Friday, August 31, 2012

Changing Parent Night for the Better

I'm pretty sure it's standard practice for every elementary school to have a Back to School Night where parents can come in, meet the teacher, and hear all about what their children will be doing in school. This year I decided to do something a little bit different with my presentation, and that decision led to one of the best evenings I've ever had.

In the past parent night has been much less about the kids and parents and much more about the rules, homework and curriculum. In thinking about how my philosophy has changed over the last year I knew that I needed to do something different that would help parents understand that academics are certainly important, but my biggest goal is to help their children grow and thrive as individuals. I also wanted to explain why our team was a little bit different than others, since people in small towns do talk, and I had some very special students whose stories needed to be shared.

So rather than my traditional, "Here are the rules, here's what we do in reading, here's what we do in math...." kind of schpeal, as the parents came in they had an assignment. They had a questionnaire to help me get to know them and their children a little bit better. For the first 15 minutes, they took some time and answered the following questions:

  • What is one thing I need to know about your child to help him or her be successful this year?
  • What is one goal you have for your child for fourth grade?
  • What is one thing you need from me to support your child's learning at home?
  • Is there any other important information you'd like me to know so I can better support your child here at school?
  • Would you be interested in coming to evening trainings about Daily 5 and the technology tools that we are using in the classroom?

While the parents were answering those questions I was able to walk around and personally greet each family that came in and thank them for coming. While only 11 of my students were represented (50% of my class), there were 18 adults so I was very pleased with the turnout. 

After the first 15 minutes I got started with my talk. While I did spend a bit of time with the traditional homework / rules / curriculum piece, a majority of my time was spent talking about my philosophy of education, how we are working to build community and become good people, how we use technology to meet those goals, and helping the parents who were in attendance understand the special health needs of my two students. We also spent some time looking at our class blog, our student blogs and our twitter account so parents could start getting involved right away online.

While I still feel like I talked to much, I feel much better about the content of my talking. I did what I wish my administrators would do during faculty meetings: cut out the information that could simply be posted online and focused on topics that were important to the parents. 

What made me feel so positive about the evening was the fact that the change in format allowed me to greet every family in the beginning and allowed enough free time at the end to have a short personal conversation with every parent or set of parents. Between the face to face interaction and the meaningful answers parents gave me I have already started to develop positive relationships with families so we can work together to help the kids grow throughout the year. 

One thing that I've been thinking about a lot and wrote about here is that at some point we have to stop just talking about things online and start DOING them in our classroom. This is one example of how a very small change to better match my new philosophy will continue to pay huge dividends throughout the school year. 


Nancy C said...

It is important to get off on the right foot with our students' parents. Changing your Back to School Presentation sounds like you made some great connections.
So many times I have sat in meetings and thought "I could read this online and we could be focusing on something else". We need to reevaluate the information we it something that could be given in a handout or survey, is is something that needs to be delivered face to face.
Sharing your philosophy is something that definitely should be face to face! I'm sure the folks were wowed and appreciated hearing something new and fresh! Good for you for changing thins up.
Our Open House is more student centered - the kids bring their folks to the classroom and show them all the work they have been doing and I introduce myself. It is a fun evening but I don't have a chance to share my philosophy or go much beyond hello.
Makes me wonder if I could somehow do something where child and parent could do something where they would have the chance to learn something about how our class will be different this year.
Thank you as always for your inspiration.
Have a great year.


Becky Bair said...

Thanks so much for commenting, Nancy. You are so right - with such a limited amount of time and opportunity to meet parents, make a first impression and start building a relationships, we have to use the time with have in the best ways possible. It seems like this was a good way to go so we'll see what happens.

I'll share that my teammate and I do have some next steps planned that might work for you. We are going to pick two evenings this month (not sure when yet) where the parents and students will come to school together. One evening the kids will help their parents learn how to do the Daily 5, and the other will be an evening when the kids will help the parents learn how to use the different tech tools that we are using in class. I know you do those same things in your room so it might be something to think about.

Thanks again for reading and helping me continue to learn and grow. :)

Sarah Blattner said...

Congratulations on a very successful and thoughtful back to school night. I bet those parents appreciated the experience as much as you did. You started the year with making the parents your partners in the learning journey and by showing how you value each unique individual in your learning community. Now that is powerful stuff!

Becky Bair said...

Thank you for your comment, Sarah!

I definitely felt like the parents appreciated the different approach to parent night. As I sit here and think about it, I wonder why I never thought to do something different before this year. Perhaps it's because I was worried about doing something different, or perhaps it was because I always felt locked in to do the same thing that my team was doing because we've done team presentations in the past. Whatever the reason I'm definitely glad that I did it.

You hit the key: parents as partners. So often it seems as though there is a real us vs. them attitude in education, whether it's teachers and administration, schools and parents - there are any number of combinations. As a collective we really do need to focus more on working together rather than battling against each other.

Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation!