Many schools like to start the new school year off with a Back to School or Curriculum Night, a kind of educational open house where teachers give presentations about the things they will cover over the year, how they will teach these lessons, and what will be expected of the students. It’s a wonderful way to connect your parents with the educational pursuits of their children.
Your Back to School night also offers you an opportunity to showcase your school to your parents and set up a partnership that can last the entire year. Traditionally, these are focused entirely on the academic aspects of the school year. But they can be so much more than that.
For starters, many school families have one or more parent who rarely makes it to school because of their work hours or other time conflicts. Back to School night can be one of the few times a year this parent is in the school, making it a great time to engage them in both their child’s education, but the school community as well.
Arming your parents with a deeper understanding of the academic approach to the school year has the added benefit of providing them with concrete information they can share with their friends and acquaintances about why their school is so great. Your parents can be a great asset, providing word of mouth marketing services in the most meaningful way possible – and your back to school night can help them know what to say beyond how the school makes them feel.
But on a grander scale, these nights, if done well, provide an opportunity to foster connections between the parents themselves with the school as the centerpiece of that relationship.
Here a few ways to use your Back to School night to build your school’s community.
Make sure new parents know about Back to School night
The start of the year is a hectic time for everyone. Teachers are working hard to get to know their kids and get the year off to a good start. Parents are adjusting to the rhythms of the new year and fighting the battles that are bedtime, homework, clubs and sports, and getting kids up and out the door every morning. And you, well, you haven’t stopped since school ended in June.
You’re always busy.
With everyone overtaxed by the realities of a new school year, it’s easy to under-communicate events like Back to School night, but if you want it to be a success, to really build community, your parents need to be there. And they can’t do that if they don’t know it’s happening.
Make sure it’s on your calendar, your website, your social media channels. Send home reminders. Use your automated calling system to alert them the day before. And make sure the kids know to tell their parents. The more parents you get there, the quicker and better you can build the school community you want.
Make it easy to attend
One of the biggest hurdles for parents in attending an evening function, like Back to School night, is what to do with their kids while they are at school. After all, these events aren’t designed for the kids. Make it easy for your parents to attend. Extend your afterschool or extended day care program, provide an open gym, or arrange for a movie night. Give the parents a safe place to drop the kids, a place where the kids can have some fun, and you’ve made the evening a success for both kids and parents.
Schedule the whole school on the same night
If you’re looking to do more with your Back to School night than just disseminate curriculum information, it’s important that you schedule the entire school to attend on the same night. Because of the specific needs of new parents or the differences in schedule and approach for PreK and Kindergarten education programs, some schools are tempted to hold a separate night for these groups.
For community building purposes, this is a mistake.
To truly build a community there needs to be a view of the school as a whole and not as two, three, or four separate schools operating together under one roof. More importantly, your new parents and PreK and Kindergarten parents are the two groups you most want to connect with right at the beginning of the year so that they feel welcome and connected. By putting them on their own night, you start the year off telling them that they aren’t included in the other kids’ reindeer games.
To say nothing of how forcing a parent with a Kindergartener and a third grader attend two different nights is a real hassle for busy parents.
Add a social aspect
Having everyone show up on the same night is not enough to magically transform this night into a community building event. You need to add a social aspect to the evening, ideally something where parents are encouraged to socialize after they are done meeting the teachers.
Have your parent organization sponsor a wine and beer garden or an ice cream social, or something similar where parents can get together and talk. Make it a free event for the parents and let your teachers go home after their classroom time.
The classroom presentations were enough time to let parents ask questions. This part of the evening is just for fun.
Provide information, but don’t solicit
Which is not to say you can’t use this event to provide parents with information about extra-curricular activities, groups, and organizations. In fact, it’s the ideal time to set up some informational tables where parents can learn about different ways they can volunteer and help out around the school.
Parental involvement is crucial and a great way to strengthen the bonds being built here.
One caveat, however. This time is supposed to be fun and relaxed. Provide information but refrain from asking for sign ups or participation. Let everyone enjoy the evening and leave with the feeling that their participation is desired, and their presence is welcome and valued, but not required.
Formal, organized curriculum. Informal, carefree social time
Finally, plan the different parts of the evening to be what they are. The Back to School night is above all a useful and expedient dissemination of information. Make it formal and organized. Enable your parents to meet with whichever teachers they need to meet with with as little stress and confusion is possible. Parents and teachers both will appreciate this.
When it comes to the social part of the evening, take the opposite approach. Make it easy, informal, and carefree. Don’t grab the mic and make a welcoming speech. This time isn’t for that. This time is for fun, relaxation, catching up with one another.
Draw a clear line between the two parts of your evening and both parts will be successful.