Giving Back-to-School Night Back to Students

My middle school hosts a back-to-school Curriculum Night around the third week of school. Parents are invited, and students are strongly encouraged to stay home.

When parents arrive, they get a copy of their child’s schedule, report to homeroom, and spend 7 minutes in each of the 7 class periods their child visits each day. Teachers rush through a whirlwind explanation of the year’s upcoming units, behavior expectations, homework routines, and grading policies.

Sound exhausting? It is! I would end each night almost unable to form sentences anymore. And parents felt the same way, too.

Why This Needed to Change

I saw 3 main problems with this format:

  • It wasn’t worth the time. Any time that we ask parents AND teachers to find child care or otherwise postpone important time after work (or for some parents, ask them to miss work!), it needs to be worth it. Instead, teachers were mainly delivering information that could be communicated online through a video or written format.
  • It wasn’t effective. With such a limited time and so much information to share, I did not feel like I had time to share the things parents really want to see — what the school day is like for their child. Instead, it was an information dump. The impression parents got was, “No wonder my child is confused by having 7 different teachers, classrooms, and routines — I’m confused after this night, too!”
  • It didn’t involve the students at all. Why was every stakeholder in attendance except for the main one? Student voice was completely missing from the night.

Time to Try Something New

A few of my colleagues and I asked if we could try something different. In the spirit of embracing beta testing-style teaching, we proposed a pilot of a student-centered Curriculum Night.

The conditions were not ideal. We had a little less than 2 weeks to plan it, explain it to students, communicate with parents, and provide students with work time in our already packed lessons.

But we knew we had to dive in and try it; the conditions for trying something new are never ideal.

We gave students about 5-10 minutes each day for a week to make a Google Slides presentation with information about their classes. Students included the following in their presentation:

  • The names & topics of each unit in the class for the whole year
  • Homework expectations
  • Which units and activities I am looking forward to & why
  • Summative assessments
  • What I’m currently learning
  • Personal, academic, social, & athletic goals for the year
  • Information on how to access online classrooms & gradebooks

In order to make these presentations, students really had to understand the curriculum & procedures of each class. Many didn’t know these yet, so it provided a great opportunity to clear up misconceptions & address topics that we had left out of our introductions at the beginning of the year.

It also encouraged students to develop self-advocacy & communication skills. They learned to write emails to teachers when they had questions about the class that otherwise, they might have kept to themselves.

How Did It Go?

Students shared presentations with their parents in small groups at tables around the room. What a change in energy! The frantic environment of a typical Curriculum Night was replaced with relaxed conversations. Rather than teachers sharing their expectations, students were able to explain each class. If parents had questions, the teachers were actually available to answer them — something we rarely had time for in the traditional format.

We were also able to give families back a large portion of their night — an event that normally lasted 1.5 or 2 hours was over in 30 minutes!

We collected feedback from parents in a Google Form at the end of each student’s presentation. Here is what some of the parents had to say:

  • 90% of parents said this was mostly or completely a better format than the traditional night
  • “I like the goals setting plan! Great way to empower children by showing us their work.”
  • “I enjoyed interaction with my child.”
  • “Well done, liked everything about it! Kids were well prepared.”

Of course, we have plenty of suggestions to make it even better for next year, from parents, teachers, and students.

Next time, we will remember to:

  • Start from the beginning of the year so the presentation can be entirely student-created (we provided templates for many of the classes due to our short time-frame for preparation)
  • Provide students more time to practice presentation skills, such as slowly presenting, maintaining eye contact, etc.
  • Ask students to include work samples
  • Have students interview their parents about what specific questions they have regarding their school year so students can tailor the presentation to their needs

What is back-to-school night like at your school? What ideas do you have for us for next year? What ideas does this give you for your own school? Let me know in the comments!

One thought on “Giving Back-to-School Night Back to Students

  1. Robyn says:

    As a teacher who was part of the pilot I can testify that parents were more engaged, kids were excited to be in the lead, and as a teacher it made my heart smile to see a great example of middle schoolers being in the drivers seat of their own learning.

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