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Six Steps to a Successful Back-to-School Night

By Christy Crawford on October 6, 2011
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Extracurricular teachers — those who teach art, music, or technology — fight for parents' attention at curriculum nights and parent/teacher conferences. For tech educators who want to increase traffic to their room, help is here! Read on for six steps to attract parents and begin a substantive conversation that will last throughout the year.

1. Market Like You Mean It

Starbucks, the United States Army, and HBO use quick response (QR) codes to attract customers. So can you. QR codes are jazzed-up bar codes that activate videos, Web sites, or any other online content you wish. Download a free QR code reader for your smartphone and your school's iPads at ScanLife or RedLaser. Then go to JumpScan to create your own QR code and Web page for free.

Scan the QR code below to view my students' favorite blog post.  

Let the enticement begin! Use your school's poster machine or large paper to create QR code posters. Write descriptions under each QR code such as: "Scan this image to see amazing blogs, videos, and Web sites created by your children!" and hang your creations in prominent spots in your school. Ask older, tech-savvy students to beckon parents over to the station for a demonstration.   

2. Let the Kids Do the Talking

Remember the voice of the teacher in Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoons? "Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah . . . " Don't let that be you this fall. Set up child docents to make curriculum night introductions and guide parents through activities. Create a script with your class. Rehearse it well and send your students home amped to present their work.  

Need cheat sheets for young children? Provide each student with a piece of 8 1/2" X 11" oak tag. On the front, boldly list the schedule, e.g., "7:00 p.m. Literacy in Technology; 7:10 Mathematics in Technology," etc. On the back, glue a copy of the script, and get ready to hear the applause of well-informed and entertained parents.  

3. Get Them Loving Life Online and Valuing Your Knowledge

How valuable is your class Web site or school home page? Load it with links or features to show parents how to check their child's scores online, consult the weather report, peruse the monthly lunch menu, and access librarian-approved, kid-friendly search engines. Blast your Web page on a classroom wall or your interactive whiteboard, and show parents why your school's home page or class Web site should be bookmarked in their house.

Want to score brownie points with families without Internet access? List great links on an index card and on the back provide the address and hours of the computer center at their local library. 

4. Show Families How to Protect Themselves Online

Game Show Time! Begin the night with a quiz on Internet safety — kids versus parents, of course. See the kid-produced video, "Who Knows More About Technology?" in my post "How to Throw a Fabulous Year-End Celebration" and then check out Common Sense Media/Cybersmart! for some of the best lessons on using digital media in a safe, smart, and responsible manner. Use the site's FREE K–12 curriculum to learn about everything from cyberbullying and plagiarism to creating game show questions.

Cybersmart! also offers Home Connections sheets so students and parents will continue the conversation you start at curriculum night. Make sure your parents sign up for Common Sense Media's weekly newsletter. Suggest they bookmark WiredSafety and the Cyberbullying Research Center. For more on Internet safety, see my post "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility."  

5. Holiday Hot List

Consider yourself a walking Consumer Reports magazine. Parents want to know what's the hot seller in electronics or tech equipment; what is age-appropriate; and what provides the best in terms of both education and entertainment. Survey students before curriculum night to find the most treasured tech toys in your school, and kids will be sure to push their parents to your classroom for a discussion. Provide parents with a supply list and a "Holiday Hot List" sheet, or set up a laptop with links to great products in various price ranges.

For instance, for $15, kids can get a  2GB R2D2 flash drive or a Hello Kitty flash drive. For $20 they can purchase a LEGO flash drive that will inspire lots of writing and saving. Have one or two of these drives available for review at your "Holiday Hot List" table to lure the crowd to your room.

6. Let Them Play

Have parents sign in on your interactive whiteboard. Many parents will attempt to rest one hand on this one-touch board while writing. Chaos will ensue. Trust child docents to successfully walk parents through the process of writing on this 21st century tool.

Parents may remember the thrill of head-to-head combat on a Pac-Man tabletop arcade game. Introduce the SMART Table as a souped-up, educational version of that '70s favorite. The multi-user, multi-touch table will allow a small group of parents to conquer anything from interactive tanagrams to tricky pronouns (and it is much easier to use than the interactive whiteboard).

Ready to immerse parents in 21st century learning? Using clickers or student response systems, allow parents to partner with their children in a simple quiz or friendly review of the topics you covered during curriculum night. Parents should hold the clickers as their tech-savvy kids advise them on their every move. Kids will feel empowered, and parents will learn the art of adapting to the constantly changing world of 21st century schools.   

How do you get parents to join you for curriculum night or parent/teacher conferences? Please share your ideas here!

Comments (8)

We have a classroom economy set up. Students are paid classroom money when parents or other family attend. This year we are also inviting parents /grandparents or other family members to plant a flower in our class garden that afternoon. This works since our Open House begins at 4:00 and ends at 7:00 and it is still light outside.

While I would have agreed with all the below comments IF this article was written for general education teachers, it was not written for us..... the article is written FOR technology teachers.... This quote is in the first paragraph of the article, that you obviously skipped over: "For tech educators who want to increase traffic to their room, help is here!"....

This article was obviously written by a technology teacher in a very affluent area, without considering that more than 80% (being conservative) of the schools in America, are Title I and have little or no access to technology. There isn't a single piece of advice that can be used for a regular teacher in small town USA without any resources.

I teach in a Title 1 school and was also concerned about our parents being unable to access the internet, but I was informed that many of our parents do have smartphones which does give them access. Maybe they can be reached that way.

You need a first grade teacher on your panel. These suggestions re totally inappropriate for my first grade without much technology.

Obviously this article is not meant for teachers in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I don't even have a computer in my room no less all the devices you suggest I use to engage my parents. Perhaps your writers should think about ALL socioeconomic schools when they are offering suggestions.

Our school offers a BBQ dinner. It's free with Teachers' Thank You notes we each pass out after the parents have visited a short in-classroom teacher presentation. These are no longer than 10min.

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