First impressions matter.
And Back-to-School Night is your chance to make a great one.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this. The nerves are still there. And the same questions ring through your head:
“What will this year be like?”
“How much can we learn?”
“Will the parents like me?”
I’ve been there. First impressions are hard. And they can even be a little bit scary. You’re not alone.
Luckily for you, teaching Pre-K, you deal with first impressions every day. First impressions of school. First impressions of each lesson. First impressions of the alphabet, numbers, etc.
And just like with your class, you are going to create a first impression that parents will never forget. In fact, you are going to blow them away.
Let all the pressure fall away. And it helps to remember… parents want to be impressed. They want to feel safe and secure. They want to feel confident that their child is with the right teacher.
And you are the right teacher.
How do I know that? You’re here reading this blog! You’re always looking to improve and be the best you can be. Right?
Parents will see this too. When it comes to Open House, no one is there to criticize or critique. Parents are nervous. They are sending their baby off to school with a stranger. That’s no easy task!
So, how do you ease their fears and turn those anxieties into excitement?
Here are a few simple rules which I call The 5 I’s of Open House…
Let’s break them down.
Invite parents into your classroom and on to a great educational journey.
Be sure to have your name prominently displayed outside of the classroom so parents know exactly where to find your room.
Getting lost in a new school is not the best way to start the year. Make your room easy to find.
When parents (and kids) find your room, be sure to greet them with a huge smile, a firm handshake, and lots of enthusiasm.
If your new student is with their parent(s), introduce yourself in the same way (maybe even turn up the enthusiasm and talk about how much fun you will have this year!)
And if kids are shy, that’s understandable. Be sure to have toys, books, and puzzles set up in different areas of the classroom so kids of all ages can play safely while you talk to mom and dad. Goodie bags (with school appropriate items) are another great way to break the ice with a four-year old.
As you tour the classroom, it helps to have a clean room.
I know. Not exactly a revolutionary thought.
But a messy and chaotic Back-to-School night is no way to start the year. This advice may seem simple, but that’s all the more reason to get it right.
Put in the time for the basics. Because if you can’t get the basics right, what will parents be left to think about everything else?
Don’t let the first-day organization bleed into Back-to-School night.
Clean room. Decorated walls. A nice door display.
These are non-negotiables.
Everything is a first impression. A clean and colorful room goes a long way.
Now, for the last tricky part of introductions, do you tell parents your first name or roll with your teacher name?
It’s totally up to you.
I always thought using my first name would create a more personal bond. A more team-oriented approach to educating their child. But even as I became friends with many of the parents in my class, they still call me Mr. G. to this day. Maybe one or two call me Jarred.
So even though I made an effort to tell parents they can call me Jarred, they never did. You may see different results, but I don’t think the first name vs. teacher name even matters in the long-run.
What do parents want more than anything?
You guessed it.
They want their children to live happy and successful lives.
They want this way more than anything. More than a great year in Pre-K. More than learning the ABCs and how to count.
Luckily, this is what you want too.
Never lose sight of the main goal. Communicate this to parents. Show them that you “get” it.
Involve parents in the philosophy of your classroom.
It’s become cliché to say that school prepares kids for life. Most of the time, it doesn’t. But in your class, things will be different. The things children will learn, the lessons you will teach – they are in pursuit of something much bigger than a Pre-K graduation.
You are teaching life skills. You are opening children’s minds. You are showing them the world.
You are helping kids grow up to be anything they wish to be.
Involve parents in this process.
And guess what happens when you involve parents?
They involve themselves!
What’s the easiest way to show parents you care about their dreams, their goals, and their happiness?
What will make you happy?
What do you want your child to learn this year?
What are your goals, values, dreams, and expectations?
Get these answers then, incorporate all of it into your classroom. Do this right away.
After all, it doesn’t help if you wait until the end of the year to ask parents what will make them happy. Let them know that you are in this together — that their work is just as important as yours.
This is when you bust out the holy grail of parent engagement.
The Parent Survey.
With this survey, you show parents that you are invested in their child’s education, in their family values, and in a commitment to changing lives.
Here is my list of questions:
- What are your goals for your child this school year?
- What are your goals for your child in life?
- What does your child want to be when he or she grows up?
- What are some of your child’s favorite toys and/or interests?
- What are some of your child’s favorite books, characters, movies, and/or TV shows?
- Is there anything else important that I should know about your child to help him/her learn as much as s/he can this year?
- As a family, what are three things you value most?
- What are some rules and expectations that you have set at home for your child that you would like to see reinforced in the classroom?
- Do you have any other children? If so, how many and how old are they?
- Does your child have any allergies? If so, what are they?
- Is there anything else that I can do to ensure that this year is as productive and special as possible for you and your child?
- Contact information sheet
- How do you prefer to be contacted? Email/Text/Call/Facebook/Other
- Class Social Media accounts
The link above will give you a printable version of these questions. It also incldues a Spanish translation.
Oh yeah, and it’s FREE.
These questions illustrate a lot about the type of teacher you are.
First, they create a strong first impression. They demonstrate the values that will be taught in your classroom. Mainly, they show parents that their goals and dreams matter. They show a level of care and thought from your end. That you are a teacher that goes above and beyond. That you are invested in not only teaching kids for this school year, but teaching little humans how to be great people for the rest of their lives.
Parents will see this shine through. These questions are designed in such a way that it is clear to parents you aren’t just asking to learn some fun facts. You will use this information.
