Back-to-School Night, or Open House, can feel like an added stress during the hectic first weeks of school. However, the purpose of this event is to give you an opportunity to help families connect with you and better understand what their child will be expected to learn and do in your classroom. Today I want to share some tips for helping you get organized, figure out what to say to parents, and create an event that leaves parents feeling lucky their child is in your classroom.
What is Open House?
Depending on where you teach, you might call this event Back-to-School Night, Open House, or Curriculum Night. Regardless of what you call it, the event is designed to help families get to know you, ask questions, and learn about the curriculum and standards you’ll be teaching this year.
Curriculum Night typically falls within the first few weeks of the new school year. It is commonly held in the evening hours on a school day to give working parents a chance to attend. Lasting between 60-90 minutes, the purpose of Open House in elementary school is to allow parents and guardians a chance to get a better feel for the classroom teacher and how s/he runs the classroom.
However, at middle and high school, parents are often given only a short time in each classroom in order to have the opportunity to meet all their child’s teachers so the time tends to be more of an overview and learning expectations than relationship-building.
Back-to-School Night is not a replacement for parent-teacher conferences. Occasionally, parents will come in with a laundry list of questions that are scenarios that only apply to their child. It is important that you make it clear that this event is not meant to be a conference for their child, but it is designed to give them information and answer general questions.
Most schools expect teachers to prepare a short presentation for parents. You might also consider having them fill out forms while they are there.
Getting Organized for Back-to-School Night
If you are lucky, your room will be crammed full of parents who are all eager to meet the teacher and tell you all about their child. It can be overwhelming to see the room of parents all sitting in front of you waiting to hear all about your plan for their children this year. Preparation is the key to a low-stress event.
As you begin to think about your school’s Back-to-School Night, there are a number of activities you’ll want to do to prepare. If this is your very first Curriculum Night, it can be helpful to ask other teachers in your grade level what the event is typically like at your school.
Being prepared can help you feel less stressed that evening, and it can help you make a great impression. Here are a few of the most important things to consider as you start to plan your Back-to-School Night activities.
1. Create an agenda and a simple Powerpoint presentation.
Once you know how long your presentation should be, you can begin to prepare your Curriculum Night agenda. As you plan, consider how long you’ll have to spend on specifics and create your presentation to align with this expectation. I’ve shared some details on what you can include in your presentation a little later in this post.
Putting a little extra time into creating your presentation pays off because you'll be able to make adjustments and use it year after year, so plan to allow yourself a little extra time to complete this task.
As you create your agenda, be sure to think about the downtime that will happen during arrival and departure from the event. It can be helpful to have activities or parent forms ready as parents begin to arrive. This gives them something to do while they wait for your presentation to begin.
2. Share your presentation or hand-out in advance.
Sending an email with your hand-out or a slideshow of your presentation a day or two before your school’s Open House can be a great way to remind parents to attend and set the expectations for what they’ll get out of the event.
It can also help parents get an idea of what questions they might have before they arrive. Todays Meet is a great, free method to collect questions in advance. This can help you be sure you are touching on the topics that are important to all parents.
3. Have your students create a Back-to-School Night invitation or letter for their family.
Allowing students to create their own invitation can be a fun way to remind parents of the event. It is also a great way to introduce purposeful writing in the first few weeks of school.
Whether you decide to have students write a short letter or take out construction paper and allow them to design and color a more formal invitation, your students will love taking their personal invite and hand-delivering it to their family.
4. Decide what to wear to Back-to-School Night and whether you’ll have time to run home and change.
Depending on what time your campus has their Open House and how close to campus you live, you may or may not have time to go home this evening. Therefore, it is important to have a plan for what you will wear in advance so you can bring the outfit and anything else you need with you.
Typically, Curriculum Night requires teachers to wear business attire. This is your chance to make an impression, so you want to look your best. While your campus may be relatively relaxed when it comes to dress code when you’re working with children (which I am all for), parents are using this opportunity to “figure you out”. As silly as it might seem, dressing professionally helps solidify your expert status in their minds.
Since I typically never had time to head home before our school’s Open House, I always packed my outfit, along with a little make-up and a brush so I could get ready in my classroom. I also packed dinner and made a plan to use the hours leading up to Back-to-School Night as a time to get ready for the week ahead.
5. Practice once or twice.
It can be helpful to review what you plan to say once or twice before Open House. This doesn't need to be a full speech, but taking the time to consider a general overview of what you'll say can help prevent awkward silences or issues during your presentation.
What to include in your Curriculum Night Presentation
While you’ll likely have specifics from your campus on what your presentation must include, there are some things that are included in nearly all Back-to-School Night presentations. Here are the most important components of a successful Open House presentation.
Share a little about yourself.
If you’ve been teaching for some time, you can tell parents how long you’ve been teaching or your educational background, but you’ll also want to tell them a little bit about you outside of the classroom. You might show a picture of your family or pets or share a special hobby.
First-year teachers, don’t feel like you have to announce this fact to parents, but you also don’t need to hide it. Many parents will already know you are new to the school, but you can always tell parents it is your first year at this campus or in this grade level. Parents want to know and trust you. Let parents know about your journey that led you to be standing in front of them.
Why did you become a teacher?
What do you love most about teaching?
Think of this as a chance to share your passion for education.
I always recommend starting with this because if parents arrive late, they are unlikely to have questions over these details.
Review your classroom schedule & give an overview of what students will learn this year.
This is where you’ll explain what their children will be learning and how your classroom runs. Without digging into every detail, I like to give parents an overview of the key units we will be covering in each subject. I also explain our arrival and dismissal procedures.
