Revise Back to School Night

Back to School Night last week, and it felt the same as those other Back to School Nights the last seven years: Very unsatisfying. As I think is typical in other school systems, parents got the schedule of their child and spent ten minutes in each classroom, listening to teachers delineate homework policy, talk about their background, and describe units and topics to be studied over the course of the year. Some teachers were more organized then others. One rooted around in her desk for a few minutes, looking for some lost sheet of paper. Not a good start to our very short time in her classroom.

Back to School Night is unsatisfying to me on several levels. Given the brief time in each class, you’d think that teachers would limit the amount of information to present and allow for quick questions, but too many of them were in the middle of their PowerPoint slides when the announcement came over the PA asking parents to move to the next class. It was also unsatisfying in the same way that certain trainings or presentations I have attended are unsatisfying: Several teachers felt the need to read each slide, even though we could read obviously, and many slides had the same info on them that was on handouts, as if we could not refer to those.

Now, since several of the teachers structured their presentation in the same manner, no doubt there was a common procedure for that evening that they and the school administration had agreed on, and I appreciate that planning and the consistency. But the event was all so rushed, it created more questions for me than answers, and it got me thinking about my kid and his day at school: Yes, he does not have ten minute classes, but does some of the same happen for him? Are there times when he might feel as I did the other night – harried, brimming with PowerPoint info, with little chance to ask questions or discuss ideas?

When I asked a fellow parent what she got from the other night, she said nothing about the content that was presented but talked about the feel of each classroom, the personality of the teachers, the atmosphere that was created for parents and how that might translate to students. That too is what I most appreciated: Teachers who took the time to step away from the PowerPoint slides and talk about the kind of culture that they engender in their classroom, the kind of learner they hope to develop. There was not enough of that, not enough conversation about class culture and expectations for students. Too much about the trees. Not enough about the forest.

Pam Conway, a friend, fellow K-12 consultant , and long-time former principal in Columbia Public Schools in Missouri had some of the same thoughts about Back to School Night, stating that she likes to “see teachers practice good instruction with parents so that I feel confident they do the same with children.”

Pam continued: “The same things kids look for at the beginning of a new year are the same things I value: What type of relationship does the teacher plan to develop with students and parents? What will the classroom climate be like? Will students have an opportunity for voice and choice? What will make the class relevant, engaging, exciting? And what is the teacher truly passionate about?

“During these kinds of events,” Pam finished, “teachers need to send the message that ‘less is more,’ that ‘depth outweighs breadth,’ to assure parents that children will not fall victim to a rushed, crowded, shallow curriculum and analogous instruction. First impressions set the stage for the rest of the year.”

Yes, Pam, depth, not breadth. So, revise Back to School Night. No more PowerPoint decks. Refer people to the handouts if they have questions about policies and procedures. Have teachers talk about their hopes for their students – and for parents! – and what they, as teachers, plan to learn during the coming year. What’s one really big takeaway that each teacher can tell parents about her classroom and what it’s like for kids? And then take questions and discuss, as much as ten minutes can allow. That’s a Back to School Night that just might be more satisfying.

I got the above image here.

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One Response to Revise Back to School Night

  1. Bob Scribner says:

    A year ago I considered talking with you about this very subject. The question I was going to ask is “What do parents expect and want to get out of BTSN?” I ask for both parents as well as teachers.
    Other than the late evening after a day in the classroom, I like BTSN. I like meeting the parents, and being on both sides of the situation, I want to know that my child’s teacher is a competant caring educator who is excited about teaching. Long ago I stopped giving out handouts, but it is true that I didn’t give much time for questions. I too had a power point type of deal that I did not get through. But I think that is because I spoke off the cuff and this year I was focussed on talking about building a generation of readers.
    Back to the point. Many teachers that I know well dread BTSN. They sweat the whole time and just want it to end. They pack their presentation full so there is no time for questions. These teachers feel that they are bring negatively judged by parents at the get go. I have tried to talk them from this position, but they don’t buy the argument. I usually say to put yourself in the parent’s place. What would want to know. The mystery is too much for them.
    We all need to remember that we are all on the same side.

    I am loosing my train of thought and tired of typing on my phone. I guess the point is that we all should communicate about this. This is a start.


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