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How to Make Back to School Night Count, Part Two: Connecting with Parents
by Monica Fuglei
Part one of How to Make Back to School Night Count discussed effective event planning and presentation strategies. Now we’ll talk about one of the most important components of a back-to-school event: connecting with parents.
Four ways to connect parents to your class on Back to School Night
1. Show off student work and classroom technology
If a back-to-school event takes place after school has started, many teachers have students complete projects that describe who they are and convey what they are learning. These displays can include artwork, photos of students, lists of favorite books or activities, and what they are excited to learn in the upcoming year. Judie Haynes provides great ideas for Back to School night projects for ESL classes that can be adapted for any classroom.
Introducing classroom technology can help parents understand the technological aspects of their students’ classroom. Demonstrating how you use tablets, interactive whiteboards, or Skype to enhance lessons is a fun way to do this.
2. Offer interactive activities
If your back-to-school event is an open house format, a fun activity to get everybody familiar with the classroom like a scavenger hunt can be an excellent idea. Young students and parents can find important areas like cubbies, coat hooks, and even the bathrooms while dropping school supplies at each place.
If students are older, a larger scavenger hunt that introduces them and their families to the middle or high school facilities can be helpful. This game familiarizes students and parents with the classroom and allows a teacher some one-on-one time with families that have just arrived or have finished their hunt. Consider giving a small, school-related prize to each student who has finished the hunt.
3. Recruit parents as classroom volunteers
Back to School Night is a fantastic opportunity to recruit parents as classroom volunteers. However, parents may be wary of over-committing when their schedules are already busy. To make them more comfortable, Scholastic recommends asking potential volunteers about their abilities and interests, then matching them to classroom needs. A sign-up sheet that allows parents to volunteer in specific areas — working directly with children, technical assistance, event coordination, or office administration, for example — can be updated throughout the year and will allow you to find the right fit for your classroom needs.
This is also a great time to encourage continued communication by introducing a class website, online newsletter, or even online volunteer resources like SignupGenius.
4. Respond to parents who ask specific questions about their child
Occasionally, parents will see a back-to-school event as an opportunity to speak at length with the teacher about their child. They may want to make sure you know about their child’s allergy or learning disability, or they may seek answers to why their son or daughter struggles with a particular subject. Since the nature of the event makes this one-on-one focus difficult, this is an excellent time to reinforce the need for open communication — provide your contact information and encourage parents to set up an appointment to discuss their concerns or ideas.
5. Connect with parents who miss Back to School Night
Finally, teachers should have a simple plan in place to welcome parents who were not able to attend your back-to-school event. Consider reaching out via e-mail, phone call, or written note home to help establish the parent-teacher connection. Ideally, all the information presented at the event will be available online. Make sure parents can access this and have your contact information.
Back-to-school events are the first point of contact with students and their families and thus helps set the tone for the school year. It is the first and best opportunity to engage and inspire parents as active participants in the educational team, but also an essential moment to meet and greet new students and allow them to grow comfortable in their new learning space.
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.