Are you preparing for Back-to-School Night?
It’s an event that can bring out a lot of emotions—both positive and negative. In fact, during a recent Share My Lesson team meeting, even the mention of back-to-school night elicited groans and jubilation around the table. Our content manager and former teacher, Ami, shared that even though back-to-school night is a great opportunity to foster important relationships between teachers and parents and guardians, it is also one of the most exhausting days of the school year. Being at school until 10 p.m. and then being back at 6 a.m. the next morning can be rough! Meanwhile, our director of Share My Lesson and mother of a first-grader, Kelly, enthusiastically shared how excited she is to meet her daughter’s teacher and learn about her day, despite having to sit at the world’s smallest desks. This of course sparked a debate, some eye-rolling and some laughs, so we decided to share this team meeting conversation with you via this teacher said/parent said write-up.
What’s your favorite part of Back-to-School Night?
Parent: I like meeting my daughter’s teacher(s) and understanding what her day entails. She spends more awake time at school than she does at home, so back-to-school night is a time to appreciate her day—where she sits, what her schedule is, who her teacher is, as well as to meet some of her classmates’ parents.
Teacher: Meeting parents! Teachers are just getting to know their students, and making connections with parents is such an important step to making that bond even richer. The more we can communicate to our students that teachers and parents are a support team for the kids, the more successful we will be at helping them reach and exceed their goals. Teachers: Iif you’re looking for tips to help foster those relationships, check out this webinar by NBC Parent Toolkit about authentically engaging parents. And, if you’re nervous about your first back-to-school night or if speaking to parents feels intimidating, use these resources from the American Federation of Teachers.
What are the challenges of Back-to-School Night?
Parent: Child care! Dinner! Bedtime! Oh my. While I do love back-to-school night, let’s be honest: It can be a logistical nightmare. Last year my husband, who is a high school teacher, had back-to-school night at his school on the same evening as our daughter’s, which meant hiring a babysitter, rushing home from work in traffic with enough time to feed the kids and meet the babysitter, and then to get out the door and to the school in time. I’m exhausted just typing this. Oh, and let’s not forget about finding parking near the school. Yikes!
Teacher: As a middle school and high school teacher, I think the hardest part is that many parents didn’t show up for back-to-school night. As students get older, many parents feel like they don’t need to meet their children’s teachers. And some parents work rotating shifts or have other obligations. It’s tough to build connections with parents if you don’t get to meet them. Even though there are challenges in those situations, it’s still important to send a note home, such as emailing your back-to-school PowerPoint presentation or handouts, or find other means of connecting with your students’ parents. Here are some ideas about how to connect with parents from author and retired teacher Julia Thompson. And, if you have parents who do not speak English as a first language, it can be difficult to communicate if you don’t speak their native language. These English language learning resources should be helpful.
What do you want parents to know before attending Back-to-School Night?
Teacher: That we’re on their side! Many parents have told me they feel like back-to-school night is where they get suckered into volunteering for a field trip or serving as class parent. I’ve also heard that those parents who have way too many obligations to volunteer feel like they aren’t doing a good job at being involved. But the ultimate goal of teachers on this night is to open up those lines of communication, and find out how they can best work with parents throughout the school year. There are a lot of different ways to work with parents, and teachers just want to find the best way to foster that relationship.
What is the most helpful information you received during Back-to-School Night?
Parent: Ideas on how to support my child at home and help her be successful. She excels at math, but is struggling in reading. And, like many kids, she is navigating her social environment with new friends in the classroom, playground and at lunch, even at the age of 6. Some days are good, some days are hard. I appreciate the reading strategies shared from Reading Rockets and this incredibly rich collection of resources on social emotional learning that includes an NBC Parent Toolkit resource for parents. These resources help me reinforce the work in school and create a united team with her teacher.
I also appreciate logistical information—such as how our teacher wants to be contacted in case we have questions so we can respect those boundaries. I want to respect the teacher’s time and how he or she wants to be engaged. I also like to know that I can contact my child’s teacher if I have concerns. Knowing that there is an open line of communication is so helpful. My daughter’s kindergarten teacher last year, Ms. Cetlin, was masterful at keeping in touch with parents. She used a combination of the Remind app and Seesaw to share photos, work completed, updates and reminders throughout the year. It was wonderful. Additionally, she was accessible by text message and would periodically send us an update on how our daughter was doing. I’ll never forget Christmas Eve when she texted us a heartwarming update about our daughter’s improvement in reading, or the laughs we had over Ms. Cetlin’s text describing how our child took her recycling unit so seriously she caught her almost buried in a trashcan trying to rescue recyclable items that she could turn into art. My husband tries to send at least one email to every parent of his students over the first couple months of school, offering updates on students’ work and sharing something positive. He finds this extra work up front establishes a yearlong relationship even with parents of 12th-graders and helps to create a team that will encourage those students to walk across the stage in June.
Where can parents and teachers find more information to support students at Back-to-School Night and beyond?
We get to work with these organizations every day at Share My Lesson, and we think their resources are valuable for teachers and parents alike:
- NBC Parent Toolkit: Great resources for all parents of K-12 students.
- Understood: Support for students with attention issues and their webinar Helping Kids with ADHD Thrive in the Classroom
- Colorín Colorado: Support for English language learners
- National Association for Gifted Children’s webinar See Me! How to Recognize Potential in all Student Populations
Best of luck at your back-to-school night,
Ami, Kelly and the Share My Lesson Team
Check out more of our free working with parents in Share My Lesson's extensive collection.
Ami Turner DelAguila earned her B.A. in English from SUNY Buffalo and received an M.A in the Teaching of English from Teachers College, Columbia University. She spend several years teaching middle and high school English in New York City and Fairfax, Virginia, as well as pre-service teachers in an M.Ed. certification program at The George Washington University. Ms. Turner DelAguila now works for the American Federation of Teachers as the digital content lead for Share My Lesson and an instructional designer for the AFTs eLearning platform.
Kelly Booz directs Share My Lesson’s 1.5 million member online community and is the Manager of Resources and Dissemination for the AFT, overseeing the AFT’s PreK-12 publications and digital content through Share My Lesson and AFT’s E-Learning. Kelly serves as the Education Advisor to Virginia Delegate Mark Levine. In 2014, Kelly was appointed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to serve on the Virginia Standards of Learning Innovation Committee to evaluate the Virginia accountability and assessment systems. Kelly was elected to the Alexandria City School Board in 2012 and served on the Board from 2013-2015. Formerly, Kelly was Director of Civic Education at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier, where she ran the Virginia and Washington, DC We the People programs for students and educators. Kelly has a M.Ed. in Social Foundations of Education from the University of Virginia, and a B.A. in Psychology and minor in Women’s Studies from Carleton College.