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 6-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 Clarks 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, and they seemed to leave a little more at ease.
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 back to school nights and I've been to nerve-racking back to school 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.