The Dos and Don’ts of Back-to-School Night

back to schoolA quick Friday post – and much thanks to my parent peeps that helped with the below:

1. Don’t ask us to fill out a handout that asks questions such as, “Is there anything that you’d like to share with me about your child?” Are we supposed to be listening to the teacher during the short time that we’re in the classroom or filling out this sheet? If a teacher really wants this info, send it home with us, so that we can do a thoughtful job.

2. As one parent said to me about these kinds of evenings, “I want to leave excited about the learning that’s happening, not about the mechanics.” And so don’t spend time talking about grading policy. That’s no doubt somewhere on the school’s or teacher’s website. When teachers spend time on this topic and not on an excited-about-learning topic, a clear message is sent to us: Grades are more important than the teaching and learning.

3. See above: Do spend time talking about one topic or unit that you love to teach or that’s a linchpin to the year. I love seeing a teacher get excited about hydroponics or the Black Death or Tom Sawyer. For me, teacher excitement translates to student excitement.

4. Using Powerpoint for the presentation to parents? Don’t use more than three slides. Often parents are in individual classrooms for 10-15 minutes, and a litany of text-heavy, hard-to-read slides – well, you catch my drift.

5. Do tell us about yourself but don’t spend time on credentials. I like knowing about the volunteer work that teachers do or about their own kids that went through this very same school. Share that with us, not where you got your BA or MA. As a friend said to me, “It gives us a way of feeling connected [to the teacher].”

6. Do focus on student outcomes – that is, what is it that students in your class will know and be able to do at its end? Now, see above: No dense PP slides, with language from dense, parent-unfriendly Common Core standards. How about just a few important skills that will be learned or knowledge that will be gained? In fact, a parent and friend told me how one teacher shared a video of students talking about what they’d learned so far in the class. As my friend said, “It was a great way to see in action what these kids are taking away from her course.”

7. Do be organized. Spending time handing out handouts, when they should be available to parents as they walk into the classroom or on desktops, or not having enough of them tell me: Poor planning. Is that, then, how class is run?

8. Do let us talk. Yes, there are only 10-15 minutes. Yes, there’s a lot to cover. But again, see above: Cover less, talk less, and let parents ask questions and discuss. Yes, I know that this approach can go south quickly, with one parent potentially dominating what little time there is. But I much prefer this interactive approach, as risky as it might be, compared with the talking-at-us-very-quickly-for-15-minutes approach.

9. Don’t forget little things. The basket of chocolates. (Ask the PTA to spend some money on that.) A Xeroxed copy of a poem students might study during the coming year. (Have a parent read it aloud and get reaction.) Those little squares of paper that let us write a note to our kid, to leave on his or her desk the next day – even if they’re in middle or high school. Yeah, they might be six feet tall, with feet like canoes, but to us they’re still snug in that Baby Bjorn or helping to mow the lawn with a small plastic toy mower as they make the sound “rrrrrrrr.”

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