Back-To-School Night should really be called “parent onboarding night.'' We've got the first-time-in-this-school parents and the seasoned parents. This is the night where teachers and administrators patiently answer the same questions over and over again, the night where in some cases parents have got a babysitter at home, or are going alone taking notes for the other, or even a parenting team in the case of blended families. How can schools make this a success and correctly onboard parents on what’s to come in the new school year?
Breaking down the event into three parts: promotion, on site, and post-event will help schools stay organized and effectively communicate to engage their parents in school and student learning.
1. Promotion: Getting ready
This may sound obvious, but promote Back-To-School Night on your school calendar, and if you are a district, have it on all your school calendars. Once details are on the calendar, create a news story and share it everywhere: your district website, school websites, social media, email and paper newsletters, pop-up alerts for each school site, and your family app.
Use video to promote Back-To-School Night. Have the principal or a couple teachers create a quick (under a minute) Back-To-School Night video with all the key details. A lot of times when scanning the website, families will watch a video more than read the information. Make sure your video includes captions to make it accessible to include all caregivers who might be attending—and people watching your video on mute.
Use your online forms to encourage parents to sign up. Forms can also be used to have parents opt into a weekly newsletter, information from teachers, and other district and school information. If you are doing a, “what do you hope to learn from Back-To-School Night,” online forms are a great tool to help take an engagement temperature before your event. After the event, forms are also a great way to collect feedback.
Share your maps with families to explain parking, building layout, etc. Remember most parents don’t come to school except for drop off—and if you are a high school, maybe not at all. It’s a big campus, many buildings, it’s confusing. Draw them a map, everyone will appreciate it.
2. On-site: The night of
Onboard parents right then and there. Maybe your school has a new family app, new website, new building, etc. Now is the time to walk everyone through it: how to set up the app, where the new library is, where we are all doing pickup if that’s changing, etc. Make it very clear for the parents, for example your principal might say:
Please everyone take out your phone, go to the app store, search for your school name, download, turn on push notifications, select your language, etc.
Show them where the staff directory is, where the tip line is etc. If you have translation options, show parents where to see the translations or remind them to set their browser translator.
To increase parent teacher involvement, try to make it as easy as possible to include all the parents in the information. We have gotten good at this over the past couple of years being remote; let’s maintain the momentum for the folks at home with younger children, still at work, etc. Record your classroom session, as well as the all school meeting, on Zoom and share the link or video afterward so no one missed anything. Having a transcript is also helpful for parents to skim what was important to them.
Get everyone on the same page—literally. Encourage teachers to create a QR code and place on each desk—or in a handout. The QR code will take families directly to the teacher’s website and remind families to subscribe. If you are using Google Classroom integrations, remind families to subscribe to that functionality as well. This will also help cut down on handouts to the parents as well as the daily ‘Where do I go to contact my teacher?’ questions directed to the main school office.
Recruit and fundraise on the spot, the 2022 way. Teachers usually have a “wish list.” They can link that on their website they are sending parents to from the QR code. Add a payment function to your online forms and have parents make a quick $5.00 donation right there in the classroom, or set up a teacher donation section in your online school store. If you are using digitized school supply lists, teachers can make their wish list as a supply list with tissues, paper, art supplies etc, and publish it onto their page that way. No more passing a basket, because this is Back-To-School Night, not church!
3. Post-Event: The next day
Share the Zoom link, QR codes to teacher’s pages, how to download the app, and any other information missed. Create a Back-To-School Night page on your website and direct everyone here from all your channels, including social media and your school app.
Ask for feedback from families who came to Back-To-School Night and even those who didn’t. Create a multiple choice form to make the feedback as easy as possible. Find out if it was timing, childcare, or another reason as to why a family couldn’t attend.
Have teachers follow up with the families who came. Having a personal conversation, even if it’s through a parent app, is a great tool for engaging parents in schools and student learning. We are aware teachers already do SO much. If parents on the Edlio platform have subscribed to the teacher page, those names are on a contact list, and teachers can easily email them as a group to make it easier on themselves.
With the feedback and practice of promoting a successful Back-To-School Night, you now are ready to repeat these steps for an even more engaged parent teacher conferences in the months to come!