For many teachers, Back to School Night feels like 30 lashes with a wet noodle.
But with the right mindset you’ll be crushing Back to School Night without breaking a sweat. Doesn’t matter if it’s in person or via Zoom.
The secret? Laserlike focus on the purpose of Back to School Night. And more important? Letting go of the rest.
Get off the merry-go-round
When I started teaching, other teachers’ Back to School Night preparations were incredible. The vases of flowers. The pressed suits. The adorable letters written by students to their parents. The life-sized paper replicas of students sitting in chairs.
All this activity made me panic. Was I supposed to be doing that? Would parents walk into my room, look at each other with raised eyebrows and ask, “How’d our kid end up with this schmuck?”
And don’t get me started on Pinterest. (Pinterest — I love you, but seriously? Teachers have enough on their plates. Back to School Night is a night. Not a choreographed event.)
So how about this: Let’s stop. Let’s stop the comparison and the acrobatics.
Instead, let’s focus on what will make the kids’ year phenomenal — trust between parents and teachers.
Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? It seeps with “feelings.” And it doesn’t inspire the picture-snapping of cute crafts.
But it works. And it’s efficient.
So instead of spending days prepping for this one night, put your focus where it belongs — on the kids and their growth.
What Parents Want to Know
When you boil it down, here’s what they want to know:
- Will my child love school?
- Have friends?
Everything else is frosting.
If you love those extra Back to School Night crafts and they bring you joy, terrific! Have at it. But having a successful night to start the year with parents on your side can be much simpler.
The cherry on top is this: starting this way saves you hours per week. How? You’ll receive WAY fewer worried parent emails and phone calls.
That saved time is money in the bank.
So let’s look at those magic 3 questions.
Will my child love school?
If a child loves and respects you, feels safe, and has the right level of challenge, they’re gonna love school.
So how do you show this in one night? Be natural, open, and kind. If their kid already loves you, the parents will show up to Back to School Night guarded but excited. Is this teacher as great as my kid says? Yes you are! So be yourself. Smile, laugh, and greet them like a future friend.
Your relaxed, friendly attitude will put parents at ease. When you are calm and approachable, they’ll know they can count on you to guide their cool little human.
If nerves get your hands shaking, try this: imagine that your favorite person or animal is in the room. (Seriously. Try it now.)
Notice your face softening? Your shoulders lowering? This magic pill lets your cool self shine. So paste that person’s face on your cheat sheet if you need to.
‘Cause when parents meet a teacher who’s genuinely confident and happy? Their arms uncross, their bodies unwind, and the smiles reach their eyes. When you relax, families relax.
This stuff really works.
Believe it or not, many parents are nervous too. Some had bad experiences during their own school days. Others hope this is the year their kid likes school and doesn’t cry at morning drop-off.
We teachers understandably tend to focus on ourselves and how we’re coming across. But parents have a lot riding on this too. When you focus on making them comfortable, your nervousness disappears.
Okay, you’ve got question one covered. You’re owning this! On to question #2.
Will my child have friends?
When a child doesn’t have friends (or feel like they have friends ) parents worry. Like all of us, they want their favorite person to thrive. And while not every child wants lots of friends, they do want to feel accepted and have a couple buddies who get them.
Let parents know you support their kids socially, and that families can share concerns with you. As Maslow pointed out, children need to feel the belong before they can thrive. You won’t have all the answers, but you can team up with families. And you can lean on colleagues for advice and support.
When you stress the importance of friends at Back to School Night, parents know you want their kid to belong.
The last powerful question:
Will my child learn?
Every parent wants their kid to learn. If their child struggles, what will you do? If they’ve mastered the material, how will you challenge them?
These are loaded questions, of course, and you may not have all the answers. That’s okay! Every school – often every grade — handles this differently. So ask colleagues how they address this at Back to School Night. Over time, you’ll develop your own style.
Now that you’ve addressed those 3 questions at Back to School Night, you are ahead of the game, my friend!
Want to take it further?
Easier said than done, right?
No worries. You don’t have to be a natural entertainer or magician. It’s simpler than that.
Present with Pictures
Ever sit through a wordy Powerpoint or Google Slides presentation? They’re deadly, right? So don’t put your visitors to sleep with word-stuffed slides.
The good news? Presentations can be very entertaining. And photos are where it’s at. Show them what you’re planning, rather than describing it. For example, if you’re going over your homework policy, put a picture of your homework folder on the slide with a simple arrow labeled, “Due Friday.” Keep things simple and to the point.