I try to incorporate details about how students will utilize technology and any special events that align with our curriculum into this section of my presentation. If you’ve had a chance to get photos of students working in your classroom before the event, these can be fun to put into your presentation as well.
I also like to use this opportunity to give parents an idea of times they should avoid scheduling appointments if possible. While it sometimes can't be avoided, parents often appreciate this information because they can prevent their child from missing important instruction.
Explain your approach to behavior.
This is your opportunity to get parents on the same page about how you’ll handle behavior in the classroom. If you’ve got some things that are nonnegotiables, this is a great time to discuss them so parents know up-front what to expect.
For example, I am really big on personal responsibility so I always let the parents know that this was the year they were officially off the hook for dropping off lunches or homework. I explained that this year these things were their child’s responsibility and the consequences for forgetting.
I made sure to let parents know I wouldn’t let their child go hungry if they forgot lunch because they could get cafeteria food, but they might not get to eat their favorite foods Mom or Dad would pack. Many parents were relieved that they wouldn’t be getting calls at work for forgotten items!
Discuss your classroom rules, consequences, and how you created them. Don’t focus on the negatives, but give parents a clear understanding of the expectations. Provide any specific policies in writing via a handout or through your presentation so that if something comes up later, you can refer to it.
Parents want to know that you’re planning to meet their child where they are and find unique ways to tailor your teaching to their strengths and needs. Spend a few minutes discussing how you’ll differentiate in your classroom.
Explain how you build in opportunities for students to dig into areas of interest and be challenged to learn and grow. Also, explain how you’ll support students who may struggle. The idea isn’t to go into a ton of detail, but you want to give an overview to help parents feel confident that you won’t be using a one-size-fits-all teaching style.
Introduce homework expectations.
Depending on your school, parents may be eagerly anticipating or dreading homework. It is important to introduce any homework expectations up-front at your Back-to-School Night.
Since I had some parents constantly asking for extra homework and others who barely had time to do much at all, I used Homework Bingo in my classroom. I made sure to explain how this worked to parents during Open House before I began assigning homework in my classroom.
Share how you prefer to communicate.
If you send a weekly newsletter or have a website, walk parents quickly through what they’ll find there. Also be sure to tell parents the best way to reach you, whether that is email or phone.
I liked to give parents specifics on when I wouldn’t be replying to messages as well. I wanted parents to know that if they emailed me while I was teaching, they shouldn’t expect a quick response because I wanted to give their child my full attention.
I explained that for emergencies they needed to call the office to get me a message. I also shared that transportation changes that are last-minute needed to go through the office, too, because I didn’t want to miss a message and have their child accidentally end up being dismissed to the wrong location.
Finally, thank them for coming, and let them know that if they have specific questions about their child, they can email or call and you’ll be happy to schedule a conference.
Leave time for questions.
I always start this section by reminding parents that out of respect for their privacy and the time of others, I wouldn’t be able to answer questions specifically about their individual child during this time. However, I would love to answer any general questions about our classroom or how things work. This typically took care of the questions that only apply to one child.
Take questions until they’ve all been answered, time is up, or parents begin to lose focus. At that point, you can let parents know if they walk out the door and think of more questions, they can email you.
How to foster engagement during Back-to-School Night
Most campuses will want you to have a Back-to-School Night sign-in sheet for parents. This lets the school keep track of how many parents attend, and it will likely be provided to you in your teacher mailbox the day of the event. But what can parents do while you wait for everyone to arrive?
Providing activities for parents to complete during Curriculum Night can help keep you from being bombarded with questions before your presentation. It can also allow you more time to greet families as they arrive.
Here are some simple ideas for things you can have parents do on Curriculum Night:
- Complete forms or a parent survey to give you more information about their child.
- Sign up to volunteer.
- Complete a classroom scavenger hunt to get a better feel for your room.
- Write a letter to their child to leave for the next day.
My favorite of these is the last one because the students get so excited to read their parent's letters. I often pick up a pack of inexpensive notecards with envelopes and leave one on each desk along with a note on my board that tells them to write a letter to their child and tuck it in his or her desk. This keeps parents busy and makes a meaningful activity.
I also like to leave parents a small treat to thank them for coming. Something like a snack-size candy bar is affordable, and it can be a little sugar fix if they haven’t had a chance to eat dinner before heading over after work.
I have these free gift tags that I like to attach to a 100 Grand candy bar. You can grab them here.
What to do AFTER Curriculum Night to make a great impression.
Your follow up can make a huge difference in the impression you make with parents. After parents leave, take a few minutes to write a quick email thanking everyone who attended. You can even draft this before the event, and add any specifics at the end before you hit “send”.
Share your presentation or parent information sheet again, so all parents have access even if they couldn’t attend.
Invite parents to email you with questions they think of once they get home, and let them know how they can set up a conference with you.
Just be sure you email parents using the blind carbon copy feature (bcc) to protect parent privacy and keep them from hitting “reply all” with personal questions.
Why Open House Really Matters
When parents attend your event they want to know that their child is in a safe place where they’ll be loved and nurtured as well as educated. They want to feel confident that they can trust you to look out for their child when they can’t be there, and they want to know you’ll treat their child fairly and with kindness.
Create the same warm, welcoming environment you create for students each day. Smile, relax and give parents a chance to see the real you shine through. While Curriculum Night can feel intimidating when you listen and respect the thoughts and concerns expressed by the parents in your classroom you can start to forge a strong home-school relationship that will last the entire year.
By focusing on the core components in this post, you can ease your stress and help parents better understand what the coming year will be like.