Thursday, September 8, 2016

(Really) Invite Parents into Your Classroom at Open House and Back to School Night

It's a brand new year with brand new students and families and you want the year to get off to a great start.  You may have a large class size and so much to do each day prepping, organizing groups, learning new curriculum, working with colleagues, setting goals, grading and evaluating student work and, oh yea . . . teaching.  And then trying to have a life outside of school.  You might not have the luxury of having an educational assistant to work with you.

HOW will you get it all done?  Open House and Back to School Night is your chance to create a partnership with parents.  Make a great impression and recruit parents as your classroom volunteers. Invite the parents into your classroom and make them your partner in their child's education.  It's a Win-Win!  Parents get to see their child and you get the advantage of having extra help in the classroom.
Tip 1:  Make your room look amazing!  You will want your room and hallway to look great, so make sure your students have put their best foot forward with great work on display.  My students will create a poetry project at the end of the year and to get the unit kicked off, I always begin the year with a poem.  It's a three-stanza "I Am" poem with three purposes.  First, its a way I can assess students' writing abilities.  I instantly learn about students' spelling, punctuation, and writing skills.  Second, it will be an art/writing lesson that's beautiful to display for Back to School or Open House Night.  Third, and probably the most important for me, the information students share as they write the poem really helps me to understand the child as a person and get to know him/her.  I couldn't learn as much in such a short time without this writing task.  We save and include this poem in the poetry collection book students create in May.

I also begin with a graphing and surveys "Get to Know Us" math unit on mean, median, mode, minimum, maximum and range.  This unit has lots of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing in it and of course I am watching again to assess student skill levels.  Students design and create a survey question, then students take each other's survey.  The surveys are tallied and results displayed. This is a great bulletin board display that shows our class likes and favorites.
Tip 2:  Make your classroom an inviting and efficient space in which to work and learn.  If you're like me, you've spent a big chunk of your summer making and planning for your room to be organized, labeled, with everything strategically placed for efficient learning to take place.

I love my reading corner with books organized into tote boxes by topic.  If you can, add a rug and some camp chairs and a lamp to cozy up your corner.  Here's an old photo of my reading area.

My math tools area is all organized and labeled to quickly locate what we need.
Learning posters like your character traits expectations and math word wall posters need to be displayed. We use the character traits posters daily and it is a big focus of our "Student of the Week" and "Wise Owl Student of the Month" award system.  
Another must-have for me is my math word wall definitions.  The photo shows my (really) old word wall posters. I've completely re-made them and they're much prettier and more complete now.  :)  I post and organize my posters alphabetically and we refer to the wall daily.  My word wall is functional and it is readable from across the room.  Why put up posters if you can't read them from a distance?  If they're really intended for students to use, they must be readable from the child's seated location.  
Tip 3:  Make a great Back to School or Open House PowerPoint or SMART Board slideshow.  Once I got my SMART Board, I made my parent presentation in SMART Board format so it was interactive.

When it's parent night, I want parents to see how their children begin their day so I make a slideshow so parents do an attendance sign in just like students do.  Students teach their parents how to touch and move their name to answer the back to school question.  The sign ins are a great way for me to teach math skills each and every day and I want parents to know how it works and why it's important for students to be at school on time.  Students work with the attendance data, computing the fraction, decimal and percent using the question of the day as the focus.  Everyone loves the sign ins, but you'll love how well your students will be able to convert fractions to decimals to percents.  Parents are amazed at the math their students are doing.
Your presentation is your chance to help parents understand your rules and routines, procedures for absences, the curriculum and projects you'll be teaching, and so much more.  Make sure as you discuss the importance of parent volunteers that you explain how you will be using parent talents and skills to enhance the lives of all of your students.  Some parents will be great working with student groups, some will feel more comfortable running off and preparing student materials, some will be guest speakers or guest readers, and some will be your field trip chaperones. It's important that parents feel they are welcome in your classroom at any time.  I set out my volunteer sign up sheets and call every parent or better yet, have a lead parent organize your volunteers for you!  I seriously consider parents my teaching partners. 
Tip 4:  Feed them and they will come!  Our school puts out refreshments and treats in the common lunch area and that helps get parents to school.  If your school doesn't offer that, you may want to offer peanut fee snacks.  Everyone likes a treat!
Tip 5:  Offer a drawing for a free lunch for two lucky students who attended the parent night.   This encourages and rewards the effort parents make to come learn about their child's school year with you.  Each student is given a coupon for attending the open house with his/her parents.  The next school day, have your "Star of the Week" draw two names and treat them to a lunch.  My teaching partner and I did this together and we called the order in to a Subway sandwich shop close by then we picked it up during our prep period.  We set a table cloth and a vase of flowers on the table and our four students ate together in the common area.  Students loved it and it wasn't too expensive using coupons.

You want students know that learning in your classroom is fun.  And best of all, you've got parents partnering with you and helping you teach their children.  That's a big win for you!

Below are the links to the materials and programs that I use and to the materials that work for me. Maybe they  can help you, too. 😊
What do you do that works well for you for Open House and Back to School night?  I'd love for you to share it here!
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