Reimagining Back to School Night
Back to School Night is an important part of launching each new school year. It’s an opportunity for teachers and administrators to meet and communicate with parents, begin to build the partnerships we value so much, and get families excited about what is in store for their children. At our school, we are very fortunate to have an active and engaged parent community. Every year, our faculty spends an enormous amount of time preparing for Back to School Night. Teachers understand that first impressions matter, and they want to get the school year off to a great start with our parent community. In past years we have not always done the best job of giving parents insight into the amazing learning their students engage in at DJDS. Parent feedback on this event had understandably not been particularly strong. This year, however, Denver Jewish Day School tried something different and we could not be more pleased with how it went.
We decided not to TELL parents what their students might expect this school year, but rather to SHOW them. We encouraged faculty to put any important information that could be communicated in writing into handouts and on their classroom websites. Instead of standing up in front of the parents and going through the usual slide presentation, teachers were asked to teach. Yes, teach, just like they would with their students. Our fifth grade team, who piloted a similar presentation at last year’s Back to School Night, gave a short demonstration to faculty during our August Faculty Preparation Week. Teaching teams then collaborated to create a 50 minute experience in which the parents engaged in typical classroom activities that their child might participate in. They got to see first hand a Morning Meeting, Hebrew class with Ivrit b’Ivrit, collaborative activities, critical thinking tasks, and many other highly engaging student-centered classroom practices.
Our parents were amazed. The evening of Back to School Night several families told us “That was the best Back to School Night I have ever been to!” and “I really feel like I know the teachers so much better now!” On our follow up survey we had record-breaking positive feedback, with a whopping 94% of our parents reporting being satisfied or very satisfied with the classroom presentations.
One of the most striking things to me about the new format is how much more comfortable and relaxed our faculty seemed during their presentations. With our previous format, teachers often felt apprehensive in front of parents. Walking into classrooms, administrators could often see that these professionals--who can keep a room of five to eleven year olds absolutely riveted--did not maintain the same ease and charisma when charged with presenting reams of factual information to adults. When these same teachers were able to do with parents what they do so well every day with their students, however, they clearly felt much more in their element. They were able to shine at Back to School Night in a way I have never seen before. In speaking with faculty afterward, some reported that they were initially wary of asking parents to “do school work” at Back to School Night. They were afraid that the parents would be dubious or maybe even refuse to engage in the learning tasks. Nevertheless, they took a risk and tried it, and our parents jumped in and participated enthusiastically, creating a level of parent engagement I have never seen before. As we reflect on the changes we made this year, we have ideas about what went well and how we might improve upon it for next year’s program. We are all very excited to have taken a chance on something new and different, as we continually urge our students to do, and we are so pleased with how it turned out!
Image courtesy of Denver Jewish Day School, Eric Einstein Photography.