Studying frogs? Fill a slide with images of frogs. Or just one frog.
If the mention of Powerpoint sends you into a panic (“I’m supposed to learn Powerpoint now??”) then don’t do it! Only create a presentation if it makes your life easier.
Remember — Back to School Night is for answering those 3 questions. Powerpoint is just a tool. Nothing more.
Don’t recite the curriculum
We only get a set amount of time for Back to School Night.
Glossing over your curriculum may be a good idea, but don’t use it as a crutch to fill time. This is a golden opportunity to get parents on your side. It only happens once a year, so take advantage!
Here are topics you can address if they apply to you:
- Homework: How does this work in your room? How can parents support their kids? What should parents do if their child has trouble with it?
- Field Trips: Where/when? Are there chaperones? How are they chosen? Have they updated their CORI with the office?
- Dismissal: How should parents let you know if there is a change in dismissal? What if it’s a last-minute change? (Check your school’s policy.)
- The importance of getting to school on time
- Supplies your classroom needs
- Scholastic Book Club orders
- Communication: When/how will you be in touch with them? How can they reach you? When do you answer email?
- Parent-teacher conferences
- Specials schedule
- Standardized testing: what to expect
- Your teaching philosophy
- Rules (Tread carefully. Parents should know you run an organized and fair room and that you are on their kids’ side.)
- Frequently asked questions (if this isn’t your first Back to School Night)
A Nighttime Morning Meeting
Parents love to step into their kids’ shoes. Our district follows Responsive Classroom, which includes a daily Morning Meeting. Toward the end of my Back to School Night, parents move in a circle floor and experience a typical meeting. Part of that meeting includes a game and a share.
A quick game
Games are magic in helping people let their guard down. We often play “Buzz,” because it’s easy and fast. Players time themselves to see how quickly they can pass the word “Buzz” along the entire circle. (I’ll do this the week before with their kids so parents have a record time to beat.) This is flippin’ adorable. Parents become as giggly and vulnerable as their kids. We do it for a few times and if they manage to beat their kids’ score, they start cheering! Too cute.
Here’s a rough script for what I say afterward:
I learned this game in my teacher training. I was in a circle of other adults just like this. What caught me by surprise, though, was how nervous I felt about passing the word “Buzz.” And I was an adult! (Maybe some of you felt that too.) Which made me think: imagine how our kids must feel!
We begin the year with simple but fun games like this that encourage them to participate, but in a way that won’t overtax their nerves.* Slowly they gain confidence. As the year progresses, the risks they take in Morning Circle increase, but never in a way that is unattainable. This gives your kids a feeling of belonging and the willingness to take risks that is vital to thriving academically. As any of us knows, when we are stressed, sad, or feeling left out, it’s hard to do our jobs as efficiently as when we feel comfortable and accepted.
*Obviously, this can vary from year to year, particularly if you have a student with social anxiety.
You can choose any game. Just keep it simple and short. You’ll be amazed how quickly the time passes on Back to School Night.
A quick share
Parents love an Around the Circle Share at Back to School Night. In our room we use a Chat Pack, which has outstanding questions. Recently, we picked a card that asked where they would like to travel by hot-air balloon. The energy in that room shifted immediately, and their eyes took on an excited glow. It felt like a campfire get-together! At the end of the evening, parents were walked out of the room, still talking hot air balloons. A good share creates instant bonds.
Getting out the door
Have a game plan for the end of Back to School Night.
Some well intentioned parents may use this post-presentation time to ask for an update on their kid. Being a friendly teacher and trying to get out the door can be tricky line to balance. What many teachers do is have their exit planned. Keep your bag and coat ready to go when you begin so that you walk out with the parents, turning out your classroom light as you go. Invite them to email you to set up a conference if they still have questions.
Sometimes, this can be difficult to do, but there’s strength in numbers. Make an agreement with your team to leave together. For example, if I see a colleague who’s cornered at the end of Back to School Night, I’ll politely remind them in front of that parent that we’ve been asked to leave the building. (And they do the same for me.)
If you are lucky, your custodians will help you out too. Your principal should announce that the school is closing. Check with your team and principal to see what the protocol is in your school.
Now It’s Your Turn!
Tell us in the comments below:
- Is this your first Back to School Night? What questions do you have?
- OR — what Back to School Night strategies have worked well for you?
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