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A Checklist for Back-to-School Night

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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A check mark in the galaxy created by connecting three bright stars

Whew! Our Back-to-School Night is over, and the year is finally and officially off and running. I always enjoy back-to-school night. I like the clean smell of a classroom at night. I like the golden hour light on a school building. I like the suspenseful buzz waiting for the principal to finish speaking and dismiss his or her staff to their classrooms before the hoards of families follow.

Back-to-School Night gives you a chance to meet those clients face-to-face. I appreciated that this year my site had chosen to move ours earlier on the calendar so that we could share our policies and expectations earlier. The crummy part is that no matter how early we schedule it (in our case, it was only four days after the start of school) parents still want to know, "how's my kid doing?" And your child is . . . ?

Nevertheless, I like back-to-school night. I like the smiles and the hopeful conversations. I like starting to fill in the blanks about each and every student in each and every period.

By the time I had walked into my classroom last night at 5pm, our new principal and his six-year-old son had delivered little plants to every room to cheer us on. Our schools' new administration building looked all grand-spangled new, and our ASB kids were out in force answering questions alongside the PTA president. I even change out my sensible shoces for heels and throw on some lipstick. We all cleaned up real nice.

Sure, there's always a flip side to the night, but it doesn't define it. At some point during the evening, some parent will back me against a corner and pummel me with questions about things I have no control over. It might be the time we spend on testing or criticizing an adopted textbook.

Last night, it was a mom that was so nervous about what she was hearing about the Common Core standards that it translated into aggression very early in the evening. I focused my response on the 4Cs (collaborating, communication, critical thinking, and creativity) and gave an example of a popular activity my students have done in the past that just happened to be CC aligned.  

Another couple came at me wanting to know where I stood on a district policy about elementary summer school. But I'm a middle school teacher and the next summer is 10 months away, I wanted to say in confusion. My purposefully vague response politely asked that they contact our administration team with any questions about summer, and they left in a huff. (Not quite sure what that was about, but I have a sneaky suspicion I'll hear about it again.)

Nevertheless, all of this is fine because I understand where it comes from. I'm a parent too, after all. I've been to nerve-soothing nights and I've been to nerve-racking nights. It's in the fear of what the new year might hold, and my hope is that after the parents talk to me and meet me, some of that fear will melt away.

But despite the inevitable parent who choses confrontation as a proactive means to ensure that you are paying attention to their child's needs, the fact is that Back-to-School Night is far more often a way to make those parents smile and excited about the school year. It's a way for them to feel confident about you and the time their child spends with you. In fact, a great Back-to-School Night can really go a long way towards the success of your upcoming school year.

So I think hard about what would make my room inviting and informative. Welcome to my classroom on Back-to-School Night. By opening up my room to you, I hope that it might give you some ideas to help make your own evening a successful one.

5 Must-Haves for BTSN

# 1. Sign-ins on every table: I admit it. It only took me 15 years to figure out that I need to have sign-ins on every table and not just at a single station at the front of the room. That way, there isn't a bottleneck at the door, and all families can hear the schpeel from minute one.

# 2. Brochures: I always design a brochure so parents don't have to take notes based on my Powerpoint. The sections include: about me, where to find the classroom website, the standards covered, materials students need, contact information, classroom slogan, and a few other things.

# 3. Classroom Constitution: I really try to have this completed by BTSN. The classroom constitution is a document that all students have a hand in creating. It sets the academic and behavioral standards that they want to see in the classroom, and it becomes a goal-setting document for me to help make that environment happen. They then all sign it. This year, it was easy to have completed by this night because I had all the table groups from each of the periods contribute ideas to a Google Document. I then edited it, combining repeating themes, making multiple simple sentences into compound sentences, and formatting it to fit the poster. This poster hangs in my room all year and I copy and paste the text from the Google Doc onto my classroom website. By having it hanging up in time for BTSN, you're also already proving that the learning has begun.

# 4. Powerpoint/Keynote/Google Presentation: I have this running behind me as I do my 10-minute presentation. This includes an about me slide, a slide on the 4Cs and Common Core State Standards, a slide with a live link to my classroom website so I can walk them through the menu bar, contact information, and a slide begging for donations. Typically, I beg for the following: tissues, hand sanitizer, crayons/markers/highlighters, and reams of paper. Reams of paper are gold on my campus. Any teacher with paper becomes instantaneously popular. Incidentally, every year, I scramble trying to find the computer I created my last presentation on. Was it my personal laptop or my school desktop? This year, I created it using Google Presentations. Never again will I have to scramble!

# 5. The classroom environment: Even though it's early in the year, I still make sure that I set up an environment I know students will like, will engage them, challenge them, and make them think about what's to come. It works that way with parents as well. They want to be able to picture their own kids learning in the room. The environment itself can play a role in their yearlong support. The effort to get it ready is vital.

