Tips for a Stress-Free Curriculum Night
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
Your school may call it Curriculum Night, Meet-the-Teacher Night, or Back-to-School Night. Whatever the name, you probably breathe a little sigh of relief when it’s over. There was a time when I truly dreaded Curriculum Night — standing in front of all those staring eyes, everyone waiting for me to say something profound. My heart would pound as I went through my curriculum packet with the parents, all the time praying that no one would ask a question. These days, I look forward to standing in front of my parents at Curriculum Night. I’ve learned it is not just a time to inform them about what their child is going to learn, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to connect with one of my most valuable resources: my parents. It's a connection I keep going all year long.
Planning for Curriculum Night became much easier once I realized what parents truly wanted to hear when they came to my classroom. Spoiler alert: They do not want you to read to them out of a packet you created. This revelation came to me not as a teacher, but as a parent who had attended countless Meet-the-Teacher Nights at my own children’s schools. In the parking lot we parents never talked about the wonderful folder of information we were clutching. We talked about the teacher.
After years of reading out of my packet, I finally came to understand that a parent meeting a teacher for the first time only wants a few simple questions answered:
- What is the teacher like as a person?
- What is her teaching philosophy and style?
- How will this teacher help my child thrive?
- How can I be involved in my child’s education this year?
- If I were a child, would I like being in this classroom?
Curriculum Night Basics
Personally Invite Your Parents
A personal invitation shows parents that you are reaching out and consider them an important partner. In my district, we are very fortunate that our parents tend to be very involved in their children’s education. While our school had nearly 100% attendance at curriculum night for years, in recent times there seems to be a bit of a drop-off. Due to the economy, more parents are working nights or going to school. Extracurricular activities also seem to take precedence over school events these days. If the child's siblings were previously in my class, the parents often feel there is no reason to come. Therefore, it is more important than ever to personally reach out to parents. While this can be done through a written letter or email. It is very effective to involve your students. Have each student write out an invitation that includes an RSVP. Parents are less likely to cancel when they have already responded to you that they are coming.
Prepare Your Curriculum and Program Information
Even if they do not want you to read it to them word for word, parents want and need to know what their child will be learning and what they are supposed to know by the end of the year. It is also a good idea for teachers to put their classroom policies and procedures in writing. If a parent ever has a question about what to do when their child is sick or if they want to send in a birthday treat, they will have a resource to turn to, which means one less phone call or email for you to answer.
For the past two years I have gone “paperless” for curriculum night, putting everything I used to hand out onto my classroom website. If you have a website and a majority of your parents have computer and Internet access, I highly recommend doing the same. Parents have mentioned to me how much they like not having the folder in front of them because they were able to focus and pay attention to what I was saying more easily. Of course, I still provide a hard copy of my Handbook of Classroom Routines and Procedures and Curriculum Guide for parents without a computer at home.
Put Together a Visual Presentation
Many people prefer to look, rather than listen. You might consider putting together one or more of the following:
PowerPoint Presentation: Creating a visual PowerPoint presentation for the parents was the key to making my curriculum night a breeze. Each slide guides me through the points I want to make while answering the parents' questions on who I am, what I believe, and if I am the right fit for their child. Below you can view the PowerPoint I use. Feel free to adapt it to suit your classroom.
For those parents who couldn’t make it last year, I posted the PowerPoint on our class website. This year I went a step further and turned the PowerPoint into a movie with narration to give the parents a better sense of my message.
Put your information into a three-panel brochure for your parents to take home. Include information about your background, education, contact information, and any other information you want them to have at a glance.
Video of a Day in the Life
Instead of telling your parents what your students do during a school day, show them. Use a Flip camera, iPad, or other recording device to create a video that shows parents what their children do during a typical day. Don’t just stick to academics: include morning routines, specials, lunch, and recess, too.
