Hosting a Successful Open House
The Universal After-School Question
Here's a nifty idea I always share with parents: invite parents to change the typical question they ask their children every day. Instead of asking their children, “What did you learn in school today?” they should inquire, “What questions did you ask in school today?” By making this slight change, parents will be able to have more stimulating conversations with their youngsters instead of a series of painfully brief responses (“Nothing!”; “I dunno!”).
By this point you may be thinking, “Hey, there seems to be a lot of stuff to juggle and manage as a teacher.” Well, that's true. But here's a tip on how you can make that juggling a little easier and double your influence as a teacher: enlist parents as partners in your classroom instructional program.
But first, a story: in 1944, the nuclear physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi won the Nobel Prize for his work on atomic nuclei. After his acceptance speech, he was asked about some of the major influences in his life. He told the story about how he grew up in Brooklyn. When his friends all came home from school, their parents always asked them, “What did you learn in school today?” However, when Isidor came home from school each day, his mother always asked him, “Izzy, did you ask a good question today?” He told how that single question from his mother every day helped him develop the inquisitive mind necessary for academic success and his eventual scientific discoveries.
Most teachers have discovered that parents can be very powerful allies in any child's education—from preschool up through twelfth grade. Keeping parents informed and inviting them to become part of the educational process can significantly influence any youngster's scholastic success. Teachers who take advantage of “parent power” are those who significantly multiply their teaching effectiveness.
Putting Out the Welcome Mat
Parent involvement is not just for elementary students. The success of students at the middle school or high school level is highly dependent upon the engagement parents as educational partners. Former high school teacher Phil Monteith says, “You better be in touch with parents, or you are missing a tremendous public relations opportunity. When middle school and high school teachers start a conversation with parents, then positive opinions about teachers in the community escalate.”
Open houses—and their close cousins, the back-to-school night and the meet-the-teacher night—are one of the annual rites of passage for every classroom teacher. Whether you are teaching elementary school or high school, you will undoubtedly be part of this event every year. Open houses occur sometime during the first few weeks of the school year and are an opportunity for parents to get to know you and their child's academic program.
Open houses, back-to-school night, and meet-the-teacher night provide parents with an “inside look” into the daily activities and occurrences of your classroom. It's also a wonderful opportunity for you to actively recruit parents as partners in the education of their children. Here are some tips and ideas that can help you make this annual event successful and purposeful:
Send out personal invitations beforehand. You may want to invite your students to construct the invitations using art materials. Instead of asking students to take them home (where they may wind up in the washing machine), consider mailing the invitations. On the invitation, include the following information: name and address of the school, date and time of the event, your room number (and how to find the room), your name, and a brief outline of the evening's schedule.
Plan your presentation and what you will be saying to parents beforehand. Be sure you share something about yourself (where you grew up, your education, your family, your educational philosophy) as well as some of your goals for the year. Your presentation should be no longer than 10 to 11 minutes tops! If your presentation is longer than 11 minutes, it will definitely fall on deaf ears (take it from me—this is an inviolable rule!). Here are some topics you might want to cover:
|Elementary School||Middle School/High School|
|Daily schedule||Discipline policy|
|Classroom rules||Field trips|
|Remedial help||Report cards|
|Reading curriculum||Extracurricular activities|
A friend of mine shares this very important piece of advice:
When setting up your room for back-to-school night or open house, be sure to have plenty of adult chairs available. My first year of teaching first grade, I forgot this rule. As a result, I had many very large adults trying to sit in many very small chairs. It was quite embarrassing to watch people trying to stand up at the end of my presentation.
For open houses at the middle school and high school levels, parents typically follow a much-abbreviated schedule of classes that their child participates in each day. It's important that you keep your presentation short and snappy because parents will need to move to several additional rooms throughout the evening.
Dress professionally—remember, first impressions are often lasting impressions. Men should wear a coat and tie or at least a dress shirt and tie along with pressed slacks. Women should wear a pantsuit, blouse and skirt, or dress. Incidentally, go “light” on the perfume and aftershave.
Prepare your room appropriately. Hang a “Welcome” sign outside the door, and be sure your name and the room number are prominently displayed. Have a sign-in sheet for parents as well as a handout listing the activities and presentations for the evening. Freshen up your bulletin boards, and print a daily schedule on the chalkboard. Set out sample textbooks, and be sure all desks and tables are clean. Be sure each child's desk has a folder with samples of the student's work. Post additional student work (be sure to have at least three samples for each student) on bulletin boards. Post photographs of students and activities throughout the room. Keep in mind that some parents may not have fond memories about their school experiences, so here's a great opportunity for you to win them over!
Greet each and every parent at the door with a handshake and a smile. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to put your best foot forward. Be sure every parent has a name tag (remember that the last name of a student and the last name of her or his parents may be different—always, always check beforehand). Provide a tray of refreshments (ask for contributions, particularly if different cultures are represented in your classroom) and appropriate drinks.
As parents arrive, direct them to a table on which you have a stack of index cards, pencils/pens, and an empty shoebox. Invite parents to write a question or two on a card and place it in the box. At the end of your presentation, quickly shuffle through the cards and respond to general questions or those most frequently asked (“How much homework do you give?” “How is reading taught?”). Inform parents that you will contact them personally to respond to more specific questions or ones that focus exclusively on their child's work or progress (“Why did Angela miss recess the other day?” “When will Peter be able to see the reading specialist?”).
Keep your presentation brief (remember K.I.S.S.—Keep It Short and Sweet!). Afterward, invite parents to stay and look at their child's work. Circulate around the room, try to meet all the parents again with another handshake and smile, and offer at least one positive remark about their child. This is not the time for personal conferences (“I'd really like to talk with you, Mrs. Smith. May I call you to set up a personal meeting at another time?”).