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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers are feeling emotionally rested, professionally rejuvenated, and prepared for another school year. Despite all this excitement, however, with all the work involved in decorating the classroom and preparing the first several weeks' lessons, it can be tempting to pull out the previous year's outline for a Back-to-School Night presentation. While teachers agree about the value of welcoming parents to their children's new classroom, this event can also feel like one more hoop to jump through. With innovation and technology such a vital part of our profession, why not bring both of those elements to bear this year for the goal of engaging and connecting with your students' families? A technology-fueled reboot might be just what's needed to reinvigorate this important evening, and here are three suggestions to make it happen.

Multimedia Happiness

A lot of expectations, schedules, and routines are shared at Back-to-School Night, which makes for a lot of talking -- on the teacher's part, anyway. Set a fun tone for the night and get everyone up and moving to check out student self-portraits hung around the room, but with tech-savvy twist. Short videos of students sharing goals or dreams for the upcoming year (YouTube or Vimeo privacy settings can be set to "link only" viewing if media release forms haven’t been collected) quickly accessed via QR codes are guaranteed to bring a smile to everyone's face. Older students can take the lead in uploading videos and creating the QR codes, making for an engaging first classroom project. Bonus points for using an augmented reality app such as Aurasma to really knock their socks off, but be prepared for additional prep and viewing time.

(Learn more from Edutopia blogger Monica Burns about using interactive media throughout the school year.)

TXT FYI

While nothing rivals a face-to-face conversation or phone call for important, personalized messages, when you just need to remind families about an upcoming field trip or assignment, apps such as Remind and Class Messenger are invaluable. While not all families have the capability to receive text messages, most do, and the number grows each year. Sending and receiving group or individual text messages from your phone or desktop is not only easy, but thanks to catalogued messages, it's safe and secure. An additional benefit lies in the ability to schedule messages for delivery when they matter most, not just when you have a spare moment. With so many families in one place on Back-to-School Night, take a few minutes during your presentation to guide them through the simple signup process. This allows you to explain how you will use texting to communicate, while also reassuring them that any important, child-specific conversations will still earn a phone call or sit-down meeting. For impact, make sure to send out a quick welcome right before their eyes!

Questions, Questions, Questions

How many times has one of the following happened to you?

  1. A family member that didn't attend Back-to-School Night asks a question that you specifically addressed at length.
  2. Someone who did attend Back-to-School Night asks a question that you specifically addressed at length.

To solve this common issue, create your presentation on a shareable platform such as Google Slides or Haiku Deck, complete with a FAQ slide at the end. Passing out a shortened URL on a fridge-worthy card (or better yet, an actual magnet) allows families to revisit the information any time a question arises. Since the link is to a live, view-only file, you can also update and add information as the year goes on, alerting families to check out changes via a newsletter, email, or text.

Each school day, we aim to set a clear, concise tone so that our students always know what we expect academically and behaviorally. Through the use of technology at back to school night, we also set the tone for the families that support our students. With the thoughtful use of just a little tech, we show families that we're preparing them to think outside the box and embrace new ways of doing things during the upcoming year. After all, this is what our profession rightly expects of us, and what we now expect of our students.

Ultimately, it's not a specific set of tech tools that will accomplish this goal, or any goal for that matter. Rather, a memorable Back-to-School Night helps demonstrate the innovation mindset that we aim to instill in our students, as well as being a time to bring families on board for the year ahead. Now, let's get back to school!

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