Prepare Your Room
Whenever you have guests coming to your home, you probably clean up a bit — or, if you are like me, you at least hide things and tidy up your piles. Consider your parents as you would guests in your home. Cleaning up can be among the last things you do to get ready. Pay attention to the small details:
- Have your students organize their desks. A neat desk tells parents you are working on organizational skills with their children. Every year I have a few parents comment about how surprised they are to see their children’s desks looking so neat.
- Clean off your desk or workstation. Straighten and organize anything left on top.
- Straighten up bookshelves and any supply areas. Use wipes or cleaner to wipe down these areas as well as student desktops.
- Put up displays with a purpose. Parents want to see some of their children’s work — and of course we also know they want to see what everyone else is doing. This year I displayed colorful, authentic graphs the children created after conducting a survey on a topic that interested them. I was able to show parents how children were actively engaged in collecting data instead of simply filling in a workbook page.
- Make sure there is something displayed for every child in your room.
- Display textbooks and workbooks the children are using this year.
- Put a sheet of blank notepaper on each desk so parents can write a note to their children. My kids love finding them in the morning, and many save them in a folder all year long.
- Last but not least, sit down in a few seats around the room and view your classroom with parent eyes. Is the room inviting? Is there anything on the floor, wall, or another surface that needs to be picked up, straightened, or wiped off? Finally, does your room look like an environment that you would like to send your child to for six hours a day?
Help Parents Get Involved
So many parents want to help out in any way they can. Make your parents a welcome partner in your classroom. At the beginning of this year, I had so many parents who told me they would love to help out in the classroom. Others offered to do copying, laminating, or whatever I needed. Offer your parents a variety of ways to help out:
- My Giving Tree includes a variety of volunteer opportunities for parents who would like to help, inside and out of the classroom. Jobs include helping in computer lab, reading with children, copying, laminating, baking for special events, binding books, and donating things we never seem to have enough of like hand soap, paper towels, and napkins.
- Parent surveys can be helpful. My friend and teaching partner, Eman Shammo, has had great success with a volunteer survey she gives out at Curriculum Night. Parents can let you know what they prefer to do and when they can do it.
- This is the perfect evening to get volunteers for the holiday parties and classroom events you have planned throughout the year. Work with your room mother to get sign-up sheets out. It is much easier to get volunteers early in the year.
Create Your Own Giving Tree
For my Giving Tree, I drew a tree trunk and scanned it. Next I ran it through the copier with brown paper. Then I added die-cut leaves with job or donation descriptions on them. Parents picked the leaves off the tree, wrote their name and phone number on the leaf, and then dropped it in a basket.
The Big Night
Relax. That is my best advice. You are well prepared and the room looks great. Your specially chosen outfit is professional, with just the right dash of marvelous. The last things to remember for the night:
- Just as you would any invited guest, greet parents at the door with a smile.
- Show your enthusiasm for teaching and for their children.
- Stay on schedule. This is the toughest one for me, but respect your parents’ time. They may need to attend another presentation that backs up to yours.
- Talk to your parents after your presentation finishes. If necessary, gently remind parents that you are not able to conference with them now, but would be more than happy to schedule an appointment to do so.
This is the part where you get to have that sigh of relief.
- Thank your parents for coming.
- Reach out to those parents who were not able to make it. Send home information they missed, including all handouts.
- Sit down that night and write out what went well, and what you would change for next year. Put that information in a curriculum night file.
I’m a big fan of the extras. You know, those things you probably don’t need, but like to have out as a special touch. Every year I have my students write a note to their parents and leave it on their desk with a few chocolate kisses. This year my class decorated cards that they folded over the bags. Each student wrote a personal note on the back of the card with messages like "Kisses from Sonya" or "A Sweet Treat from Sophia."
Make your own welcome labels. They're perfect for conferences, too.
If you are a newer teacher, please be assured that there does come a time when you begin to enjoy curriculum night. Remember, your students' parents are not there to judge you. They are probably just eager to meet the teacher whom their child talks about at the dinner table, quotes incessantly, and has caused their child to love school so much.
Do you have any good (or bad!) curriculum night stories to share? What is your best tip for a stress-free curriculum night? Please leave your comments below. I would love to hear from you!