By Ari Yares

Like many parents at this time of year, I am somewhat dreading “Back to School Night.” It’s not out of any sense of school phobia or flashbacks to my own education. After all, I’ve spent my entire professional life working in schools. I’m even really excited about what my children are telling me each day about what they are learning and the communication from their teachers is off to a great start.

So why this sense of dread?

It has a lot to do with how we plan “Back to School Night” and the feelings that it generates among parents, faculty, and administrators. Dr. Maurice Elias, my undergraduate advisory, professor at Rutgers University and Edutopia blogger sums it up nicely in his post about “Back to School Night”:

Back-to-school night is often unsatisfying. Everyone tries to show and tell the parents what they will be doing for the school year. The schedule is usually rushed, and at the end of the evening, school staff is exhausted and just glad another one of these nights is over. Parents are often left not particularly well informed or better prepared to support the school and their children.

Having been a faculty member, parent, and principal, I can wholeheartedly state that it is a really long night for all involved. Dr. Elias suggests changing the conversation to be about the values the school endorses and how parents and the school can work together to create the climate that we want for our children. If you’ve been tasked with giving the opening comments at “Back to School Night” make this your focus and parents will be leaning forward in their seats.

I would encourage you to go a step further, though. Think about “Back to School Night” like you were planning a lesson that is part of your parent engagement curriculum. How does it move you forward in getting your parents engaged in their children’s learning and in the life of your school? What will the next touch point be? How will you follow up?

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