Back to School/Open House

I just returned from Turkey having spent time with two schools’ leadership teams and teachers. On my last night’s dinner I was asked by a team of administrators what thoughts I had about having an effective opening of year parent night. Here are some of my thoughts.


Administrators from Isikkent School Izmir, Turkey

Back to School Night is the chance for teachers to make their first impression. I have witnessed and collected stories that suggest way too many teachers miss making the most of this opportunity.

Some very competent, confident teachers appear unorganized and even afraid in front of parents.

I’ve heard a teacher say, ”This is my first year teaching 4th grade so I’ll be learning the curriculum with the students”.

I was with parents who were scolded by the child’s teacher regarding their role in homework being completed.

I’ve witnessed teachers “winging” this important impression opportunity.

I have witnessed teachers being boring…perhaps the worst thing possible.

I believe that parents come to Back to School Night hoping to find a competent, confident, professional. Most parents want to be able to envision a positive year ahead based on their impression of the teacher.

So for starters, teachers should consider what image they want to project. Any information you forget to share can always be sent home later, but send the wrong impression regarding who you are and you may not get another chance. When a child comes home from school with a story about what happened at school, the parent brings back their image of the teacher. That image may have been set at Open House.

In How to Match Your Behavior to Your Intentions, Teresa Norton, a management consultant, theatre-based communications trainer, and executive coach based in Hong Kong suggest that people can be blind to the impressions they want to communicate. I think that often little forethought goes into deciding the desired outcome of open house. More thought seems to be centered on information to parents than on building their expectations.

Norton identifies that energy, facial expression, tone, and pace of speech allow one to communicate an intentional message.”Maybe just pausing for a moment and making a mindful choice of attitude before walking into that conference room is a way to begin aligning the shadow we cast with our good intentions.” Certainly good advice before Back to School Night.

My number one suggestion to teachers is to be interesting, competent, and confident by doing what you do best….TEACH. Provide a snapshot of who you are by teaching. Select something to do where your passion for your content and teaching and learning can shine through.

If science is your thing, blow something up. Swear the parents to secrecy until their student comes home talking about when you did it in class. If you recite poetry to the kids, perform for the parents. Give the parents a math puzzle to ponder. If you use cooperative groups in class, group the parents.

When I taught first grade I had my students prepare a short video for their parents to see. As it ended and parents were smiling, I pulled out the camera and had parents prepare a clip for the kids. While directing the parents they experienced much about my style of teaching and communicating.

School Leaders: I’d suggest setting aside some faculty meeting time or grade level/team/department meeting time for a discussion of the desired outcomes from Open House and the teacher behaviors most likely to get those outcomes. Remember to consider the impression you want to create through your welcome to parents.

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4 Responses to “ Back to School/Open House ”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Wish I would have read this prior to our boring open house. We have 3 sessions for parents/students to attend so teachers can relay info. to parents regarding communications, curriculum, etc. I’m struggling with ways to make it more enjoyable for everyone. Thanks for the tips. I’ll definately use suggestions next fall!

  2. Lisa M Says:

    Open House is September 19th for me. I have been teaching for 27 years and have become pretty good at presenting at Open House. However, it was great being able to read these thoughts and see what I was doing right, and where there was room for improvement. Thank you!

  3. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Thanks Lisa…

    I’d love to hear what modification you made and what you thought after the Open House.

  4. Andrea Hernandez Says:

    First of all, I want to say that your blog is one of my favorites. I am in the process of moving into more of a coaching role at my school, and I find all of your posts helpful.

    This post inspired me to suggest to one of our teachers who made an open house video (kids telling parents about their class) that she pull out the flip cam and have the parents make a quick video for their kids. It went great! She said it gave her the perfect opportunity to be her “teacher self” with the parents. I was in the room when the kids watched the video and the excitement was high.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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