Back to school night is a tried and true tradition across the US. It is also an object of dread for many teachers, administrators, and parents. Back to school night can be boring, hot, and eats through the dinner hour.
Most schools need to have a back to school night to share information and get parents into the classrooms. Families have come to expect this annual event. Since you are likely to be hosting another one soon, why not try to make it as fun, useful, and low-stress as possible?
Put the Children to Work
I asked folks in the Montessori Leadership Facebook Group to share their ideas for a successful back to school night event. Some of them mentioned the importance of involving older children in the process and giving them some ownership.
Christina Thomas from the Journey School says, “My students plan the whole thing and walk parents through their day – even giving lessons – parents love it!”
Laureen Barnard says, “Our middle schoolers do similar to Christina’s; plan the the event from start to finish. They choose a few typical activities or lessons to present. Last time they showed a short film and then did a demonstration fishbowl seminar based on it. They order, prepare and serve the food and organise entertainment. The environment is carefully prepared (signage, candles lighting the pathways etc). They write invitations and advertise the event. The students love this real work. They divide the labour and the sense of satisfaction at the end of an evening is very validating. It’s a great way to showcase the independence of Montessori students, there are important roles that suit all students in this type of work.”
Celebrate the School
Take some time during back to school night to meet with parents in a large group (or groups, depending on your size). Play a slide show honoring the children during the transition times. Use the opportunity to pluck some heartstrings and engender goodwill amongst the families.
Give a “state of the school” address. Use some simple graphics to transparently show how the budget is allocated. Talk about your goals for the coming year. Celebrate the milestones and successes from the past school year. Honor the teachers and cheer the support staff in some way.
Host a Picnic
Since back to school night pretty much always runs through dinner time, why not make time for a full meal? Host a family picnic on the playground or at a nearby park prior to the BTS event. Encourage everyone to bring some food. Maybe even have a food truck park on the street!
Amy Malik, Executive Director of Great Work Montessori, says no matter what, “serve food!” The point is to ensure that everyone is fed and everyone feels the love of the school community. This primes them to be in a positive state of mind when they enter the school for the event.
Make it Fun
Back to school night sets the stage for what parents will expect from other events throughout the school year. If it is hot and boring, they aren’t likely to show up for other stuff unless they are really into it.
Jody Kimball had a terrific idea in the Montessori Leadership Facebook Group to make back to school night fun. “A Scavenger hunt has been fun. Including items that are fun as well as informational for parents and children. Where is the picture of Maria Montessori? Where do parents pick up their newsletters, etc. Mix it up.”
Support Your Teachers
Let’s not pretend that there is a time of year that isn’t stressful for teachers. However, planning for special events on top of regular classroom work is an extra stressor for sure. Honor the challenge they face by giving them the support they need.
Anytime there is an event for which extra planning is required of the teachers, give them extra planning time. Make sure they have a plan and you are comfortable with it, then give them space to figure it out. Support the decisions they make and keep asking the question, “what can I do to help you?” If your teachers are supported and have the time that they need, your back to school night will be a success!
The start of the school year is SO busy! Back to school night can sometimes feel like just one more item on your to do list. With a few clever ideas and a strategy to make them happen, you can host a back to school night that is memorable for everyone.
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