more familiar, traditional manner, one burning question for all of us should be: How can we continue to embrace new ways that we discovered in 2020 to enhance school/home communication while appreciating our return to more normal times? We believe the answer to this question may be hybrid parent teacher conferences moving forward.

Throughout the pandemic, Parents Booking has endeavored to support schools by providing creative solutions to problems which were new to them.

Distance learning, parental engagement and effectively connecting parents and teachers virtually were amongst some of the biggest hurdles facing schools during Covid-19 lockdowns and restriction. One of the almost-universal improvements brought about by the pandemic however is the world’s more familiar use with video meetings.

In general, virtual parents teacher conferences were much-praised because they lowered barriers to access, made sure that meetings started and ended at the correct times and allowed meetings to take place when they otherwise could not have. It was a quantum leap forward for schools who embraced this technology and were able to facilitate these valuable moments between the parent and teacher, where goals, targets and updates are discussed.

Parents appreciated being able to join meetings from work or home, which helped with childcare or transport. Equally, the convenience of being able to attend while taking a break at work, when parents might otherwise not have been able to attend an in person parents teacher conference, should not be left behind as we pursue ‘normality’.

Being able to support teachers work from home or outside the school has also been such an improvement for staff. Teachers can now create their own mini-parent teacher conferences, at times that suit them, inviting selected parents, which has meant that parent conferences can be much more ‘on demand’ both now and in the future.

For all of us at Parents Booking, our next challenge looks like it will be how to merge virtual and in-person conferences into a ‘best of both’ model. While there are many schools who do not want to run anything by video going forward, for others there will be a natural instinct to offer in-person conferences and conversations again, now that these are possible. However, there will be concern from all, including admin teams, that this which could be at the expense of the groundbreaking accessibility that virtual meetings offered.

By no longer offering virtual meetings, schools risk excluding parents who found video meetings a valuable way of connecting with teachers. The risk is that we go backwards relative to the parental engagement improvements that Parents Booking has helped to engineer for over a decade.

We believe a hybrid of in-person and virtual meetings is going to be a common solution to the pressures of wanting to have in-person conferences, without compromising on accessibility or attendance from parents who truly benefited from virtual parent teacher conferences.

You can already create a hybrid of in-person and virtual parents teacher conferences in Parents Booking, but our primary concentration over the coming weeks and months will be building ever-more functionality, to ensure that the unique needs of all schools can be met by this hybrid approach.

We’d love to hear from you. If you have any special needs or a logistical/school setup which would benefit from a discussion about how hybrid parent teacher conferences would be conducted at your school, ask us for a call back or pop us some thoughts in an email.

New features for 2021-22

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Firstly, welcome back. We hope you had a relaxing and refreshing summer, and managed to soak up some rays!

This blog article lists the exciting changes we’ve made to Parents Booking since last academic year. You can click on a topic below and this will open that specific change in a new blog post, usually complete with a video explainer.

Also, these are some of the things we’re looking to add ASAP this term:

  • Screen sharing and a chat box in the video meeting room.
  • Ability to email teachers their appointment schedule one-at-a-time or in bulk.
  • Parents and teachers will be able to login from RM Unify in one click.
  • Schools will be able to import Pupil Premium status for students, where wanted, to help with priority inviting or chasing parents this applies to.
  • One click data import for the following MIS/SIS school databases: Arbor, Aspen, Engage, PowerSchool and Progresso/Cloud School.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions just let us know.

Best wishes,

Parents Booking

New Events and Clubs Module changes for 2021-22

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We’ve been hard at work upgrading the Events and Clubs module this summer, and below are a list of the changes we’ve made so far:

  • The capacity for events and clubs are now tied to the date, not the actual event, meaning where you run an event or club over multiple date ranges, with a capacity of 20 for example, this is the capacity per date now.
  • In the school’s Admin Area > Set Up School > Preferences page, there is a new text field that allows the school Admin to determine a maximum number of clubs that a student can be registered for within one group/term. This will be perfect for schools who don’t want the first parents to login to be able to book more than their fair share of clubs.
  • We have integrated with Stripe, meaning that it, ParentPay and PayPal are all ‘payment gateways’ that schools can configure to take payments online.
  • We’ve added more currencies, so that schools who operate internationally should be able to take payments in their currency.
  • Clubs and Events will very soon use the same Reg Class ‘selection’ interface as parents’ evenings, because we know from trials and feedback that this is much more popular than typing in the Reg Class names.
  • Hopefully by 1st Sept we’ll have launched a new type of Club, which allows parents to select multiple dates. This will be perfect for wraparound care, breakfast clubs and after school clubs where parents can opt students in on selected dates, rather than all dates. An example of how this will look is below.

