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September 5, 2014 Getting Ready for Back-to-School Night By Rhonda Stewart
Grades 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Just as you are settling into a routine with your students, another blip shows up on your radar — back-to-school night. It’s one of those events where you are center stage! I find that presenting and meeting parents is different every year. It depends on the vibe or energy that I get from my students. Some years, it's a walk in the park, while others — it's more like getting teeth pulled.

    One thing I know for sure, is that being prepared is the one constant that has kept me afloat. Knowing ahead of time what information needs to be covered, what handouts the parents need, and anticipating any questions they may have, helps me gather my thoughts for my presentation.

    While I was in attendance at Teacher Week @Scholastic, I had the opportunity to hear Karen Mapp, one of the authors of the book Beyond the Bake Sale, speak about the school and home connection. Her focus was building and fostering a true partnership with parents. One thought that resonated with me is that parents receive a lot of information at back-to-school or open house nights. The primary purpose of the information that they receive is to inform them about procedures, and what their child is going to learn during the year. The missing piece or the disconnect occurs when parents have very few opportunities to observe or even participate in what their child is learning. Parents often walk away from the presentations filled with questions and concerns about what they can actively do at home to help their child succeed.

    So this year, my back-to-school night plan is going to be a little different than in the past. I am still going to hand out my contact and content area forms, but I will also find a way to do a quick teachable moment with the parents, something that they can practice with their child at home.


    Back-to-School Night Essentials

    The following is a list of my must-haves, my tried and true materials for back-to-school night:

    1. Parent Contact Form

    This form provides me with the contact information I need to create an email distribution list. You will notice that I inquire about the preferred way that I can get in with my parents.


    2. Welcome Letter/Agenda

    This lets parents know what will be covered for the evening.

    Last year, my colleagues and I provided the parents with an informational brochure that provided a brief overview for all subjects across sixth grade. The cover page outlined the literacy plan, while the back page covered math, science, and social studies. Parents found this to be very helpful.

    3. An Introduction to My Teacher Page

    My teacher page is where parents can go online to find up-to-date information about what’s going on in my literacy classroom. I give them the URL and information how to navigate through the page to find what they are looking for.

    4. Crayons and Paper

    Just in case younger siblings show up, having something to keep them busy and entertained allows for fewer disruptions during my presentations.


    Back-to-School Night Activity

    This year my plan is to simulate a day in my classroom. I want my parents to walk away thinking, “So this is what literacy looks like," or "Now I know what Mrs. Stewart means by using the strategy taught in class to guide at-home reading.” In my class, we frequently use the following technique: turn and talk (partner talk), stop, think and jot, using reader’s notebooks and Post-it notes.

    Step One 

    I model the techniques (ask for a volunteer to partner with me) listed below. 

    Step Two

    Parents practice with fellow parents by answering the question, “What strategies are you using at home to support literacy and ensure your child’s understanding of the text?” I will give the parents a moment to think about the question and then ask them to turn and talk to each other. If I notice that they are having difficulties, I will provide them with a "cheat sheet."

    Step Three

    Parents share with the "class" from their turn and talk conversations, while I create an anchor chart.

    Step Four

    Parents fill out an exit ticket card and answer, "What strategy from the cheat sheet will you try at home with your child?" On the exit ticket card, I let them know that they should be prepared to discuss what method they used and how it worked when we meet at our parent teacher conference.

    Pearls of Wisdom — Think about the takeaway you want the parents of your students to walk away with from your presentation. Make that message the “heart” of what you talk about on back-to-school night. Speaking of "heart," I love to share the poem, "Two Sculptors" with the parents:




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Susan Cheyney