Back to School Night Best Practices

By Scott Sterling
August 2015, Volume 38, Issue 12


Back to School Night is critical for parent engagement: It sets the tone for the rest of the school year. While there is a general format that most schools follow, here are some best practices that should be incorporated to ensure that your night is a success.

1. Start publicizing as soon as the date is known

There is nothing worse than a sparsely attended Back to School Night. As soon as the date has been set, start sending out regular updates and reminders on all available channels, including email, social media, website, newsletters, etc. And above all else, if you have some sort of registration day before school starts, make sure teachers mention Back to School Night and the particulars.

2. Outreach everywhere

The primary goal of Back to School Night is to engage parents in their child’s learning. You want to make sure it is absolutely foolproof for them to interact with the school.

Start with making sure every teacher is collecting the contact information they need for the outreach method(s) they prefer. Some teachers like to text parents with information, so they need to collect reliable phone numbers. Other teachers stick to email. Whatever the case, they should create a sign-in sheet for their classroom to collect the preferred information.

Nationwide, social media is turning into the de facto outreach method for schools, so make sure every parent who walks into the school that night is aware of your Facebook page, Twitter feed, or whatever other network you are using for regular updates. Make sure the teachers all promote the various social media channels in their presentations. Display posters throughout the school listing all of the school’s contact information. You can even print out some QR codes that will lead parents directly to your sites.

3. Give some time to the non-core teachers

If you leave it up to parents to visit the gym coaches or music teachers, they might just skip it. Instead, give each of those department heads a little time during your opening remarks. The gesture will make them feel included in the process, and gives parents a chance to see just how well-rounded education still is.

4. No student-specific talk

Parents will naturally want to talk about their child during Back to School Night, but that isn’t really the purpose of the event. Talking about individual students wastes the time of the other parents and gets the teachers off their message. Instruct teachers in ways to politely suggest parents schedule a conference or connect electronically if they would like to have an in-depth conversation about an individual student.

5. Align teachers’ messaging

Although it’s a bad idea to come up with some sort of script for the teachers to use throughout the night, the faculty should come together to organize an agenda from which they can base their presentations. This solves a lot of problems. First, it can eliminate some of the nervousness that your new teachers might face. Second, it makes sure that parents aren’t receiving different information from different sources. Finally, if you can anticipate some of the questions that parents might ask and craft responses in the agenda, you will save a lot of presentation time. Again, no scripts. Just provide a brief outline of what everyone would like to cover.

Orchestrating a successful Back to School Night isn’t difficult, especially if you know beforehand what the challenges might be. And if your night is a success, you’ve gone a long way toward having a productive school year.

Scott Sterling is an education writer in Clearwater, Florida.

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