Let’s break it down further. The first three questions focus on goals in the short- and long-term.
Questions 4-6 show that you want to know children’s’ interests so you can craft lessons, crafts, and activities around those interests. Use these interests to provide motivation for kids to do their best. Here’s an example: A child is throwing a tantrum. From the survey, you learned that he loves Batman. You can now ask a question like, “Do you think Batman threw tantrums when he was in school?” After a quick moment of thought, he snaps right out of it. The parent survey saves the day.
Questions 7-9 build a stronger bond with the family. Asking parents about other children in the house is an important data point and an important relationship builder.They establish a personal connection, proving that you care about family values and family goals. And when parents know that you will reinforce their values at school, they feel committed to reinforcing your classroom values at home. Also, older brothers and sisters can be used as role model examples, similar to the Batman scenario. (e.g., What would your big sister say if she saw you acting like this?). It’s also good to know if you are dealing with an only child, a middle child, or one of many. I once had a student who had eight sisters; he was the only boy in the group. This explained a lot about his behavior.
These are all great reasons to ask question 9, but my motivation actually came from one of my TFA colleagues. She shared a story that she had attended an older sister’s soccer game as a way to build family relationships. This was so above-and-beyond — such a gesture of love, care, and commitment to the family – that I had to include an opportunity in the survey to create these types of relationships in my classroom.
Talk about investment.
Question 10-14 are housekeeping questions. If you want, you can add a question about home visits in this area or just use a separate handout dedicated to contact information, donations, volunteering opportunities, permission slips, etc.
Parents won’t fill out the survey on the spot. Go over it quickly and move on. Unlike this explanation, keep it short.
I made the mistake of writing out a three-page introduction in my first year. It included my background and bio, goals for the classroom, philosophy on education, another bio for my assistant, and plenty of other unnecessary information. The parents in my community didn’t have the time to read through my college essay. Like everyone else in the world, parents want to know “What’s in it for me?” and that boils down to the education their child will receive.
Communicate that in as few words as possible.
The bottom line? Parents will feel the investment.
Everyone likes to feel special.
Parents and kids are the same way. And even though you don’t know a ton about them, the little gestures go a long way.
Have name tags set up at the tables so parents and children can find their names. Hang a birthday poster on the wall with all of your class’ birthdays. Maybe put children’s names on the door display. For example, my first year we used an “Up” themed door display and each child had his or her own balloon.
Include the parent survey (and all other Open House forms and announcements) in a personalized folder with the child’s name on it.
I know these are little things.
But little things make a big difference to parents.
Ease their fears. You won’t let their child get lost in the crowd. Make it obvious that he or she will get all the attention, love, and education they can handle.
Get parents excited about having you as a teacher and in their children’s lives! Bring your passion, energy, enthusiasm and don’t be afraid to make big promises.
I mentioned how my first year included a tome of an Introducton note. No one read it.
So each year, my intro note got shorter and shorter. Eventually, I could sum up the year in one sentence:
“Your child will be reading at the end of Pre-K.”
You may think, “Reading? Why set such an ambitious goal before you even meet the children?”
Because parents remember the big promises!
An ambitious goal (delivered as a promise, not a goal) sets the tone.
“Kids will be reading before Kindergarten.”
It’s bold. It’s ambitious. It’s impressive.
And when you make that goal become a reality, what else does it tell parents about your classroom?
It says that you know something that other teachers don’t. It says that your classroom is focused on real-world skills. It says that you have high goals and that you believe in a child’s potential.
Most importantly, it says that you believe in their child’s potential. And you are going to work tirelessly to prove the skeptics wrong.
Most parents send their kids to Pre-K as a blank slate. They hope that their kids are great students… but they don’t really know for sure.
An ambitious goal gives parents hope and confidence that their child is more than an average student. That their child can do anything.
But you have to deliver.
Parents will always remember the big goal you set. It will be unexpected when they hear it. And they may not believe it, either.
This makes it all the more impressive when you deliver on your promise.
When you hold up your end of the bargain, parents see what’s possible. They will feel lucky. And they will begin to adjust their own beliefs about the potential of their child.
Now is this actually possible? Yes. It’s more than possible.
And if you want to achieve these goals yourself, head over to our TeachersPayTeachers store for a week-by-week breakdown on how to teach your Pre-K students to read.
If this sounds too good to be true, try it yourself. Not only were kids reading by the end of the school year, they were reading by the end of December.
And believe me, parents took notice.
No matter how skeptical they may have been (or how skeptical you may be right now), they became believers.
Because when you deliver on these Big Goals, parents see you as an expert. They trust you. And this trust will take you a very long way!
When parents see that their children can learn anything, you can teach anything.
That’s the benefit of being an impressive teacher.
Before Back-to-School night, parents just hope their children can survive the newness of school.
After Back-to-School night? You will have parents feeling so inspired, so comfortable, so excited, they will be preparing to raise a genius.
Plenty of parents shared their excitement with me when they realized their child was smart. Like, really smart.
They hoped, but because kids had never been in school before, they didn’t really know if they had a little Einstein on their hands.
When they realize how you brought out their child’s potential, you won’t just hear a heavy sigh of relief. You will hear a shout of joy.
And when you see each other at graduation, and they share their gratitude and thanks, always remind them that you did this together.
And that’s how it’s been since the very start.