While family involvement is often promoted in elementary school, there aren’t always opportunities for students to invite the important adults in their lives into their middle school classrooms beyond events like concerts and award ceremonies.
But there are many benefits to providing an opportunity for middle school students’ caregivers to experience the regular, day-in-the-life routine of the classroom. Such opportunities often bring out the best in students and shine a light on the important learning that happens at school. To facilitate them, you may need to first garner approval from administrators. Once you have it, the below strategies share how to create a Bring Your Grown-Up to Class Day in your middle school classroom that engages everyone involved.
Select a day within a unit that has a high degree of established routine and offers “zero entry” for grown-ups, meaning they can participate meaningfully without doing work in advance. I like to invite grown-ups to join our “This I Believe” writing unit, which we begin by following a specific protocol to listen to and discuss brief personal essays written by others.
My students and I practice this discussion protocol several times, and with several essays, before we invite grown-ups to join us, but caregivers are able to quickly pick up on the procedures and jump into class—no specific skills or background knowledge needed.
One week in advance, I send a message to students’ families inviting them to join class with one condition: They come to join their students in work. We engage in business as usual and expect the adults to participate alongside their students.
Inviting Adults and Preparing the Classroom Space
Students may feel nervous about the idea of their mom or grandfather sitting next to them in class. Usually, though, I’ve found that they often do want their grown-ups to join them and witness what a day (or class period) is like in their middle school life. And since everyone’s grown-ups are invited, there is no need for students to worry about being the only one whose mom is coming to class. Of course, you should present this activity as optional to students and adults alike to respect everyone’s comfort levels—and you should phrase the invitation inclusively, inviting students to bring any adult who is meaningful to them—a neighbor, a mentor, an aunt, a parent—to respect all family structures.
Plan for the logistics of extra bodies in your classroom by bringing in more chairs from nearby classrooms, providing students with clipboards, and having them work on floor space to free up more seats. Depending on the size of your class and the number of adults expected, you might even consider reserving an alternate location, such as the school library, to host your special day.
Scaffolding the Classroom Community
A few days before Bring Your Grown-Up to Class Day, deputize your most challenging students to run the class that day. Their duties? Teach the grown-ups the expectations of class. Of course, you will already establish these routines and have them written or projected just in case students need a reminder, but offering this leadership opportunity is often a great way to invite students to demonstrate extra care in the classroom.
You might also prepare students for the big day by preteaching some social skills during the class sessions before the grown-ups arrive: for example, best practices for introducing yourself to someone while shaking their hand and making eye contact. Have students practice with each other, and ask nearby teachers to wander into your classroom so you can be sure that students have at least one successful practice session with an outside adult. It’s easy to assume that students have these skills, but I’ve found that many of my students still ask, “How long do I continue shaking their hand?” meaning practice can soothe any nerves that might be present.
Bringing Learning Beyond the Classroom
Even though many families will not be able to attend such a day, due to their work or caregiving schedules, I’ve found that simply being invited into class spurs conversations about students’ learning at home that wouldn’t happen otherwise.
You can also recruit some extra grown-ups to make sure that everyone has a buddy. Share the invitation with other teachers and staff in the building, or invite your own important elders—family members, mentors—to introduce to students. I always tell my seventh graders that I won’t ask them to write or do something I wouldn’t write or do myself, and in that vein, I invited my dad to attend class and analyze “This I Believe” essays with us—which students seemed to think was both weird and cool.
Once all preparations are in place, take time to enjoy the day. Celebrating intergenerational connection in the classroom can have positive impacts on students’ leadership and communication skills, classroom behavior, and sense of community. And participating grown-ups are often genuinely engaged and impressed at the level of work their students are doing, sparking connection and conversation that lasts long after this day.