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Ideas for a Productive Back-to-school Night

Back-to-school night is the optimal time to start parent-teacher communication on the right track.

Most people think of back-to-school night as the time when educators can make a first impression on their students’ parents. But back-to-school night is also the optimal time for you to provide parents with information that can make your job easier. Here are five tips for making the most of your back-to-school night.

1. Capture each parent’s contact information. While the front office may have parents’ phone numbers, it will be easier for you to keep in touch if you have contact information right in your classroom. That’s the priority for Briday Ware, an English teacher at Liberty High School in Liberty, Missouri. She provides each parent with paper and pencil—thus eliminating the excuse of not having any—and asks them to jot down their name, phone number and e-mail address. Additionally, you can use this opportunity to explain how you will be contacting parents and how you like to be contacted in return.

2. Share your expectations and wishes. I'll never forget my youngest daughter’s first grade back-to-school night. Her teacher was going through her classroom management style and how the school day was organized—then she threw the parents a curveball: She brought up the notion of holiday gifts. She told us that as 30-plus year teacher, she had all the coffee mugs and apple paperweights she needed. “But what we really need,” she said, walking over to the “play” center, “is new board games for indoor recess.” And she reached down to show us the battered boxes of Connect Four and Candy Land. You can also share your wishes for more immediate classroom needs, such as small containers for coin counting in math.

3. Coordinate schedules for the rest of the year. Just as holiday gifts may not be top-of-mind now, the annual field trip you take in April probably isn’t either. But busy parents will appreciate knowing ahead of time important dates throughout the school year that will impact them, and providing this information upfront will make it less stressful for you when it comes time to collect field trip money or find chaperones. Similarly, let parents know now when conferences will be scheduled so you aren’t running around later, at the last minute, trying to fit in evening conferences on non-conference nights.

4. Provide information on how parents can volunteer in the classroom. “With more moms working outside the home, not every parent can volunteer the gift of time,” says Glenridge Elementary School kindergarten teacher Susan Carter of Clayton, Missouri. “Other gifts can be valuable, too.” That’s why Carter created a classroom wish list to distribute on back-to-school night that shows ways parents can help out—and help her—even if they can’t physically be at the school. She asks parents for everything from shoebox lids to time from someone who is proficient in scanning documents. Leslee Milch, a kindergarten teacher at Carl E. Gilbert Elementary School in Buena Park, California, also shares her wish list on back-to-school night, which includes the “bag of work” (her work) that parents can take home to help her out. “I haven’t stapled papers in 17 years, because the parents do that for me,” she says.

5. Point out online tools. Many school districts are moving towards an online system of communication, scheduling and grading. If your district is one of them, telling your parents upfront how to use these tools will cut down on the likelihood of students missing assignments or parents missing important messages—which only adds stress to your already busy day. For example, not all of Ware’s students own computers. “If I expect students to do work online at home and they don’t have computer access, then I need to know that,” she explains, so she brings up this topic on back-to-school night. “Parents will often tell me things that students are reluctant to share.”

Keep these tips in mind and hopefully this year’s back-to-school night will be the best one yet!

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