New video meeting features for 2021-22

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  • If a parent is very early for their parents’ evening, a new notification explains this and a button shows where the ‘join appointments’ button will be shown (15mins before the first appointment starts)
  • When you hang up during a meeting, you do not leave the meeting any more. You are held in the video meeting room until your next meeting starts.
  • A countdown timer now shows how long until your next meeting starts, before or in-between meetings.
  • Parents and teachers can see if the other meetings they will have are ‘online’ or not now. A red circle icon indicates the other participant is not in their video room at this moment in time, whereas a green circle icon indicates the other participant is in their video meeting room.
  • Teachers can now click on a parent’s name, in their video meeting room’s appointment schedule, and expand more booking information, such as contact information and comments submitted by the parent.
  • Parents can share a ‘join link’ that will allow other parents to join the booked video meetings in one click, without even the need for a parent login.
  • Parents who have meetings ‘shared’ with them (by other family members) can now see these on their Dashboard > View my Booking Schedule page, and can choose to opt out of joining these from their Parent Dashboard > Make/Edit My Own Bookings page.
  • The school Admin can define which region the video meetings take place in, in case this is required. See Admin Area > Set Up School > Preferences page.
  • The school Admin can see not only which parents/guardians booked and attended their meetings, but also which extra parents/guardians attended, e.g. when the meeting was shared with them. See Reports tab’s List of Attendees and similar reports, on the day after the parents’ evening, for this data.

At the time of writing we intend to add the following within the next month as well:

  • Screen sharing and a chat box in the video meeting room.
  • Better error reporting, e.g. when a video meeting cannot connect we will explain as best we can to the parent/teacher what the issue is.
  • When multiple users are in the video meeting room, we want to show you the person that is talking to you at all times, so we will code the “video area” to work this way.

Sharing Existing Bookings, so that Multiple Teachers Can Join the Same Video Meetings.

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Schools can share bookings that have previously been made with one teacher (let’s call them teacher A) with a second teacher (Teacher B). This is really simple to do, and the video and PDF below are both good instructions/resources explaining the process.

1. You can share bookings that have already been made with a 2nd teacher at any time, but consider that it might be best to do this after the booking deadline has passed, so you only have to do it once and can do it for all bookings that require sharing.
2. Make sure the teacher you want to share the bookings with has an account on the Teachers page. If they don’t, add them. They don’t need any students added to them, but they do need a name, subject, department and e-mail address (so you can send them a username/password to login with).
3. Go to the Manage Bookings page, fine Teacher A, tick the bookings you want to share, then at the top of the page click Share Booking and share them with Teacher B. If Teacher B was not in the evening, they’ll be added.

Download PDF Instructions Here

Explainer Video:

How to Run a Video Call Test

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We recommend that schools run tests of video call module before using it for real parents’ evenings, to ensure it will work as well as can be on the day.

It is also vital that networks/firewalls are configured to ‘allow’ the video calls to take place on the school’s network and teacher ‘devices’ (see more on this at the bottom of this article).

The two tests we suggest are below:

Test One: Run a Network test using the Twilio Network Tester:
Please also note the information at the bottom of this post about information for your IT team.

Test Two: Test with Teachers

Schools should check that the devices teachers plan to use are compatible with the video call technology. This can be done simply by asking teachers to login to their Parents Booking account and click the ‘Video Settings’ button on their Dashboard. This will allow them to test their internet browser is compatible, and that their webcam and microphone work. Teachers can also run the ‘network test’ detailed in Test One above.

The instructions (PDF file) for teachers on how to join the video calls goes into further detail on internet browser and device compatibility.

This blog post details how to set up a more cumbersome but in-depth test, where you set up fake parent accounts and have teachers and ‘fake parents’ book appointments between each other.

Information for your IT/server team:

Media / UDP Network Settings :

– Schools need to allow Port 443 / HTTPS traffic and IT/network teams should be aware these video calls will happen over an encrypted peer-to-peer (P2P) connection, making any network adjustments required.

– Ensure * URLs are whitelisted.

– Smoothwall/firewall users should add to ‘authentication exceptions’ in Smoothwall’s policies. Some Smoothwall users have also had to modify the’ default outgoing policy’ to allow ‘any internal interfaces’ to access ‘any external interfaces’.

– Our video meetings through generate lots of UDP connections, which school firewalls (or ISP DDOS blocking software) may well be setup to block/drop if they consider them to be a UDP flood attack, and we have seen this on rare occasions. Consider disabling UDP flood protection, or adding as an exception to this part of your firewall, if you find (while using the Twilio Network Test) that the number of UDP connections allowed is much lower than it should be, or if video/audio quality is poor during real video meetings (because these should be crystal clear). Video meetings with anything less than a perfect video, or where the audio and video are not in sync, should be taken as a clue to some sort of disruption caused possibly by a factor such as this.

– We’re also aware that adding into to the SSL Inspection exceptions for a firewall has been of significant help to some schools, including those who use Sophos SG UTM as their firewall.

– Finally, we advise whitelisting the most local “media servers” from this list of Twilio IP address ranges. You can also go to your school’s Parents Booking ‘admin area’ > Set Up School page > Preferences page button (bottom left corner, orange button) and choose a region, rather than using “Global Low Latency”, if you want to be certain about which IPs should be whitelisted.

Information for HP Laptops/Computers

One school has reported that where there were issues with the camera and mic not working on HP laptops and computers, this was resolved by removing the Cyberlink YouCam application.

New case study: Boroughmuir High School

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We recently visited the brand new Borughmuir High School in Edinburgh. They have been a customer for a number of years, and a huge supporter of our services, but were also recently named Scottish state secondary school of the year by The Sunday Times, which makes their recommendation of us all the stronger.

Take a little look at the case study below: