While we are supposed to be sitting at home, reading a book that has been sitting on our night stand since early spring or floating in a body of somewhere with a drink adorned with a small umbrella, many of us are already brainstorming all the ways that this next school will be better.
Because of course you are!
Often the first big event is an Open House, the time in which many eager and excited faces will stream through your classroom door as students try to get a feel for the space that they will spend countless hours during the year as well as parents who are trying to feel out the person who will greatly impact the life of their child. This short but important time period is a great opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the year! While these tips are largely for middle and high school classrooms, elementary educators are encouraged to peruse this list as well and glean that which can be useful to you!
This is a big event for families so treat it as such!!
1. Mom! Take my picture!
We all enjoy taking pictures of big events and sharing them with our social media contacts and Open House is no different. Talk to your administration about setting up a photo booth with a background using the school name, logo, colors, etc. Props can easily be bought or made with a good color printer, wooden dowels, and some glue. This is also a great opportunity to introduce new students and parents to common terminology used in your building. Display your school’s hashtag in the background or create a prop that says “Proud Parent of a Trojan!” as well as “Class of 2023!” You could also customize these backdrops to feature a specific grade level if you are at a particularly large school or if your admin doesn’t want one for the whole school.I have never been nor will I ever be a Pinterest Perfect Teacher!! And you don’t have to be either. Click To Tweet
2. No Self-Imposed Stress!
As I enter my fourteenth year in the classroom, I know what my personal aesthetic is regarding décor. I have never been nor will I ever be a Pinterest Perfect Teacher!! And you don’t have to be either. When thinking about will adorn your walls for the all-important Open House, please know that the most important thing in that room is you. I have many colleagues that take great pride in coming up and maintaining a theme for their room, from color schematics to multi colored bins that fit neatly into a bookshelf they had made for their room. This isn’t my strength so instead I try to focus more on the atmosphere in my room:
–Is it clean?
Are all the surfaces dusted? When was the last time it was vacuumed?
–What does it smell like?
A nice smelling candle or plug in never hurt anything, particularly when most classrooms have been sitting empty for at least a month.
–What does it sound like?
I play music in my classroom quite regularly and you better believe I have a playlist going in the background while I’m meeting with everyone.
–What is it I teach?
There is no question when visitors enter my room that I teach social studies. From the flags that adorn the back wall to the paper lantern globes that are hanging from the ceiling, my subject area is front and center.[scroll down to keep reading]
3. You Need to Talk To…
Before families start walking into your room, it is a good idea to anticipate that they might have questions that have nothing to do with you. Their child has a peanut allergy and they need to speak to the school nurse or they just moved and don’t know where the pickup stop is on the new bus route. My school sets up tables throughout the school where parents can get these questions answered with posters that advertise the area of concern such as “Transportation” or “Schedule Changes” or “Fall Sports.” If your school doesn’t have a method setup to deal with parent concerns or if you are new to the school, chat with the veteran teachers down the hall who can provide you with specific names to give to parents. I don’t ever want to answer a parent’s question with “I don’t know.”
TIP: Have a notepad out to the side in case a parent throws a curveball at you that you just don’t have any idea how to answer. Make sure you write it down with their contact info so that when you find the answer, you can reply. And also because there is always so much going on during Open House, you don’t want to forget!
4. The Power of One!
Parents and guardians are inundated with papers during Open House, from supply lists to contact info to teacher specific bios where they outline their favorite foods or the name of their dog. New flash! Most (if not all) of those will end up in the trash. In an effort to decrease the amount of paperwork we asked parents to return, we put all-important information for the grade level on one sheet. You read that right-one sheet! That way it can stay posted on the refrigerator at home for parents to reference instead of shuffling through a packet. It listed all of the following:
-Supply list: All content teachers require the same supplies so schedule changes don’t impact what they need in class.
TIP: Have physical examples of what students need for your class during Open House. They can just whip out their phones and take a picture of the calculator instead of trying to remember the model number.
-Remind Code: We use one for the grade level instead of asking them to sign up four different codes from four different teachers.
TIP: Have them do it at Open House! And have the students sign up too!
-Teacher Contact Info: We include special education teachers, parapros, and connections teachers so that they aren’t digging through different papers trying to find one specific email address.
TIP: Does your school utilize Twitter to highlight student activities and events? Include teachers’ Twitter handles on the contact sheet too!
5. Big Takeaways
I often revisit with parents later in the year and ask them for feedback regarding Open House. Feedback is important! Parents have given be great tips over the years that I have incorporated into my beginning of the year routine.
TIP: Do you want this paper returned? Put it on colored paper! That way instead of asking parents to sign and return the syllabus acknowledgement you can just say blue paper. It helps tremendously!
This is one of the best pieces of feedback I ever received. I use this when I issue field trip forms as well.
TIP:Supply a list of everything that needs to be signed and returned. That way I can gather up all the forms and send in everything at one time.
I’m a big fan of lists and have found many parents feel the same, especially those with multiple children.
TIP: I’m in one building yet am asked to provide my information multiple times throughout the event. Can’t you just share my info with the other teachers instead of having me write it over and over?
I want parents and families to respect my time throughout the year and setting this tone is important at the beginning of the year. Talk to your team and administration about how parents can simply provide their contact information once and how it can be shared with other staff throughout the building.
Remember Open House is generally the time to set expectations with both students and their families. It is important for you to make a good first impression on them as well. Be enthusiastic and as prepared as you can be to shake lots of hands and offer lots of smiles. This personal interaction is just as important (if not more so) than the décor in your room! Now is the time to set the tone for a successful year.
What pieces of knowledge have you gleaned over the years? I would love to know what you have learned over the years! Tweet at me! @waddellsworld
About Anna Grace Waddell
Anna Grace Waddell is a 7th grade social studies teacher in Coastal Georgia. She has served as a public school teacher and also worked at a psychiatric residential facility as both a teacher and administrator. Currently serving as grade chair at a middle school, she has found her happy place that allows for some leadership responsibilities but mostly centers on building relationships with some awesome kids and delivering content that is challenging and engaging. Mrs. Waddell is hoping to add the title of Doctor quite soon as she is in the last stages of finishing a doctorate in education at Georgia Southern University and will achieve triple eagle status! #GoEagles