How to Design an Awesome Back to School Night

by Justin Birckbichler

Hands Up

Get parents involved during back to school night! (LuminaStock/Shutterstock)

It’s the end of summer and many teachers are gearing up for back to school (or already are back!) We ready our rooms with our chosen theme (superheroes in my case), begin planning community building activities, and prepare for the students’ excitement.

One key element to a successful school year often goes overlooked – preparing for our new students’ families. It is critical to connect with our students’ families to help support them so they can support their child.

Why should Open House Night be the first time we connect with families? As soon as you have access to your student information, pick up the phone and call them! Share a little bit about yourself, explain your education philosophy, and firmly express how excited you are to meet and educate their child.

If you are up for it and your district allows it, you can arrange a home visit. There is simply no better way to establish a positive relationship than by face-to-face interaction. Some parents may not have fond memories of school, so meeting you for the first time at a comfortable location will set the foundation for a good partnership. Going to them on their home turf can help set their mind at ease.

Unable to do home visits? Make a video introduction to follow up a phone call. Take the families on a tour of your classroom, pointing out interesting and exciting elements of your room. The goal here is to build excitement and get them comfortable with their child’s learning environment.

When Open House Night rolls around, if you haven’t already connected, make sure you greet the families with as much enthusiasm as you greet your students! This is a perfect opportunity touch base, tour the room, and answer any preliminary questions they may have. Ask them to sign up for a service like Remind so you can easily contact them throughout the year.

In years past, I have also gathered other information that may not be covered in standard paperwork (social media releases, etc) via a Google Form. This allows you to explain your rationale for what you’re teaching and helps quell any feelings of apprehension. As they leave the Open House, assure them that they can contact you with any questions as they explore the information you’re giving them. Consider following up with a phone call in the next few days before the school year gets underway. 

I’ve found it’s also important to set up a strong web presence for your classroom. At the very least, build a classroom website and set up at least one social media account for your classroom. Many social media services will “talk” to each other so you can have tweets automatically post to Facebook and vice versa. Parents may not check a website frequently, but we all know how into Facebook everyone is. Why not meet them where they are?

Many schools also have an adults-only Back to School/Meet the Teacher night. This is another great opportunity to connect and share more information with your students’ families.

In these situations, if you are going to be sharing information about your class being interactive and engaging for your students, don’t drone on from the front of the room! Just like you do with their children, get the parents involved. Some ideas:

  • Have them do a “think-pair-share” with what their students excel in, and how to help with weaker areas.
  • Set up a back channel with a service like TodaysMeet so parents can talk to each other and ask questions without having to be singled out.
  • Create a culminating Kahoot or Quizizz game to reinforce any discussion topics that you’ve gone over in the meeting.

Some parents are only in the classroom for an hour – we must make that time count. Give them the experience their students have and they’ll trust in your teaching (and share a bond with their students).

Want to go all in? By now you’ve heard about Breakout EDU, the immersive learning experience that is based on escape rooms. Develop and design your own Breakout EDU game to accompany the evening. Include clues about your background, the course content, classroom policies, and other important information. Families will learn about their child’s class through this experience and will even begin to develop relationships with other families as they collaborate toward unlocking the box!

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it count when meeting families for the first time. They are sending you their best and they must trust in you. Forming a solid foundation from the start will help you through the entire year, and may even set the stage to setting home regular Home-School Connection Nights. We all want what is best for their student and it is important to remember that we’re all in this together.

How to Design an Awesome Back to School Night | Justin Birckbichler

Justin Birckbichler

Justin Birckbichler is a fourth-grade teacher in Stafford, VA and a Google for Education Certified Innovator. He presents about technology integration at national events, including a 2016 keynote address about challenging teacher mindset. Connect with him at @Mr_B_Teacher and read his blog at blog.justinbirckbichler.com. He’s currently battling cancer and documenting his journey at www.aballsysenseoftumor.com.