Getting Through Parents' NightSaturday, September 19, 2015
There were a few years during my teaching career when I thought it might be nice to send the parents on a cruise beginning on the first day of school. Visions danced in my head of me handing back their one-year-older and infinitely improved children on the last day! A year with no parents!
That vision quickly vanished each year after meeting everyone at our Meet the Teacher afternoon event and later the next week at Curriculum Night. I have had the good fortune to work with so many caring, connected, and supportive parents over the years, some of whom have actually become lifelong friends. A great parent-teacher-student partnership is the best recipe for a successful year!
Some of my tips for breezing through that sometimes anxiety-producing evening are:
Remember that you are on the same side.
A smooth-running school is a community. Staff, families, and children should all feel as equal, valued, and contributing members. Make eye contact when you shake hands, nod, or fist-bump your first hello. Some may be returning parents, greeted with hugs. Make eye contact with them also. It will deepen the bond you share. Ask for help in the form of volunteers and donations of supplies and time. Have all necessary forms ready and available for families to pick up and fill out on the spot.
A simple idea to ask for supplies would be to set up a bulletin board or display board with "wishing" stars. I used star-shaped sticky notes on this one and each note had a supply that was needed for our classroom. An example is twelve dry erase markers. Another example could be a package of no. 2 pencils. Parents can take a star and send it back with the needed supplies. You might be surprised how many parents have no idea of the money you personally put into supplying your classroom each year. Most want to help when they know!
Show that you know your stuff.
Parents and caregivers will relax when they see that their child will be in good hands for the journey. Be prepared with a curriculum overview of the year in handout form, and also devote part of your presentation to going over the concepts you will cover. I really get irritated at PD sessions and conferences when a presenter uses a slide show and then Reads.Every.Word. on each slide. Have all of your information on the slides. Have a few talking points and allow a little time for your audience to absorb the information. Promise to be available for questions at the end of the evening. It's worth the extra time it may keep you there to discuss homework policy or when you will be introducing the study of fractions a couple of times. If you open your presentation to questions, the audience just may hijack the whole presentation arguing with each other over minutiae. Please trust me on this. It happened to me. Once. That was plenty. Unbelievable!
Use good marketing techniques.
Your parent community and your students are your clients or customers. What are you selling? A part of their education. A piece of who they will grow to be. Make it an attractive and cohesive package deal.
You: the polished professional who took the time to dress professionally for the occasion. (Even if the audience shows up in jeans, shorts, flip flops, etc., you can't. You need to do better.)
A brochure: to advertise your business (the excellent (insert grade) education of the (insert year span) school year). You may choose to use a flip book, folded one page document, or a brochure. I loved having a tri-fold brochure that I updated each year. It looked professional and had good information in it that parents could refer to all year long.
Contact information: your email address, website or wiki, twitter account, anything you will be offering as a way to stay updated and to communicate throughout the year. Show all of this in your slide show also. Your clients will want to know how to find out what you're doing all year. If you don't tell them and give them an easy way to find out, they may just make stuff up and tell it to each other. (Just kidding! I think.)
Be your authentic self.
Let your client community know who you really are. Have pictures of your family and pets on your desk and even in your slideshow. They have family and pets. They'll like you more if you do too. Wish I still had a dog. Sigh. I just miss my dog. We'll talk about him later.
Anyway, don't be afraid to tell them a few things like that. It shows you're human, like them. Prove that you're not a robot.
Being your authentic self also makes your clients much more forgiving if you are suddenly absent because your baby was sick or your pet needed emergency surgery, or if the papers take an extra week to grade because your basement flooded and you spent the weekend throwing away all the ruined stuff that you shouldn't have saved in the first place...Oh wait...That's me, not you. But there you go. Just be real.
If you feel that things aren't going well as the evening progresses, imagine that the audience is naked. Or wearing silly hats. Or masks. It will make you smile. Then keep going! You've got this!
In case you need a start on your presentation, I know you'll like this fully editable one on Google Slides!
Here are my forever free Parent Partnership Letter, Volunteer Request Letter, and Reading Logs. Hope you'll find them helpful.