Back-to-School Night is an opportune time to make an excellent impression on parents. The amount of thought and preparation you dedicate to making this a special experience for parents can make a huge difference in how the school year unfolds. Although the planning and preparation can be stressful, it is also well worth it. Families play such an influential role in the success of a child; their involvement is a strong link to achievement.
Prepare for the Big Night
Educating a child is a team effort. Each member must be clear as to what is needed to make the school year a success. Sending home an information packet a few days prior to Back-to-School Night can help save you time during your presentation, and give parents a chance to digest the information and bring any questions they have to the meeting. Behavior, effort, academic expectations, and goals should be clearly articulated. Also, include information regarding grading and homework policy, as well as classroom rules and procedures. Children spend a great deal of time in school; therefore, most parents will want to see what a typical day looks like in your classroom. Write a daily schedule on the board so you can walk them through a "day in the life" of your classroom. On the desks, display examples of quality student work and projects as evidence of learning. Everyone that enters your room will see and appreciate the fantastic student work throughout.
Make a Good First Impression
Here are a few pointers to use:
- When parents enter the room, make eye contact and introduce yourself; you want each person to feel important and that his or her time is truly appreciated.
- Elaborate on your experience. This will show you are highly qualified to teach their child.
- Define your style of teaching and any educational philosophies used in your practice.
- Keep the introduction brief and use language that is accessible to people outside of the educational circle.
- Provide a brief overview of the curriculum and sequence of concepts that will be taught throughout the year.
Encourage Family Involvement
Family can be a valuable resource for teachers. Back-to-School Night is a time when you can request parents to participate in a variety of ways. With more and more families needing two incomes to make ends meet, having time to volunteer in class may prove difficult. Highlight other ways they can contribute. This may entail prepping materials, or sorting weekly folders at home. Perhaps there is a parent in your class who is computer savvy and is willing to maintain a classroom website! Also, you may find a way to utilize a family member's expertise in your classroom. I have had parents that were chefs, architects, seamstresses, marine biologists, farmers, bank tellers, and Holocaust survivors lead activities and/or discussions during lessons. The contributions from parents can be fun and rewarding for both them and their child. Find creative ways that parents can feel involved, lighten your workload, and enrich learning all at the same time.
One way to invite parents into the classroom is to have them fill out a brief, customized questionnaire. This can help you identify their fields of expertise, how and when they can participate, information about their child, and ways to contact them. Also, you can provide a "Wish List" of materials that are needed. Keep in mind that since all parents might not be able to donate their time, giving them alternative ways to contribute keeps them involved and can possibly get you some much-needed supplies.
Communicate with Parents
Keeping families informed is the key to addressing problems, communicating successes, and sharing important information. Discuss how you plan to keep parents up-to-date about their child's progress (e.g., weekly behavior/academic reports, monthly or weekly newsletters, classroom website). Equally important, is providing your contact information so that they know you are available to address any questions that may arise as the year progresses. You could do this in the form of a business card. It conveniently fits into a wallet and is easily accessible. Include your phone number, e-mail address, and times when you can be reached.
Answer Questions and Address Concerns
With all the information you have presented, there will be questions, concerns, or possibly the need for clarification. Allow sufficient time to ease fears, and be seen as capable and caring partner in the schooling process. Answering questions in a clear and knowledgeable way can help lower anxiety while demonstrating that you have a plan geared toward success for their child.
Back-to-School Night sets the stage for the entire year. Make sure parents leave your presentation with the sense that you are a caring and knowledgeable educator. Whether you're a veteran, or in your first year of teaching, a positive attitude, confidence, and thorough planning can help build parent/teacher relationships based on collaboration, respect, and trust.