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Open House: When First Impressions Matter

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Curriculum CenterGood first impressions make a difference, and the first open house of the school year gives teachers a chance to gain parents' support. It also allows teachers an opportunity to create a personal connection with parents and establish ways for continued communication throughout the school year. Included: Ideas to help make your open house a success!

 

It's that time of year again -- the time when most schools hold their first open house or back-to-school night. Experienced teachers know how important good first impressions are. Open house gives teachers a chance to gain parents' support, create a personal connection with them, and establish ways for continued communication throughout the school year.

When arranging for the school's open house, teachers need to think about the three P's: publicity, planning, and preparation. Be sure parents know about the open house in advance through a carefully thought out publicity campaign. And think about the real needs of parents when planning the event. Make full use of the event by giving parents a chance not only to learn about classroom and school policies but also to ask questions.

 

LOOK THROUGH A PARENT'S EYES

Teacher Tips for a Successful Open House

Open house is coming up soon. Do you want to create a great first impression? Are you afraid your classroom and school policies will bore parents? Here are some suggestions that might help make this year's open house a success:

* Call parents personally a few days before the open house and remind them about the event. Ask them whether there is something the school or you can provide (for example, transportation, a translator, or child care) to enable them to attend.

* Send home a note to parents asking them to ask their child what new and interesting facts have they learned each day in class. Then have them share those facts, which can often provide a humorous and interesting twist on the classroom's activities and help break the ice at the open house.

* Instead of having parents sit at desks, send them on a classroom scavenger hunt. Have them find things such as their child's work on a bulletin board, their child's desk, the books their child is using, and a message from their child.

* Ask parents to fill out a questionnaire that inquires about the areas in which they would like to see their child improve, specific things the teacher should know about the child, and what the parent considers the child's best characteristics.

* Have the parents write an encouraging letter to their child. One teacher provides multicolored 4- by 6- inch cards and markers. After the parents have written their messages, the teacher laminates the card and gives it to students to use as a bookmark.

* Have parents draw a picture and leave it on their child's desk so the child will find it the next morning. Let parents share their drawings with one another to break the ice at open house.

* Videotape a few minutes of your students working on a classroom activity. Then run the tape during the open house presentation. (One word of caution: Be sure your state doesn't prohibit videotaping the students in class.)

* Present a course syllabus in a PowerPoint presentation. It's colorful and quick, and it will interest parents.

* Instead of holding a formal open house, invite parents to an informal hot dog and hamburger barbecue between 5 and 7 p.m. on the school grounds. This will give parents and teachers an opportunity to get acquainted in a relaxed atmosphere.

Before deciding what to do for your school's open house, look at your classroom through the parents' eyes. Pretend you are walking into your classroom for the very first time, after a long day spent either at home tending to young children or after spending eight hours at a job. Consider the parents' special circumstances.

  • Do some speak only a foreign language? Perhaps one of the school district's foreign language teachers can attend as an interpreter.
  • Do some parents have very young children? Perhaps older students can serve as baby-sitters in the auditorium and show videos and play some games.

Next, think about the event as if you were welcoming guests into your own home. First on the agenda: Clean your classroom. Then decorate it with the kind of touches that make the classroom uniquely yours and your students'. Be sure to display student work of every child. Display ungraded work so the students' grades are not disclosed to others.

 

TIPS FOR ORGANIZING A GREAT OPEN HOUSE

After getting the classroom all set for company, think about the specific goals you hope to accomplish. Here are some tips, compiled from suggestions from several teachers and the U.S. Department of Education on how to organize a great open house:

Send out mailings early. "If you build it, they will come." Not if they don't know about it. Parents need to know about the open house in advance. And everyone knows what happens to school notices: Book bags eat them! So don't count on students to give parents notices about the school's open house. Encourage the school to mail out invitations. Or have students prepare personal invitations, which also can be mailed. Let parents know on the invitation any special help the school will provide, such as child care and transportation. Remind students over the loudspeaker that open house will take place that night.

Prepare information packets. The packet should include information about the basic subjects to be covered throughout the year, overall curriculum plans and goals, and a list of materials the child will need for class. Also supply a list of important phone numbers pertaining to the school, information on how to reach the teacher and providers of other services offered by the school, and a calendar of upcoming events such as class field trips and future parent-teacher meetings. Mail the packet home to parents who do not attend the open house.

Prepare home-school handbooks. Prepare handbooks (better done in advance by a group of teachers) to provide parents with a clearly written explanation of school policies. Translate the handbook into languages spoken by the school's parents. The handbook should include the following:

  • a statement of the school's goals and philosophy;
  • the school's discipline policy, including procedures regarding absence and tardiness;
  • the timing of report cards and progress reports;
  • procedures on how to ask about student difficulties;
  • emergency procedures for bad weather and other events;
  • transportation schedules;
  • provisions for after-school activities;
  • descriptions of special programs at the school, such as after-school enrichment or child-care programs;
  • detailed parent-involvement policies and practices at the school, including a "Bill of Rights" for parents, a "Code of Parent Responsibilities," a schedule for open house and parent-teacher conferences, and opportunities for parents to get involved in volunteer programs, advisory councils, and PTAs.

Meet real needs of parents. Involve parents in the planning process, and find out what they want to get from the open house. Often parents come to open house so they can meet the school principal and their child's teacher, and learn about the school's philosophy. They want to know what their child will be learning and what kind of progress their child should make.

Make it fun and enjoyable. Parents don't want to be bored. Remember, like yourself, they have already put in a full day, so make the presentations fun, enjoyable, and brief. Don't drone on for 20 minutes about classroom rules and procedures. Instead, provide classroom handouts with the details about classroom policies and highlight only the main points in your presentation. Invite parents to conduct a few learning activities, and let them see unfinished student assignments so they will know what their children are working on.

 

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Updated 01/29/2013

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