Many of you will be hosting Back-to-School Night over the next few weeks. This is a great opportunity for you to build community with the parents of your students while communicating important information about the school year. With this dual purpose in mind, we've compiled a list of tips to help your night go swimmingly:
Ideas for Building Community with Parents
- Have parents introduce themselves and share a school memory that they have from when they were their children's age. Begin by modeling this yourself: for example, if you're a 2nd grade teacher, share one of your own memories of being a 2nd grader.
- On the day of Back-to-School Night, have students write a letter to their parents pointing out three things in the classroom they want their parents to notice. Leave these letters on the students' desks and encourage parents to read them when they come in. This is a nice way to connect with parents while setting the tone for open communication all year long.
- Allow ample time for questions. Inviting parents to ask you questions helps to build community and gives parents a chance to be heard. If you don’t know the answer to every question, don’t stress. Simply say that you’ll research the answer and communicate what you find out.
- Conclude your presentation by telling parents the best way to keep in contact with you (e-mail, phone, after-school office hours) and tell them when they might expect a response from you. For example, if you don't check email during the school day, make sure parents know that you will not see any of their messages until after school.
- Have your students create "Gratitude Graffiti" as a way to show appreciation for parents. As 2nd grade teacher Justin August explains, "Gratitude Graffiti allows the artist to spread positive messages that are an expression of themselves through their community." For Back-to-School Night, Justin had his students post messages to their families; each design flips up to reveal a self portrait of the student. What a lovely way to welcome families into your classroom!
Ideas for Sharing About the School Year
- Parents want to know what their students are expected to learn this year and how they can help them succeed. Think about creating a handout or packet that gives an overview of your year's scope and sequence. Bonus points for including information about how parents can help with each big topic/project.
- Explain the standards. If you're teaching the Common Core, the PTA has put out a great collection of parent guides. These guides are a great way to teach parents about the CCSS. Also, my Tch colleague Sarah Brown Wessling, wrote this informative blog post on how to "Talk to Parents About the Common Core."
- Include examples of student work. If you have copies of projects that students have done in the past, show these as examples of the kind of work students will be expected to do this year. Alternatively, show a few (nameless) examples of student work from the beginning of the year. Talk about the work students have been doing and where you will go from there.
- Take a few minutes to preview areas where kids might struggle and how parents can help. For example, your students might use a different strategy to solve math problems than their parents and that might make homework challenging. Or, talk about how the rhythms of a classroom have highs and lows -- say, how you've noticed that every December your students start to get antsy for the holidays and are easily distracted.
I know you have great ideas for Back-to-School Night, too. Let's build our collection of tips -- share your ideas below. And have a wonderful Back-to-School Night!
Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.