Back to School nights are on the horizon and on our minds. While this night fills most of us with anxiety and uncomfortable feelings, let’s not forget the WHY. It is hard to teach ALONE. We need parents as partners to achieve the most successful teaching. This is our chance to connect with our parent partners. These are the parents who care enough to come out. These are our new best friends- and this is our first impression. Let’s make it a good one!
Before the big night
Go beyond the school invite flyer. Send out a personal invitation with some creativity injected into it. If you have online resources available like ClassDojo or Remind, send out an electronic invite or reminder. Show your parents that you care about them and their children by sending out a survey asking about what THEY want to hear from your on back to school night. Use Survey Monkey or Google Forms. This signals that you view this as a partnership, a team effort: in my experience, the best message you can convey to your new parents.
Before the big day, get your students involved and excited. If you have permission, take a class pic to greet your parents when they enter your classroom. Have them write a note to their parent, or allow them to decorate a board with greeting messages to their parents. They will be so excited that THEY are going to act as the invites, going home and telling their parents that they can’t wait until they see the classroom!
During Back to School Night
I’ll start with the obvious- your classroom should be neat, bright, decorated and creative, and you should be dressed to impress. Meet your parents at the door with a welcoming smile. Have a table ready with any important paperwork, a sign in, and (I like to) leave a little treat on the table. As they enter your room, there will be a lot to see. Don’t forget to project that big class picture to greet them. While you are stuck at the door greeting, and they are entering your classroom, don’t waste the time! To keep the parents productively engaged at this point, I like to create a simple online survey, “what do I need to know about your child,” using SurveyMoney, Typeforms, or Google Forms. Have the link posted prominently. Some parents will whip out their smartphones, and others will look lost, so have some Chromebooks or tablets open to the link for easy use. Once they’re inside and seated, the show begins! Yes, I said, “show.” I know you feel nervous, but it’s time to pretend those nerves away! Use the technology in your room to add organization, focus, and visuals to your night. Show off your skills using google slides, or add a little more edge using Prezi, or Keynote. Start by telling a little about your background, curriculum and its alignment to state standards, grading and testing requirements, classroom management and policies.
Communicate about Communication
With those details out of the way, I like to share my educational philosophy- and if time allows, even demonstrate my style of teaching with a parent activity. I spend the most time on parent communication. Through the year, I will send home some traditional paper parent letters, the kids will create logs of what they are learning in class, and I may email or call home. But, honestly, most of my parent communication is done through my online classroom. With the technology and digital resources that are available today, teachers really should have an online classroom- using tools like Google Classroom, Google Sites, district e-boards, or SchoolRack. I use the bulk of my time showing my parents how they can stay current and access my class through my online site- with or without their child’s help!
After the Event
Be prepared for your stragglers. There will be late parents, some were in other classrooms, some couldn’t park, and some are just late. Have a printed document ready for them and thank them for coming, too. The next day, send a letter home with all of your students reviewing the major points of the evening, and thanking parents for attending. Armed with the emails of all your parents, you could even send a personal and positive welcome to the new school year. So often our parent communications are negative, and this is a nice opportunity to begin the year on a positive note, and stress how important parent and at-home support is to your classroom and to their child’s education.
Make it Personal
Make this night personal. Most of us have been in the back of these classrooms on a back to school night. Remember what you were looking for from your child’s teacher? As parents, all we really want is a teacher who genuinely cares about our child, cares about teaching, and is easy to work with. Be the teacher that you always wanted your kids to get, be that teacher at back to school night, and be that teacher every day. This won’t be conveyed in your presentation as much as in your demeanor. Be real, be approachable, and be honest. Stress to your parents that we are all in this together. Teachers need parents, and those parents need us! And who knows: this could very likely be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Make sure you start it right!
Jessica Cicalese Kurtz is a veteran middle school engineering and science teacher at Toms River Schools. She has experience as a curriculum developer, teacher trainer, and is a regular contributing writer for Plymouth Rock’s Teachers’ Lounge.