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Fresh Approaches to Back to School Night

Whitney P. Gordon

When school resumes after summer break, one of many tasks that teachers must tackle is open house. Known by some as back to school night, open house is a unique opportunity for teachers to welcome families into their classrooms beyond the normal school day. The concept is not new -- I’m certain every educator can recall their own open houses as a student.

Although some staples like open house have stood the test of time, there is no doubt that culture and technology have evolved tremendously. This evolution has impacted our schools, and that impact has trickled down even to open house. Below are some fresh ideas to help your open house remain relevant and effective.

Ditch the Old PowerPoint on Back to School Night

Let me start off by saying this: I get it. The PowerPoint that you made five years ago is accessible and convenient. You can update a slide or two and you’re done! As technology has evolved, however, presentation software has evolved as well. Open house is a great time to showcase inventive presentation applications that you can implement throughout the year.

Prezi, for example, is a presentation platform that was created with the human brain in mind. Using scientific research about how we learn and engage, the creators of Prezi created software that researchers have found to be more engaging and effective than its commonly used competitor. Prezi allows users to use visuals and spatial relationships to create an interactive experience. It’s not only a great resource to use during open house, but also a useful resource to expose your students to in the classroom. Prezi isn’t the only tool offering a fresh approach to presentations – there are many others, such as Microsoft Sway, Canva, and Adobe Spark. You can access all of these programs for free!

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See Your Students Through a Parental Lens

Open house is a time for you to disseminate information to parents, but it is just as important for you to glean valuable information about your students from parents. Your students can communicate details like their favorite foods and pastimes, but students don’t always have the emotional maturity or self-reflective skills to articulate who they are and what makes them tick. Thus, it is beneficial to dedicate time for parents to answer questions such as What makes your student angry? and What are your student’s strengths, weaknesses, and passions? A creative way to do this is to have parents complete a quick body biography about their student. Keep this information handy throughout the year so that you can reference it as needed – like when dealing with a difficult student.

Station Rotations

It’s no secret that teachers love a productive, well-organized station rotation. What’s not to love about differentiation, movement, and multiskill practice all rolled into one? We like stations because they are effective, and this effectiveness applies to open house as well. Set up stations around the classroom that cover pertinent information and give parents a “Road map” to help them navigate the stations. You will, of course, have your typical and necessary stations like curriculum information and contact information, but including more unconventional stations like a simple game or photo booth will make your open house all the more engaging. I also strongly suggest a “Frequently Asked Questions” station – work harder and not smarter by proactively answering those questions that you anticipate from several parents.

Capturing Contact Information

Speaking of contact information – it pays to be specific in how you obtain this information during open house. Even though phone numbers and email addresses are typically available through school data platforms, collect this information again in case there are any changes. Perhaps the most valuable contact information is how parents should be contacted. Include questions about what methods and times are best to reach the parent.

Furthermore, it is highly beneficial to collect contact information digitally if you can. Google forms are easy to create and use, and Google stores the responses for you. Have a laptop or computer available for parents to submit their contact information, but also have a QR code and web address handy for parents who are able to complete the information on their smartphones.

Technology Crash Course

Even the least technology-savvy teacher must possess basic knowledge of educational technology in order to teach in today’s classrooms. With that being said, many of our students’ parents were students during a time when technology was far less prevalent in schools, and they may need your help keeping up with the technology you implement in your classroom. Apps like Class Dojo have revolutionized the way that we bridge the gap between home and school, but parents must know how to use them in order for them to be successful. During open house, take time to walk parents through the technology they can use at home to support their students. Offering brief instructional guides with visuals to take home will be very helpful as well.

Include Your Students

Last but certainly not least, include your students as active participants in open house. If you have identified classroom ambassadors, assign them roles to assist. Your students are experts on how your classroom runs, and it boosts confidence and unity when you include them. This is also a great way to focus on the true purpose of open house and everything else we do – to support student success.