Monday, September 5, 2011

Back to School Night

Open House: Mario Andretti and Cats

Year One:

Gentlemen, start your engines!  Just as Mario Andretti mentally prepares himself before getting into his car, I prepare with a deep breath.  As a middle school teacher, I have seven minutes with each group of parents tonight. In this amount of time, I will need to discuss:

·         an overview of the school year,

·         my expectations and goals for the class,

·         my teaching style and how it best serves their child,

·         a quick review of what supplies their child should have for class,

·         and, lastly, build rapport.

My piles of informational sheets are now sitting pristinely by the door, ready for quick distribution and even quicker discussion.

I check the clock on the wall, then my watch, then the schedule.  Open House did indeed start at 6pm.  I should, in fact, have parents for my “first class.”  I quickly move to a team teacher’s room, peek in and see she has one parent seated in her room.  Surprisingly, no one showed up for my first class or even my second one.

During the entire evening, I had two parents, so I decided to tackle this lack-of-parental-involvement issue.  I discovered there seemed to be three main causes for this situation:

1. Teenagers do not usually find open house or their parents attending Back-to-School night as “cool”, “tight” or any other “word of the day.”

2. Parents have attended at least seven open houses in the past.

3. Parents understand the “Andretti Principle” I mentioned earlier and know that little information can be given in short periods of time.

If I wanted to get parents to attend, I would have to make open house an experience that was new and different, and I would have to provide lots of information in a short amount of time.

Open House Year Two: Cats and an Informational Buffet

The waiting area is filled with people milling about, grasping tickets, and waiting impatiently. Yet, this is not the premiere of a Broadway play, such as Cats.  Instead, it is Middle School Open House.  I gather my materials and prepare to open the door to a waiting crowd.

As parents enter my classroom, their tickets are promptly deposited into a box designated with their child’s class period.  Menus with selections are provided to make their experiences more meaningful and unique.  First, parents analyze the menu.  Then, they make their selections from the informational buffet in the middle of the classroom.  Finally, they select their seats.  I check with each table, answer questions, and assure their successes on activities.  After six minutes, parents are advised to finish up and to move on to their next scheduled classroom. This pattern continues throughout the evening.  Approximately 70% of my students’ parents attended.

During the week of open house, I gave each student two open house tickets. I explained that as parents entered my classroom (or sent a note on the ticket they couldn’t make it to school), their tickets would be collected and entered into a drawing the next day for a highly coveted homework pass. Parents came to Open House just for my seven minutes of scheduling just to turn in their tickets!

In order to build interest, I told the students their parents would be going through a “menu” experience, which outlined various choices they could complete during their visit.  These included reading the year-long scope and sequence (1 point) to writing a note to their child (6 points).  Parents were expected to complete 10 points before they left my classroom.  This also helped parents understood “menus” implemented within my classroom curriculum.

Open House Year Ten:

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

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