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Monday, July 30, 2012

Orientation and Back to School Night Information and Ideas

Orientation and Back to School Night are the two times of year you can count on quite a bit of parent involvement.  Where I live, Orientation is when students and parents meet the teacher and drop off school supplies the Friday before school begins.  Back to School Night takes place about a month to six weeks after the school year begins.  Parents are invited back to see what their child has been learning in school.

When planning for these special events, you need to keep in mind that the child is the focal point.  In my mind, Orientation is about alleviating fears about the first day and Back to School night is for the child to share about his/her school experience.  When I plan for these events, I always to remember it is not about me.  With that said, here are some tips to make the experience memorable.

Orientation
Remember Orientation is when everybody meets the first time so first impressions are important.  This is the first time that the parent comes into contact with you and the student gets an idea of where he/she will be spending his/her day.  If you are a Kindergarten teacher, this is one of their first school experiences.  Many families are sentimental about their baby going off to school, so it is very important that you have a positive first impression.  These early experiences can shape the child and family's view towards education.  (No pressure!)

Being positive is paramount!  No matter what is going on in your personal life (you just got in a fight with your teenage daughter or you found out that your car insurance tripled, etc.) when you enter that classroom, you need to focus on the children.  You have to leave everything else at home.  If you are grumpy or irritable you will find that your students are grumpy and irritable.  How you behave directly impacts their little lives.  I am speaking from a K-2 perspective when children are incredibly impressionable.  One of your goals should be for them to enjoy learning.  That does not mean that you need to jump through hoops to be an entertainer or that every activity has to be fun, fun, fun.  It just means that school should be a pleasant place where the kids feel comfortable to be themselves, safe to make mistakes, and not be afraid of you.  Oh I digress...to make a long story short, at Orientation have a happy upbeat positive attitude to make a memorable first impression and to set the school year off in the right direction.

When you meet the family, be genuine.  It is important to make eye contact, smile, shake their hand, and ask questions.  I found that introducing myself and giving a little background alleviates some fears/concerns.  I usually walk up to the family instead of waiting for them to approach me.  I say something like, "Hi, I am so happy you could come today!  My name is Mrs. Lowery.  What is your name?  (wait for response)  Hi (student name).  It is so good to meet you.  I hope you like animals (most children do but here is a place you can interject your theme ...stars. cars, frogs whatever it may be).  We are going to have a great year!  Do you have any questions about school?  (Wait for answer) Guess what?  On the first day we are going to (fill in a fun activity to get them excited about coming the first day)."  After I have introduced myself to the student, I then introduce myself to the parent by letting them know how long I've been teaching, what grades I've taught, or some other tidbit so that they know that their child is in good hands.  For example:  "Thanks again for coming today.  I look forward to getting to know both you and your child this year.  In case you were wondering about me I have been teaching for ___ years.  I enjoy teaching ___ grade.  If you ever have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to let me know.  School should be a positive learning experience and I want your child to benefit from being here.  Please take some time to look around and familiarize yourself with the classroom.  Before you leave remember to stop by the green table and sign in."

The "green" table is a table set up in the room with all the pertinent information.  I usually put a bright and colorful table cloth on the table so it will be easy to direct parents over to in.  On the table I have a sign in sheet, a volunteer sign up sheet, question box with index cards, cookies, wish fish and a how we go home sheet.  I also have a sizable note to remind them to check the list on how their child goes home and to let me know if there are any changes. 

In front of each item I place a sign (a piece of card stock folded in half).  I have multiple pens set out on the table and a pen cup.  This table usually has several people surrounding it at once.  If you have one or two pens, it slows down the process considerably and it can be irritating if the family is in a hurry because they have four classrooms to visit for their four children.

Wish fish are fish dye cuts with wish list items written on each one.  The sign says, "If you wish to donate something for our classroom, please take a fish."  On the fish I have a variety of items from hand sanitizer to headphones.  Anything that you may need during the year that you usually spend your own money on is something you can include.  I never expect the family to pick up a fish.  I just place them out there because this is the time of year that parents are super involved and want to help out.  Some of the working parents that want to help out but cannot volunteer in the classroom feel good by donating an item to help out.

I place the question box out with index cards because some people might have to leave in a hurry but want to know something about the classroom.  It opens another line of communication and shows I am accessible and I care.

For the volunteer sign up sheet I have a place for their name and phone number.  If they sign up, I send home a survey to find out when they are available and what type of volunteering they are interested in.  This year I am thinking of setting out the survey with a note to return it on the first day. This is the time of year that it is important to send home anything you want read or filled out because the family will look at it. 

Orientation Basics

Be positive!

Have a table set up with sign up sheets and cookies.

On each student desk have a little welcome treat for the child (e.g. bookmark, eraser, pencil, etc.), any information you want them to take home that day or to fill out specifically about their child.

On the board/projector have directions to sign in, visit the child's desk, put school supplies in the desk, and meet the teacher. 

Have signage around the room on what to do.  I save these cute signs and use them from year to year.  I learned to make a file for signs!

Back to School Night Basics

Be positive!

Have the table set up with sign in sheets and cookies.

Include directions on the board/projector

Have information set out on student desks and directions for the scavenger hunt.

 Remember that this night is about the student so instead of me doing a long presentation, I have the children show their parents around the room.  If they complete the scavenger hunt, at the end they see me to get a prize. This year I might give them a book since I have been saving up the Scholastic dollar books and getting free books with my points. For the scavenger hunt I include:  having the children show their parents inside their desks, their textbooks/workbooks, journals, artwork, job charts, centers, classroom library, and then I have a few activities set up.  One activity is the estimation jar with candy or math manipulatives.  I have everyone in the family make an estimate.  The next day we count the objects and do a math lesson with the estimates...Whoever is closest gets to take home the contents of the jar.  One year I had the children do a self portrait and the parents had to guess which one was their child.

The scavenger hunt should not be super long but it should include key highlights about the room and what the children have been doing this year.

In the comments section or on the groovy teacher facebook or twitter accounts, please share what you do that is special for orientation or back to school night.

In the future, I plan to post pictures and examples of the items mentioned in this post.

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