Tips for Back to School Night

Now that you’ve survived the first few days of school, it’s time for “Back to School Nightâ€!  Think of “Back to School Night†as the movie trailer for an action movie; it provides a sense of anticipation, giving the favorable highlights but saving the best parts for later.  Unfavorable qualities or aspects will be avoided at all cost.  Have you ever seen a movie trailer that highlighted all the poor aspects of a film?  “Back to School Night†can also be compared to a real estate open house, where the realtor speaks to a room full of potential buyers.  They will speak in terms of generalities; providing information that will interest the majority of their audience.  They will not be able to delve deeply into specifics or speak to individual concerns.  As with all movie trailers, this night should leave you with a vision and/or expectation(s) of what to anticipate for the school year.  Remember, this will be one of many opportunities you will have to see the school’s vision / values on display.

Although “Back to School Night†can be daunting; here are some tips to help you make the most of the opportunity.

1. Get Ready

Plan ahead!  This means making arrangements, adjusting schedules, and fulfilling other daily obligations so that you can arrive on time.  There will be traffic and parking will be limited.  This also means writing down a list of questions and attempting to answer the questions before this event.  Perhaps, some of the answers can be found on the school/center’s website or in a printed newsletter.  Have you read all the written correspondence that was sent home or emailed to you?  At this very moment, answers to some of your questions could literally be on a piece of paper laying on the floor of your child’s bedroom.

2. Look, Listen, & Learn

The school has prepared a few short presentations for you.  Because you have arrived on time, you are in place to hear everything they want to share with you.  Remembering our movie trailer analogy, listen for the overarching vision of the school to be communicated.  What seems most important?  What messages are being repeated?  What’s missing?  Have they answered any questions from your list?  What are the expectations?  Do the expectations closely align with your expectations for your child?  Have you articulated your expectations to your child?  How has your child been involved in this process at school and at home?

3. Say Cheese

I want you to smile and be pleasant!  Just as you are scanning the room and making quick judgements about everything you see, everyone else is making those same quick judgements about you.  Good first impressions provide a great start to any relationship.  It takes a village to raise a child!   You can’t do this by yourself!  You will need other people on your team.  They can include the classroom teacher, administrator, a building services worker, another parent, a coach, etc.  Back to school night is a great opportunity to scout potential team members.

4. Hello, Please, & Thanks

When you meet your child’s teacher, limit your introduction to Hello, Please, & Thanks.  Remember our open house analogy.  The teacher has a room full of people to address and will not be able to address very specific individual concerns.  Don’t force them to remind you that there are other parents waiting.  Keep it simple (Hello, Please, & Thanks).  For example, “Hello, I’m Natasha, Jada’s mom.  It’s nice to meet you. I do have a few individual questions, is email the best way to address them?  (They will respond.  Then you will proceed.)  Thank you for working with my child. Please don’t hesitate to let me know how I can support you, I appreciate the help.† This is just a group open house and it’s not an individual conference.  If you ask an important question while hundreds of other people are waiting behind you, you will get a quick and most likely incomplete answer.

5. Follow-up and Follow Through

Before emailing your child’s teacher, check your original list of questions.  Hopefully most of them have been addressed.  If you still have individual questions, address those questions in a follow-up email.  You may need to use this email to request a phone call or face to face meeting if your questions / concerns are more complex.   Follow through on the information you received before reaching out again.  Remember, you do have subject matter expertise regarding your child.  Those interactions you have with your child may lead to uncovering additional strategies that could be implemented in the classroom.  Consistently follow-up and follow through this entire school year and beyond.  Your child is depending on you!

Note to Homeschoolers:  Create your own “Back to School Night†by meeting with the other parent / spouse regarding your vision and goals for this academic year.  This is an excellent opportunity to review expectations and involve your child/children.  You will also benefit from carefully selecting potential community partners / team members to expand your lessons and provide a more enriched learning experience for your child.

Note to Special Populations:  If your child is receiving additional services in your home or at a center, use these tips to navigate through your first parent meeting.  I want you to be an informed and involved member of your child’s service team.

Final Notes:  This educational journey that you are on with your child is a marathon and not a sprint.  The best outcomes occur when everyone works together as a team!  Whether your child attends a traditional school, daycare, or special center, I hope these tips help you navigate “Back to School Nightâ€.
Please stay encouraged as you pursue the goals you have for your child!  Remember that you are your child’s first and best teacher!

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