Making the Most of Parent Night

Originally posted September 13, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

With school underway just about everywhere now, the season of parent nights has begun. No matter what age your children are, attending these informational evenings can be a great way to assure a smooth school year for them and for you. In order to get the most of these nights, here are three top tips from a teacher who’s now hosted fourteen of these evenings herself.

Know the Format and Purpose

While nearly all schools have an evening event early in the fall during which they welcome parents, not all are created equal. In order to get the most of the evening and not be disappointed, know what type of parent night your child’s school holds ahead of time.

Open house – Usually this type of parent night is what it sounds like. Teachers are available in their classrooms for a set number of hours, and parents are welcome to come in and out during those times. Open houses often involve seeing the learning space, meeting and chatting briefly with the teacher, and viewing some early student work.

Curriculum night – Unlike open houses, curriculum night usually involves hearing the teacher or teachers speak about what will be taught that year. Teachers usually have specific times to present their prepared presentation, and parents need to follow a set schedule to see all their children’s teachers. While there might be a little time before and after the presentations to meet teachers, this format often doesn’t leave as much time for individualized conversations.

Conferences – Often time open houses and curriculum nights are held very early in the year, sometimes even the first week of school. While these nights are certainly times to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher, they are not the time or place to expect an individualized conference. Parent-teacher conferences are usually held later in the year so that the teacher has a chance to learn more about their students and can provide better feedback to parents. That said, if you feel you need a one-on-one conference sooner, you can certainly mention to the teacher at open house or curriculum night that you wish to meet and that you’ll be contacting them to set up a time. Please don’t put this burden on the teacher. Remember, while your brood of three might seem overwhelming, the teachers most likely have twenty or more students and sets of parents to keep straight—in addition to their own families.

Do Your Homework

Whether it’s emails, online newsletters, or paper handouts, the beginning of the school year usually involves flooding parents with informational memos, forms to be completed, and packets to be signed. Once the dust settles and the important documents have been sent back to school, do take the time to read the rest of what the school or teacher sent home at the start of the year. Often teachers send welcome letters to parents or post important information on their teacher website. School websites are also often a wealth of information. Knowing a little about the teacher’s and/or school’s philosophies, policies, and expectations prior to going in to school will help you prepare questions you might have and will allow you to reinforce some of the same things at home with your child.

Follow Up

Curriculum night and open house can often be a whirlwind for parents and teachers. Time can run out. The line to talk with the teacher can wind around the classroom. Emotions and nerves can run high—on both sides. Take a breath, and know that if you forgot to mention something, didn’t get a chance to ask an important question, or just didn’t have time to say hi, there’s always tomorrow. Thanks to technology, parents and teachers are in constant contact through emails, websites, and newsletters. And while daily questions or comments can become burdensome, teachers usually really appreciate hearing from a parent after an open house. It shows you were interested and that you are concerned, which usually means you’ll also be supportive—and those are the best kinds of parents to work with! So don’t feel bad about following up with a comment or question (or compliment!).

And if you can’t make it to a parent night event, it’s great to send an email saying you would have loved to attend but couldn’t. Please understand though that it might not be possible for a teacher to convey in an email everything that was covered. Instead ask if any handouts provided could be sent home with your child and if there were any key points you should know to help your child have a great year.

Whether it’s called curriculum night, open house, or something else at your child’s school, these early events are a way of starting the year off with positive and open lines of communication between home and school. It’s a reminder that all involved want the same thing: to assure every child has a terrific school year!

Photo credit: egal

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