By: Rabbi Maccabee Avishur, Director of Leadership and Placement
Back to School Night is a golden opportunity to show parents how your school is great and to educate parents about what it means to be in the school. We recommend designing your school’s Back to School Night with a laser focus on helping parents understand what their kids do at school all day, giving parents a taste of what it’s like to be a student there, and building school community.
Parents who have a great time at Back to School night will be sure to tell their friends. Here are 10 tips your school might consider for transforming Back to School Night into one of your most powerful marketing tools:
- Short (very short) speeches. Every Back to School Night should begin with an introduction and framing that makes the value proposition for your school. School leaders can use this opportunity to speak for 3 – 4 minutes to welcome parents, share what makes the school special (in one or two sentences, or an anecdote), communicate the goals of the evening, and frame the experience by sharing some ideas with parents about how they can make the most of it. We believe it’s important to keep this section as short as possible. Also, it’s NOT ideal at this point in the evening to introduce every member of the school’s leadership team. More on this below.
- Let parents meet their kids’ teachers. Your teachers are one of the primary reasons why parents send their children to your school. Make the most of these important ambassadors. Many parents attend Back to School Night in order to meet their children’s teachers and to introduce themselves. Many parents in your school probably have multiple children in the school, so it’s important to keep that in mind as you schedule the evening. We recommend staggering teacher presentations and having teachers repeat their presentations a few times over the course of the evening so that parents can participate in each one that’s relevant to them. You might consider putting parents in small groups and assigning each group to a slot to visit the teachers. In a small group, parents will have a chance to meaningfully interact with the teachers during their presentations. It will take some extra time to organize and schedule the parent group rotations, but we think it will be worth it.
- Have the teachers teach. Your teachers are your greatest assets on Back to School Night, and they’re most impressive when they’re teaching. We recommend having the teachers teach a short lesson (10-15 minutes) so parents can learn what it’s like to be in their classrooms as a student. That way, parents get a sense of what their children experience every day. If there’s one thing you do differently at your Back to School Night, we recommend this.
- Show parents the work. Showcase what’s happening in your school by sharing with parents the schoolwork their kids have actually done rather than samples of worksheets they will do. Although it’s early in the school year, the students have likely done some form of work that demonstrates the nexus between the teaching and their learning. That’s what many parents are curious about and what they’ll tell their friends about later.
- Give parents an iPad. Let parents really experience the technology in your school by setting up stations for them to try out some of the technologies their kids are using and learning with. Rather than simply showing slides on the SmartBoard, invite parents up to the front of the class to do something their kids might do in class with that technology.
- Parents will read (if they want to). Many teachers believe that distributing handouts to communicate important information about their classes and the partnership between parents and teachers is essential on Back to School Night. We support that decision. However, we recommend that teachers do not explain everything that’s written in the handout. Parents who are interested will read handouts later. If something in the handout is vital, teachers should mention that item and tell parents it’s vital so that they’ll make sure to read it. If parents have a question about the homework policy or a unit in the curriculum, invite them to send an email.
- What’s in a name? Give parents a name tag, and provide one for every staff member at the school as well. We recommend printing the name tags in big letters before the event and handing them out as you welcome parents who walk through the door. That way, parents won’t be embarrassed if they don’t remember the name of a teacher their child had a couple of years ago or the name of a parent whose child their son plays with. In addition, faculty and staff will be able to match faces with names. Another benefit of this approach is that you’ll have an easy record of who attended Back to School Night (check them off as they take their name tags) and who didn’t (the leftover name tags). This data can be helpful in planning future events and in guiding your outreach to parents who couldn’t make it.
- Help parents meet other parents. You’re “more than a school, you’re a home/community/etc.” Help parents feel more part of the community by designing opportunities for them to meet other parents at Back to School Night. Make meeting other parents part of the teachers’ lessons or one of the first things parents do with their groups. There are hundreds of icebreakers you could use that could add to the fun of the evening.
- Give parents access to school leaders. Our first tip recommended not introducing the entire leadership team at the beginning of the evening. That’s because we’ve found that many parents really value engaging with school leaders in small groups rather than seeing them on stage. Therefore, we recommend that all the school leaders gather together in the library (or some other space) to meet with small groups of parents who are scheduled to visit this stop during their rotations. There, the school leaders can introduce themselves, schmooze with parents, answer questions, and talk about the exciting things going on in their school. By the way, that room is a good place to put food.
- Provide healthy snacks. Speaking of food, remember that many parents probably didn’t have a chance to eat dinner before they came to Back to School Night. People love cookies, to be sure, but most doctors and nutritionists would recommend providing some fresh veggies and fruit for the parents before they return home for a late dinner when Back to School Night is over. This also sets a better example for the children, even if they’re not present.
Back to School Night can be an event that sets the tone for learning for the year, establishes meaningful relationships between teachers and parents, and fosters the home-school connection. Moreover, it can be a great way to build buzz about your school. Designing the event keeping the experience of the parents in mind will transform the evening and, potentially, the rest of the school year.
Rabbi Maccabee Avishur is the Director of Leadership and Placement at the YU School Partnership. Maccabee, whose work often provides a bridge between school leadership and instruction, serves as a leadership, placement, and educational consultant to schools in the US and abroad. Maccabee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .