What impression did parents take away from your school’s last Open House? What did they think of you as a teacher—did you come across more as a nurturing caretaker or a stern taskmaster? Did they see you as more intimidating than approachable? Did you seem to have a one-track mind about standardized test scores, or did you communicate willingness to take the time to build a positive classroom climate?
Every teacher knows that a positive Open House experience can set a positive tone and establish good parent-teacher communication for the whole year. Below are eight tips to help you take full advantage of this terrific opportunity to connect with your students’ families.
|A great open house can make all the difference in the world.|
8. Use an Integrated Presentation – Open Houses often involve PowerPoint presentations. Try mixing it up a bit by using the presentation not only to go over the curriculum and classroom rules, but also to celebrate what makes each child unique and to showcase the great time kids are having in school. If your Open House is held several weeks after school starts, take photos or even videos of each child and integrate them into the presentation. Another option is to take a photo of—or scan in—something that each child has produced, whether it is artwork, a math problem, or a written product. Electronic presentations are also an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the use of technology (e.g., smartboards, podcasting, blogging) that students will use throughout the year.
7. Make it Interactive – Regardless of grade level, parents want to know what their child is learning. The Open House is the perfect time to clearly define your curriculum and get parents involved in their child’s education. Use broad strokes rather than trying to cover every tiny detail; handouts can provide more in-depth information for interested parents. Make sure to allow time for questions. If parents are tempted to tune out during this part of the presentation, try engaging them by assigning them some of the same tasks that their kids would be asked to complete in class.
6. Don’t Rush – The point of the event is to build a relationship, and that becomes less likely when the event is treated like an assembly line. Be mindful of the time, but be careful not to come across like a fast-talking auctioneer. Take time to clearly express your expectations for the year so that everyone starts off on the same page. By the same token, talk about what you are committing to provide for students and parents. Discussion of classroom rules should be friendly rather than threatening. Likewise, you don’t want to sound like you are overwhelmed by all that you need to cover during the year. Instead of saying, “We have an unbelievable amount to cover this year,” try saying “We are all in this together, and I know that we are up to the challenge.”
5. Make it Welcoming – Hang a “Welcome” sign and offer refreshments, if possible. Keep the mood light by offering fun activities and “goody bags.” Scavenger hunts are a popular way of encouraging active participation and acquainting parents with different areas of the classroom and school. Other ideas include trivia questions, friendly contests and competitions, or activities that encourage parents to share information about their child. Great questions to ask include “What does your child need from me [the teacher] in order to succeed?” and “What are your child’s strengths?” Another favorite activity is to have parents write a message to their child, or better yet—read a message their child has left for them and reply to it.
4. Get the Invite Right – The school probably sends out a notice of the Open House a few weeks before the event. In addition to this general announcement, send an invitation from yourself personally. Let parents know exactly what you have planned and what you’ll be going over. This will help with any apprehension they may be feeling about the event, and will provide them with some basis on which to form questions.
Keep in mind that some parents will find it difficult to attend the Open House due to factors such as lack of transportation, lack of childcare, work obligations, language barriers, or even feelings of alienation due to negative experiences they may have had in school themselves. Consider alternatives to a single event: hold both day and evening Open Houses, or even make home visits. Providing transportation, babysitting, and a meal can also increase attendance. Consider offering prizes or incentives for attendance (make sure students know about these, as kids can be your biggest salespeople). Have one of the class parents help spread the word and encourage the attendance of other parents. Follow up with parents who do not attend so that they receive needed information. Consider videotaping your presentation or making your PowerPoint presentation available online, so that parents who missed the event won’t be left in the dark.
3. Say “Thank You” – Keep track of the parents that attend and send a thank-you note home a few days later. Be attentive during the open house and jot down little things you notice about students’ family members. That way you can mention them in your thank-you note (e.g., “Mr. Smith, thank you for participating so enthusiastically in our Open House last week. It will help Timmy in his Social Studies lessons to have such a history buff in the house!”).
2. Put It Into Perspective – Parents may want to discuss their child at length. Practice good crowd control by offering an activity for parents to complete, or areas or items to browse, while they are waiting for a chance to speak with you one-on-one. Limit the length of these conversations; remind them that because it is early in the school year, you are still getting to know each student fully. Also, with other parents within earshot, confidentiality of discussions may be a concern. Take advantage of the opportunity to invite them to a one-on-one meeting at another time, when you can give them the undivided attention and privacy they deserve.
1. Keep Communicating After the Event – Open Houses need not be a one-time event. Some schools opt to schedule multiple parent events throughout the year. Establishing a good rapport and a history of good communication with parents will make all the difference when a problem arises. Be creative about engaging parents throughout the year. Offer a variety of ways for them to get involved. Not every parent can volunteer on-site during the school day, and not every parent can afford to buy items for the classroom. Think about off-site tasks or projects that would help the class but which don’t cost anything except a parent’s time.