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Back to School Night Done Right

Aug 12, 2017 by

Engage, inform, inquire and inspire in just two short hours.

 Back to Basics

Summer is all but over for schools throughout the nation.  The administrators and staff have worked hard to make sure the opening of the school year is a trouble free success.  The building is clean and updated.  New staff and faculty have been hired and assigned classes.  The busses and cafeteria have passed inspection and even the IT team has completed the needed updates on the school servers.  At least we hope that is happening at some perfect learning institution somewhere on Earth.

For many schools, the beginning of the year is occasion for a “back to school night,” or similar open house where parents, students, teachers and administrators gather to learn details about the school and upcoming year.  For some schools, these events are highly anticipated celebrations where all shareholders congregate to share the information needed to make the school year a success. For all too many schools, back to school night has devolved into just another poorly attended event where the parents of a few high achieving students visit with teachers.  Here are some simple ways that back to school night becomes an effective and enjoyable event for all participants.

Engage the Community

Make sure that the school community is aware of the event.  Utilize every communication resource outlet possible to promote the event.  Send out e-mails and post info on social media.  Robo calls and flyers for local businesses and public spaces are effective means of spreading the word.  Contact local businesses to provide refreshments or door prizes for attendees. If your school has a substantial number of families who do not speak English in the home, be certain to provide information about the event in an understandable and accessible venue.  In some urban areas back to school night is held at a nearby, walking distance, church with Pizza. For many families, the back to school night is their first real opportunity to explore the physical building and meet the teachers face to face. First impressions matter, so it is crucial that the school is presenting itself in the best possible light.  All staff, faculty and administrators should dress professionally or perhaps in appropriate school colors.  The facility itself should be clean and easy to navigate.  Most importantly, assure that all teachers and administrators have a clear message to share with attendees.

Stay on Message

What do you want your students, parents and other attendees to know?  Typically, a back to school night begins with an assembly in a gym, cafeteria or auditorium.  The school leader conducting this opening session should be prepared with a simple and concise presentation about any pertinent information that needs to be shared for the school year as well as details about the evening schedule.  You can provide larger documents at this time like school handbooks, but keep the message basic and memorable.  After the initial meeting, parents and students are usually dismissed to visit individual teachers and classrooms.  Teachers need to provide contact information so as parents can reach them if they have a question. Teachers can pass along detailed syllabi and other information, but in the interest of time and practicality, they should plan on sharing a simple introduction about themselves and the class they teach.  Even when larger documents are made available, a simple fact sheet that can be posted on a home refrigerator or locker door can be much more effective than reams of printed materials that will likely be forgotten once at home.

Get to know the Attendees

It is very easy to allow back to school night to become a one-way street.  Parents and students are assaulted with overwhelming amounts of information.  They barely have time to ask questions and many are just ready to leave after a rapid fire barrage of information, rules, dates and contacts.  Back to school night is an opportunity to build relationships with parents and students.  Take time to speak with individuals and families.  Inquire about their domestic situations and interests.  Collect contact information and determine if there are special issues or any other needs to schedule future conferences. Make sure both parents and student are given opportunities to ask questions and share information about themselves.

Set the Tone

Finally, back to school night reflects the tone of the upcoming school year.  For many parents, the image of school leadership, instructional faculty and the facility itself will be determined by their experience during back to school night.  Make the experience enjoyable, and the attendees will anticipate more enjoyment from the school year.  If the event is chaotic, poorly planned or simply irrelevant, the attendees will expect more of the same. At the end of the night, teachers, school leaders, students and parents should feel like the last few hours were the beginning of a great school year and a great relationship.

Comment Below on how your school has created a better back to school experience for all.

Keywords: Back to School, School Mission, School Community Relations, parental involvement

References

Ellis, M. J. (2016, August 25). Back-to-School Night: A New Approach. EduTopia. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/back-school-night-new-approach-maurice-elias

Dervarics, C., & O’Brien, E. (2011, August 30). Back to school: How parent involvement affects student achievement. Center for Public Education. Retrieved from: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Parent-Involvement/Parent-Involvement.html

Sterling, S. (2015, August). Back to School Night Best Practices.National Association of Elementary School Principals. Retrieved from: http://www.naesp.org/communicator-august-2015/back-school-night-best-practices

Wolpert-Gawron, H. (2017, August 10). Building Trust With Parents. EduTopia. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/checklist-back-school-night-heather-wolpert-gawron

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