Good luck with your own Back-to-School Night. May all your parents walk away with trust in you and excitement for their child's school year. Share with us your tips and ideas for this special night in the comments section below.

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Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Great tips Heather! I have several new teacher colleagues at my high school, and they will find this very useful. At our school, BTSN is organized so parents travel from class to class according to their student's schedule - 10 minutes per class, and a passing period. 10 minutes is very short, so I have developed a PowerPoint slide show to keep me focused as I present all the basis information, and leave the last couple minutes for questions. Like you suggest, I have clipboards around the room where parents can sign in and leave me contact info, and questions for later follow up. I am sure to have extra copies of my "French Class Success Guide" which I give to students the first day of school. I ask them to share it with parents, but teens are sometimes forgetful (I am sure that surprises you deeply!). The most important thing, is to make a positive connection. It may be the only time we ever meet the parents of most of our students, but that human contact provides context for emails and phone calls for the whole year!

Who else has some ideas to share? Looking forward to the conversation.


TODD SENTELL's picture
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"


Of the millions of curriculum nights there's one that I'll remember forever and they were all pretty dang memorable. In the third period session for a class where I had six kids, six parents came in, and without prompting, sat in exactly the seat where their child sits. There were twelve desks in The Cozy Room of Learning. I stood there, dumfounded. I finally told them what just happened. I had to. They were as amazed at me. A couple of the parents, however, were visibly unnerved by it. They looked at the desk they were sitting in, and then lifted their hands up off of the desktop, as if it was covered with germs.


Todd's teaching memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave," at corkscrew turns hilarious, heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking, will be published this fall by Stairway Press.

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Heather... A few things I love that are little - but greatly appreciated. The sign up in several locations. There is nothing more annoying than standing in line to sign a piece of paper to say you were there.

The other thing...the brochure. As a parent (especially with multiple teachers to visit re multiple children), I am not going to remember all the little things in your PowerPoint. I would much rather read it at home and contact you with questions as needed (and refer back to throughout the year). On BTSN, I want to hear about the little things that I cannot read about. Hear the answers to those questions you know we all will ask. AND...I want to see your personality. I want to know my child is with someone who cares about him/her.

In a Voxer conversation today, a parent shared a suggestion that they are planning to do at their BTSN. They were giving the parents a chance to introduce themselves in the classrooms because they found many parents never got a chance to meet each other otherwise. As our PTO president, on BTSN, I use that time to share information about our school community...not so much push for parents to sign up or donate. I like the idea of using the night to strengthen relationships/build a community.

Thanks for sharing...and here's to a fabulous year!!

Andrea Hernandez's picture
Andrea Hernandez
Teacher, learner, parent, change-agent… Evolving.

Great suggestions! I also appreciate the comment from Gwen.

I am trying to figure out what applies to my situation, as I am a teacher (and parent) at a VERY small school. Most people already know me, my personality and each other. They have already been to my blog, read my FAQ and visited the classroom. The ones who are trying to be proactive by being confrontational (I love that line) have not waited until back to school night to begin their proactiveness.

We have btsn this Thursday, and here is what I am struggling with this Labor Day morning. I am still in the process of setting up the Daily 3 routines with my students. However, I have this great bulletin board that is eventually going to have QR codes linked to student blog posts. Do I scrap the order of my plans for this week and work hard to get these ready for Thursday night? If I don't, no one will ever see the QR codes. If I do, some students might not be finished by Thursday night...


Karen Bloom's picture
Karen Bloom
Math Teacher

It's okay to show a work in progress at Back to School Night. Is there a way you could show SOME of it without scrapping all your plans for the week?
Good luck!!

Michelle @ eSchoolView's picture
Michelle @ eSchoolView
School PR/Communications

Great suggestions. I especially love the first and second, the sign-in at all locations and brochure that highlights your webpage. Some larger districts maintain and cultivate e-mail databases for parents that are tied directly to the class roster so they are able to send messages by groupings automatically (the district my children attend). Some smaller ones -- like many we work with -- do not have such a system in place. Obtaining contact information is vital to building relationships with parents. Just remember to be sure to share information with them on a regular basis ... you have a great captive audience!

As for promoting your teacher webpage: Rock On! Teacher webpages are a fantastic source of information for parents, especially when chock-full of information of as links to homework, syllabus (where applicable), assignment/quiz/test calendar, teacher contact information, links to social networking sites and even news from the main district site (some parents will spend more time on your pages than the district or school's main site). We have a few more tips here: http://www.eschoolview.com/School-Software-Blog.aspx

Here's to a great year!!

Liselotte Schmalfuss's picture

Thank you for this great list. From next month i will be a classroom teacher for the first time. The thing I am most nervous about is the contact to the parents and the back to school night. but i think with your tips I'm goin to make it :) what kind of internet provider do you use for the classroom-homepage. I would like to use one, which not everybody can visit. I mean something where you need a password as it has to be secure.
can you recommend something?
thanks a lot.

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