It’s back-to-school season, which always means one thing: Open House. Parent Night. Back-to-school Night. Welcome Back Night.
Regardless of what your school calls it, the intention of this evening is to introduce parents to their student’s teacher(s) while allowing teachers to highlight various aspects of their classroom and teaching.
For teachers, the purpose is to discuss the standards they plan to cover, upcoming field trips, events, and fundraisers, dive deep into the daily routines of the students’ school day, and maybe discuss homework or online learning programs they use.
For parents, their goal is to meet their student’s teacher(s), size them up, look around the classroom, learn about how the teacher runs the class, and maybe corner the teacher to have a personal conversation about their student.
As both a parent and a teacher, I’ve learned that the teacher’s and parents’ agenda don’t always align, which can often make teachers feel like the talking head and parents feel like they didn’t get much out of the experience.
So if you really want to ensure that Open House is worth the time and effort for both you and your students’ parents, here’s what parents REALLY want teachers to discuss.
1) The skills they’re going to learn that year
Notice I didn’t say standards. Parents don’t want to know exactly what standards you’re teaching that year. They don’t even know what you mean by standard. To a non-educator, a standard is a measuring tool, as in, you meet the standard, or you’re not up to my standards.
Tell a parent that you’re covering Common Core English Third Grade Language Arts Standard RL 3.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language, and their eyes may glaze over. They honestly don’t need to know that information.
But if you tell parents that students will strengthen their reading and vocabulary skills, they’re satisfied.
Don’t even think about telling parents that students will study third grade math content standard NF.A.1 – Understand a fraction 1/b as the quantity formed by 1 part when a whole is partitioned into b equal parts; understand a fraction a/b as the quantity formed by a parts of size 1/b.
Simply say students will be studying fractions. Parents get that, and honestly, that’s all that they need to know. And I’m not implying that you need to dumb it down for them, but parents didn’t agree to spend their Wednesday evening to hear educational lingo.
2) Events, field trips, and fundraisers
If you want students and parents involved in events at your school, you need to let them know right away. Having a calendar to distribute is a perfect way to do this!
Most parents have busy schedules with their family, which means that they need to be informed well in advance if there’s a Fall Festival, a field trip to the zoo, or a Trunk or Treat.
Many of them will definitely want a heads up on field trips. While they may not be able to chaperone or help out, they’ll want to know when their student will be away from school, if they need to pack a certain type of lunch that day, or if their student needs to dress appropriately.
Parents also want to know important dates such as major tests or projects. Letting them know ahead of time will help them schedule vacations and other trips around these important dates.
Let’s talk about fundraisers. As a parent, I also want to know if I can just give cash instead of participating in these. Yes, my daughter wants that silly duck she gets for Jump Rope for Heart, but no one in my family has the time to ask our other friends and family to pledge money for that.
The same goes for cookie dough and selling five boxes of Sees candy for 6th-grade camp. The reality is that I’ll only buy cookie dough for myself or eat the entire box of chocolates. So if I can just cash out and be done, my waistline and overall health will be truly grateful.
Kids are getting homework as early as first grade…maybe even kindergarten. Therefore, as a parent, I wanted to know about it because homework was the last thing on my daughter’s mind when she got home from school. The lure of the Backyardigans was much stronger than practicing her sight words. Therefore, it was up to me to light a fire under her to get started.
Spell out how much homework, what type of homework, whether it’s on paper or online, when it’s typically due, and what your policies are if it’s submitted late or never submitted at all.
Can we email you if something comes up that prevents our student from completing the homework? What other similar policies do you have?
Also, give parents advance notice if there are any major projects that the student will be working on which require parent assistance. I call this parent homework, which I absolutely LOATHE, but if you warn me about it ahead of time, I’ll be less begrudging about it.
My daughter started kindergarten as a motor mouth. She talked so much that it is sealed in history based on the grades and comments she received on her report cards.
As parents, we all know if our kids are well-behaved or not. In fact, I’ve had parents warn me about their child’s behavior so that I wouldn’t be surprised when I saw it in class.
