Family Engagement

Building Trust With Parents

Suggestions for how to make Back-to-School Night a hit for you and your students’ parents.

August 29, 2014 Updated August 10, 2017
Sun Valley Group of Schools/flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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 as teachers wait for the principal to finish speaking and dismiss the staff to their classrooms before the hoards of families follow.

Back-to-School Night gives you a chance to meet those family members face-to-face. 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.

Sure, there’s also a flip side to the night, but it doesn’t define it. At some point during the evening, a parent will corner me with questions about things I have no control over. They might question the time we spend on testing or criticize an adopted textbook.

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. There’s natural fear about 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 chooses confrontation as a proactive means to ensure that you’re 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 feel 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 toward the success of your upcoming school year.

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

Prepping for BTSN

1. Sign-ins on every table: I admit it: It 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 spiel from minute one.

2. Brochures: I always design a brochure so parents don’t have to take notes based on my PowerPoint. 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 all sign it. This year, it was easy to have it completed by BTSN because I had all the table groups from each of the periods contribute ideas to a Google Doc. I edited it, combining repeated themes, combining multiple simple sentences into compound sentences, and formatting the whole thing to fit on a poster. This poster hangs in my room all year, and I copy and paste the text from the Google Doc into my classroom website. By having it hanging up in time for BTSN, you’re also proving that the learning has already begun.

4. PowerPoint/Keynote/Google presentation: I have this running behind me as I do my 10-minute presentation. It includes: an “about me” slide, a slide on the four Cs (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication) and the Common Core State Standards, a slide with a live link to my classroom website so I can walk parents through the menu bar, contact information, and a slide begging for donations. I used to scramble to find the computer I had 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 make sure that I set up an environment I know students will like and that will engage them, challenge them, and make them think about what’s to come. I make the same effort with parents as well. They want to be able to picture their 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 Back-to-School Night. May all your students’ family members walk away with trust in you and excitement for their child’s school year.

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