Monday, July 27, 2020


This blog post has been 5 years in the making! That's right, for the past 5 year's I've built (and dare I say, perfected?!) my Back to School Night routine and today I'm sharing my tricks and tips! I'm giddy to share these details with you. Grab yourself a cup of coffee and settle in for a wealth of information and some freebies! 

**Disclaimer: These are the tips and tricks that have worked for me pre-COVID-19. While I wish that I will be able to run my Back to School Night the same this year, there is so much unknown. I am sharing tips for what has worked for me in the past and how I would hope to run my event in the future. I do not know yet what my District's expectation is for Fall 2020 so these plans do not reflect any COVID-19 modifications. Although these plans are specific to an in-person, open house type meeting, I believe that many of the tips I share will be transferable to an online environment. I would be more than happy to be a thinking partner for you if you are looking to take these ideas and tweak them for your virtual or in-person Back to School Night. Please reach out in the comments OR through Instagram!**

In my District, our Back to School Night or "Open House" is the first opportunity that students have to set foot in the classroom, find out who their teacher is, and meet them. Our Back to School Night is always before the 1st Day of School. Because this is such a crucial time for first impressions and setting the tone for the year, I'm sharing a few tips to hopefully put your mind at ease for this momentous occasion. 

One of my biggest tips for Back to School Night is to just be YOU! Try your best to channel any nerves into energy and enthusiasm. Chances are, your students are nervous too! By showing them that you're excited to meet them and having a game plan for the evening, it will put them at ease and make them feel welcome. Now, let's get to that game plan to make sure your night is smooth.

Set up Tips:
As you start planning for your Back to School Night, there are a few things I would encourage you to think through that will help you narrow your focus as you plan for the event. These guiding questions will also set the format for the rest of this blog post...
- How do you want your space to look? Feel? Sound?
- What will your students need to accomplish before the night is over?
- What (if anything) do you want your students to accomplish before you see them again?
- What message do you want to share with parents? 
- How do you want your students to feel when they leave? **This is the question that should drive all of your other planning!

How do I want my space to look? Feel? Sound?
For me, I want my classroom to look clean, organized, and welcoming. One way that I accomplish this is by decorating my space. Depending on when your Back to School Night falls in conjunction with the first day of school, you might not have time to get your classroom fully decorated and set up and that's okay! I would just encourage you to make sure that it has a welcoming feel and that any piles of papers, projects, or to-do lists are tucked out of the way. Throughout the school year I display student work in the room so that they have ownership of our space. For "Back to School Night" students obviously haven't turned in any work yet so I make little signs saying things like "awesome work coming soon" or "your work goes here" just to increase excitement and fill the space. A personal touch that I like to add the night of the event is a slideshow video on loop playing at the front of the room with pictures from previous years. I think this is a special way to showcase the fun that has been had in my room while previewing the fun that is to come in our year together. (If you're a first year teacher and want to try the slideshow tip but don't have any pictures to share yet -- don't fret! You could definitely save this idea to try next year OR you could share some pictures from student teaching. One thing to be mindful of is not sharing faces of the students you worked with during that experience if you were at a different school than you're hired at due to FERPA.) 

I want my classroom to feel warm and fun. Sound and smell are such important senses so I like to have a plan to engage those senses as well. (Side note: for Valentine's Day this last year one of my students wrote me a note saying that they love the way our classroom smells... so I guess it really does make an impact 😂) I love having a Scentsy warmer in my classroom and use an accompanying room spray to give a clean, fresh, and summer-y smell. If you've been friends with me for very long, you probably know that I have a playlist for just about everything and Back to School night is no exception! I have a playlist on Spotify filled with upbeat, instrumental Pixar songs. You can access that playlist HERE. There are so many conversations that take place at Back to School Night and because mine is set up in an "Open House" format, those conversations are usually taking place all at once! The instrumental music adds some depth to the experience without overpowering or drowning out the important dialogue going on. It's also nice to have music on because parents will occasionally share personal details with me that I don't want other families overhearing so the soft instrumentals cover that up a tad. I know that sounds and smells are important ways to connect with emotions and memories, and I want those first memories together to be positive ones, so I'm very intentional about the first scent my students smell when they meet me and the music that greets their ears. 

What will my students need to accomplish before the night is over? 
My main objectives for Back to School Night are for students to get acquainted with me and our classroom while building excitement for the first day of school (and our year together). In my District, many students come with supplies on that night so I also want them to feel comfortable with where to put their things. To make the night smooth and clear I have a little "checklist" that I hand to each student after I greet them that details the steps I want them to accomplish in order. I know that it can be overwhelming to come into a new space when nerves and/or excitement are high, so I try to make my list as short and clear as possible. One way that I do that it by ratcheting down on the things that I need my students to do before the night is over. I also strategically set up stations or places that students and families need to go to around the room so that things are spread out enough for it to not feel hectic or claustrophobic, but also close enough so that the path is purposeful and that things flow based on the order I want students to accomplish them in. 

When families come in I make direct eye contact with the student, welcome them, introduce myself, then I turn to the families and introduce myself to them as well and shake their hands. I will make conversation for a few moments asking how their summer was, asking how they're feeling about 5th grade, and making sure that I'm hitting my objective of making them feel welcomed while also trying to build excitement for the year.  Then I joke with the student and tell them that I'm "putting them to work" on the first night by giving them a little checklist of a few things to do before they leave the room to get to know our classroom a bit better. I also let them know that if they're stuck at any point or have questions as they go, they can just let me know. Below I'm sharing the check list of things that I ask my students to accomplish in hopes to give you an inspiration point as you decide what you would put on your checklist. Below each item, you'll read my little commentary to provide more context and my rationale about what that item means and why I included it... 

