How Teachers Can Get the Most out of Back-to-School Night
Back-to-school nights are one of a handful of days when the school is opened to the entire parent community for a visit. That creates a strong opportunity for parents and teachers to set a tone for the year, discuss curriculum and find common ground. A back-to-school night can be a springboard into a great school year if you prepare well and develop the right attitude.
Set minds at ease
Parents need to know what kind of person you are and how you’re going to treat their child. Getting across that you care deeply for children and have what’s best for them in mind will allay parental concerns and bring a tremendous benefit to your work.
Nothing alienates parents quicker than giving them the impression you’re uncaring or apathetic. Don’t be that teacher.
Establish an academic tone
After establishing your approach to children and explaining the structure of the class, turn to the academic expectations for your students. Parents almost invariably want classes that have high academic standards, and they certainly don’t want classes that appear easy to their children.
Yet it is essential to match your expectations with a structure that will enable the children to meet them. Simply making things difficult, essentially establishing a sink-or-swim mentality, for your students will not help them to achieve. I like to tell new teachers that the classwork should be “appropriately and developmentally difficult” but with supports in place.
Convey the big curriculum picture
Too often our work with children comes across as isolated pockets of lessons and activities lacking a big-picture context. Be sure to spend some time telling parents how the children’s work in previous years will inform their learning now, and how your class will be a stepping-stone to learning in the future. Tying all of the work together in a broad sense helps to establish the relevancy of your class and leads to greater support from your parents.
Gradually release responsibility
Part of your back-to-school-night presentation should show how you plan to gradually release more responsibility to your students. You should focus not only on what the children will learn as a result of the class, but also how they’re going to develop independent work and learning skills after the class. Parents will support your work more powerfully if they know your class will change their children for the better.
Have a listening plan
Parents want to be able to turn to you for advice and guidance. Be sure to establish how you will listen to them and their concerns. Don’t underestimate or minimize the concerns that come your way. Parenting is a complex task, and many parents are looking for a sympathetic ear or savvy advice. Your role in their child’s life offers a unique opportunity to be of service. On that note, having a summertime survey (easy with an online service like Google Forms) will enable you to set a tone of listening and openness even before you meet your students.
Being able to speak directly to parents about your philosophy, coursework and student expectations is a rare opportunity. Proper preparation, a positive attitude and a focus on caring and academics are powerful actions that will help you have a great school year.