news & tips
A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching
How to Make Back to School Night Count, Part One: Planning and Presentations
by Monica Fuglei
It’s that time of year: quiet classrooms await new flocks of students. Before or shortly after school begins, most schools have a Back to School Night. Parental involvement is essential for strengthening school culture and reinforcing classroom learning, and back-to-school events are an excellent time to initiate communication.
However, these events can present a challenge for educators: how can they accomplish a lot — connect with parents, demonstrate what their children are learning, and impart key information — in a few hours? In short, how can teachers make Back to School Night count? We have some ideas.
Back to School event essentials: Preparation, collaboration, engagement
In order for teachers to meet parents at a back-to-school event, they must be present. Low turnout at Back to School Nights can be an issue for schools; parents who care about their child’s education but who anticipate several hours of presentations are not highly motivated to attend. Some suggestions:
- Back-to-school events are often short, so Beth Lewis suggests making and following a specific schedule for the evening. This shows that the school values parents’ time.
- Having a few parents on the Back to School Night planning committee is a good way to understand what they want to get out of the event.
- Make sure the event is inclusive. Parents of students with special needs should be able to meet inclusion teachers, aides and other support staff. ESL or ELL departments should try to provide translators for families who may not speak English.
- Good old-fashioned hospitality: many parents are coming to Back to School Night straight from work. Having a cookout or getting food trucks to donate one or two hours of time and snacks will make the night fun and give attendees a chance to relax.
The perfect Back to School Night presentation: Informative and concise
Some schools urge teachers to give a formal presentation at back-to-school events. In this case, it’s important to keep presentations both helpful and brief. In “What I Liked About Back to School Night,” blogger Patrick Higgins, Jr. recalled getting restless when teachers recited their qualifications and long lists of rules and regulations.
Instead, he recommends that teachers explain their approach to teaching and how they implement it through class activities, projects, and grades. Teaching teams should consider creating a presentation together to create a cohesive talk that encourages parents and students to see the teachers as an effective team.
Providing parents with a tangible take-home item reinforces the ideas shared on Back to School Night. An effective packet of information for parents will include:
- Teacher contact information
- Curriculum information
- Classroom rules and homework expectations
- Important dates (census, testing, and field trips)
- Discipline policies
- Listings for the class website and online newsletter
- Information on how to volunteer in the classroom using volunteer resources like SignupGenius
Some teachers suggest brightly-colored flip books to make sure that information visually memorable. Ideally, information in the packet will be available electronically as well. This easy access may keep parents more connected throughout the school year.
“What does my kid do all day?” How about a hands-on demonstration?
Back to School Night is often the first glimpse into the inner workings of a classroom. It’s important to create a welcoming atmosphere while conveying how the classroom works and the teacher’s expectations. Higgins, Jr. mentions a preschool teacher who provided a “masterful demonstration” of what their son did in her class:
“We sat like preschoolers and followed their mini-schedule. She moved as if we were the kids, showing us the actions she makes as she instructs; every action is mirrored by the words used to describe it. We got to know her and who she is. We spent time imagining our son working and interacting with the same things we were.”
As with many things, when it comes to learning, showing is usually better than telling.
Continue reading — How to Make Back to School Night Count, Part Two: Connecting with Parents
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.