How to Host a Successful Parent Orientation
Do you know how to host a successful parent orientation night? Whether you are a new teacher or a veteran, talking with parents at the beginning of the year can be a really nerve-wracking experience. Tensions are high all around. Parents meeting their child’s teacher for the first time can bring up a lot of emotions, especially if they don’t have older siblings who have gone before.
If students are involved in this event, they are usually shy and on edge. And for teachers, you are just trying your best, of course… trying to put your best foot forward and make a great first impression! It’s tough on all sides. So, especially for teachers who are new to the profession or even trying out a new grade level.
What do you do? HOW do you stand in front of these parents and give them all the information they need to successfully and confidently send their child away to school for the first time? Today, I am going to tell you how to host a successful parent orientation night so that we can get most of your questions answered.
Find out what your school usually does.
The first thing to keep in mind is how your school or district will host this event. For my school site, we have parent orientation a few days before the first day of school. Other places have it on the first day, and some might wait a week or two before hosting a back-to-school night.
The timing of your event will definitely impact the information you give parents. If you have any say in the matter, I recommend hosting parents before the year starts if at all possible… advocate for the needs of your families, but be flexible with what the school already has planned for.
Will students be attending?
The second thing to keep in mind is to find out if students will be present during this time or not? Some schools have a proctor or aide pull students away while they talk to parents, but in my experience, I have never had a problem with kids joining parents while I chat through the boring stuff. Little ones are usually so shell-shocked and nervous that they sit pretty quietly, and if not, it’s a good opportunity to spot some early behavior problems you may need to prepare for. Also, if there are items that you do not wish kids to get into, such as toys, have that clearly marked.
When Families Arrive
When parents arrive, have some quiet music going to cut down on the awkwardness. Don’t open up your doors too early, and you’ll want to start promptly to respect the time of anyone who may have had to leave work for this event or maybe has a little one waiting on nap time! Have a PowerPoint presentation ready, and I usually have a parent handbook to hand out to folks with more in-depth information than what I will read from the screen.
Start with an introduction and some brief information about yourself. It’s always nice to include pictures of your family and/or pets or something fun you did on vacation! You can give a brief history of the experience you have and move on to the good stuff.
First Things First
The most important information is how to get in touch with you: when, where, and how to contact you. Of course, the bell schedule is also vital. I use the app Seesaw to communicate, for messaging, and for student work portfolios. I have taken some courses with Seesaw, and as a Seesaw ambassador, I do receive the program at no cost. They have some awesome free features as well.
So, at this time, I give parents the information on how to log in to that and also give them my email address. I let them know when and where to pick up their child and expectations for attendance.
What Do Students Need to Bring?
Will students need to bring a backpack? Are there any types of backpacks that won’t fit in the cubbies? Might certain backpacks be too small? Make sure to clarify these things for parents if they are important to you.
For my class, kids need a snack and a water bottle. Our school provides lunch free to all students, but many choose to send a sack lunch instead. I let parents know that their snack is *separate* from their lunch and should be placed in an easily accessible place in their child’s backpack, such as a small zippered outside pocket.
Parents need to understand that we don’t want students digging through a lunch box to grab one item when we are trying to get everyone in line and out the door. We also don’t want them eating a full meal when it is snack time. We want them to eat, move, and take a nice break! I take this time to remind parents that water bottles are BY FAR the most frequently lost item at school, and they should be well labeled with their child’s name.
Lunch is an important time to talk through at this time. I always like to let parents know how long students have to eat and that I am not present during lunchtime. Teachers cannot be there to ensure their child eats everything on their plate, so we need to have regular conversations about the pace of their eating at home, etc. They also need to know how to find the district’s lunch and breakfast menus.
A Change of Clothes
One important policy I have in my class is that parents should keep a change of clothes in their child’s backpack at all times! I tell them that accidents of all kinds happen frequently and that a ziplock bag with a change of pants, shirt, underwear, and socks can be utilized in an emergency instead of having to call a family member to bring a change of clothes. We also talk about what not to bring, including toys, candy, lotion, etc.
Nuts and Bolts
Next, you’ll want to jump into the nitty gritty of details your families will need to know.
- Do you have any form of homework?
- Is there show and tell?
- A weekly or monthly assembly where you honor students for positive behavior?
- Do you take any field trips?
This part should be customized to your routine and class or school procedures.
What will happen on the first day?
I like to end my presentation by talking about what will happen on the first day of school. Sometimes, you may have a slightly different schedule, or maybe parents will need to know something specific about how things will look different on day one.
To end the event, if you have the students present, I like to give them a few action steps to take before they leave. In my class, it looks like this:
- Optional handprint keepsake: Parents are given the option to paint their child’s hand and take home a keepsake poem. I empower the parents to do this step so that anyone who doesn’t care doesn’t have to do it, and I don’t have to be glued to the back of the room doing handprints! (See the photo below.)
- Wash hands in the bathroom and familiarize your child with the area: Many parents and children have school bathroom jitters! Looking at this area together in a safe setting helps ease some of those nerves.
- Find a treat with the teacher: This is usually something very small. I like to buy a pack of inexpensive keychains from Amazon and let kids pick out a new keychain for their school backpack. This also gives parents an opportunity to approach me with questions.
- Go outside and find a popsicle at the gate: My amazing school provides popsicles for students during this event to get families OUT the door and keep the lingering to a minimum.
Remember, YOU are the expert!
Your parent orientation will be heavily dictated by your school or district procedures. But I hope this gives you a starting point! This should help you to think about how to introduce families to your class for the very first time! As your confidence grows, you will become more and more comfortable. You will easily be able to handle parent questions, interactions, and all of the beginning of the year chaos. Remember, YOU are the expert of your classroom.
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