So as a parent at Back-to-School Night, I’d like to know how a teacher handles an eight-year-old who won’t stop talking across the room to her best friend. I want to know all of the steps taken before I’m notified, and what happens if it continues.
Do I want her to be sheltered from consequences? Absolutely not! She needed to learn that there are appropriate times to talk in class. But I also want to be sure that she wasn’t going to be unfairly punished or humiliated in any way.
If you let parents know ahead of time how you handle discipline issues, you’re more likely to get their support when it comes time to call home.
5) Details about your school
This may seem odd to talk about during Parent Night, but you might want to consider talking about policies and procedures at school.
This is often discussed in the early grades, but even in fifth or sixth grade, there are many new students who don’t know how things work at your school.
Here are some details that parents want more information about:
- How to buy lunch
- Where to catch the bus
- What to do if you’re absent, and what to do when you return
- The policies for pulling your child from school early for an appointment
- Whether or not students can have electronics (I’ve seen first graders with iPhones)
- What types of programs are available for English Learners, Students with Disabilities, students who can’t afford supplies, etc.
- After school care and other activities
- Where they can pick up their child
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but you get the point. Don’t assume that just because a student is in 6th grade that their parents already know this information, or that they remember it!
FOR MIDDLE and HIGH SCHOOL:
This is similar to the elementary school section, but parents want to know how often homework is given, what type of homework students receive, and typical due dates.
You don’t have to give them a list of ALL of the assignments and due dates for the year (which I don’t recommend since someone will hold you to it and call you out if you don’t stick to the schedule), but if homework is usually due one or two days after it’s given, let the parents know.
This information helps parents keep their students on track. If you assign a weekly math packet or 20 minutes of reading every day, parents can check in with their student to see if it’s completed.
2) Your grading policies
This is one of the most important things that parents want to know about when their student is in middle or high school. They want to know how you grade, what types of assignments you give, whether or not you give extra credit, and how their student can bring up their grade.
I personally think it’s sad that there’s so much emphasis on grades over mastery, but the reality is that parents are just basing these decisions on how things were “back in the day.” So if you’re doing something like standards or mastery-based grading, you’ll need to take some extra time explaining how that works and looks in your classroom and gradebook.
When it comes to grades, part of what they want to know is how you penalize for late, incomplete, or missing assignments, especially if a student is absent. This should clearly be outlined in your syllabus, but you definitely want to mention this at Open House.
3) How to help their student succeed in your class
Middle school kids tend to be flaky, absent-minded, and forgetful. It’s completely understandable and expected considering the massive changes taking place in their minds and bodies.
High school students have a mind-boggling amount of homework, activities, responsibilities, and a social life, and it can be difficult for them to keep it together.
So give parents advice on how they can help their student succeed. Give them tips on keeping their work in your class organized. Let them know how to use an online grading system or Learning Management System that you use so that they can keep track of their student’s grades.
It may seem obvious to you how their student can get an A in your class – just do the work. But as I mentioned in the previous homework section, if you let a parent know that you do notebook checks on Friday, and have vocabulary quizzes every other Tuesday, they can help their student stay on top of that.
4) Dates of major assignments and tests
In my district, we’re on a year-round schedule, which means that students get regular breaks throughout the year.
Sometimes these breaks just aren’t enough for parents, and they want to schedule vacations, family reunions, and other trips smack dab in the middle of school. There’s really nothing you can do about it other than grumble and maybe give them the work they’ll miss ahead of time.
But most parents will make sure that their student doesn’t miss anything major like a project, mid-term, or final. So give them the dates right away and gently suggest that they plan accordingly.
Which of these do YOU do?
Hopefully, you cover most of these at Parent Night and not much more. Parents are just as tired as you are, and really want specific information that pertains to their student.
Some teachers treat Open House as if they’re hosting a dinner party. While the warmth and welcoming atmosphere are appreciated, this even should not be about you the teacher, but about the parents and students.
You may be directed by your administration to cover certain topics other than the ones I listed, and you should do that. But honestly, you’ll get more parent support and buy-in if your Open House presentation is centered around what parents need to know and not just what you want to talk about.
Keeping your presentation short, to the point, and useful will make parents feel like you respect their time, and in turn, they’ll respect and appreciate you.