1. Locate the desk with your name on it. Find the "Welcome Packet" & make sure you take that home with you!
     - When I was in elementary school I remember that I always wanted to know where I would be sitting right away. After a couple of years of experimenting, I've found that it works best for me to have students' desks assigned for Back to School Night. I typically get plain name tags at Target (or chop up plain construction paper -- hello free!) and just handwrite their name and set them on desks. I don't tape them down because 1- our rosters tend to change right up to this event (sometimes even during or after!), 2- my students rotate during the school day and I don't want my other students from the rotating periods to be picking at their name tags, and 3- I have a hybrid flexible seating model (maybe this requires a separate blog post of it's own?) so I don't want my students to get too attached to any one desk... it's more of a chance for them to feel like they have their own space in our room right from the start and a place to put the items they walk in with. On each desk there is a welcome packet that includes a few informational pieces for families and then also some surveys for them to return to me. I include a check list of what items from the welcome packet they can keep, what I want back, and when I want it back. I do not expect (or want) families to have to sit down and fill it all out that night, so I include this to make things clear and helpful. The last thing students will find on their desk is a punny little gift for them that is also practical. Pencils are like ✨gold✨, so I like to start the year off with a cute pencil and welcoming note for kids as a gift that my students will actually use. To get this freebie click HERE or find it at the bottom of this post. 
2. If you have any personal supply items, keep them in your backpack at your desk. We will organize them together next week. 
     - My District issues out a suggested school supply list during the summer. On our Back to School Night some students come with all of their supplies from that list. I have found that it works best for students to keep any of their personal supplies in their backpack at their desk for us to sort through and organize during the first week of school. Usually class rosters change so much that I don't assign cubbies right off the bat until I'm more certain of who will actually be in my class. If kids have extra supplies that they want to donate, I have a table to the side where they can pile those items and I put a little note about it on my whiteboard. I also word it like you saw on the numbered point above because I know that many students aren't able to bring supplies or haven't brought supplies and I don't want them to feel bad if they don't have things yet. 
3. Check out the sign-up sheets on the back counter. 
     - This area is mostly for the parents! On the back counter I spread out clipboards with sign-up sheets for volunteers, a checklist for contact info, and a sign in sheet. I also include a punny parent gift with mints for them to grab along with my classroom wishlist. 
4. Find the rectangle table in the corner. Make sure you tell me how you're getting home this week and the rest of the school year. 
     - This is a great way to make sure that students, families, and you are all on the same page about daily transportation routines. I have a simple piece of posterboard where students write their name and how they're getting home the first day of school and the rest of the school year. (If they ride the bus I ask them to write which number.) Then I display this posterboard in our classroom the first week for students to refer back to. The first day is always so busy and since our Back to School Night is usually highly attended, it's good to get this important detail squared away and then revisit it on the first day with those kiddos and anyone who couldn't come to the event. 
5. Picture time! Head to the photo area by the side whiteboard, grab a prop, strike a pose, and say cheese!
     - This is one of my favorite ways to add some fun to the night. I have a variety of little props (that I mostly got from the Target Dollar Spot or Dollar Store and then personalized) and a list explaining the area. I draw a frame on the whiteboard to make it cute and whimsical. Parents just use their phone to snap a pic. It's super fun and informal and takes very little prep time while adding some personal flair and a touch of excitement!
6. Take some time to get acquainted with our classroom. Feel free to look around and ask any questions you may have!
     - This important point gives students the chance to look around and check in with me when I'm available. Depending on what point in the night it is, this might look a little different. When there are lulls in incoming families,  I "work the room" and check in with students and walk around. When families come in, I head to the door area to greet them. The great thing is that students have the chance to look around at their own pace since it is an "Open House" style evening, so even if I am in conversation, they can wait until I'm available again to ask questions. I love to see students walk around with their families and watch the excitement on their face and see their curiosity piqued by the different items around the room. 
7. Last one... before you leave find Miss Whittaker & show her that you have completed everything on the list. Give her a hug, handshake, or hi-five!
     - I let the student take the lead on this one! I think it's important to make positive contact with each child and definitely want the night to end on a high note that makes the child want to come back to school. When they bring me their checklist, I ask if there are any questions. I always direct this to the student first and then turn to the family to see if they have any questions. Then I ask the student if they want to say goodbye with a handshake, hug, or hi-five and let them choose what they feel comfortable with.

What (if anything) do I want my students to accomplish before I see them again?
Like I mentioned above, I do have a little "Welcome Packet" on my students' desk during our Back to School Night. I also have an accompanying checklist so that families are clear what they get to keep, what I want back, and when I want it. It is a busy time for families too -- especially if they have multiple kids. I don't want my students to be penalized for their parents maybe forgetting to fill out a little survey about what type of learner their child is. I make sure that the "due dates" for any forms I need back are at the end of the first week of school. I send reminders home to the parents via email and have students put it in their agenda the first week. I really only ask for 2 things to be returned so that I can have a better understanding of my students without asking too much of them or their family during this busy season.  

How do I want my students to feel when they leave?
Personally, I want my students to leave feeling excited for the first day of school! I want them to know a little bit about our room, but also come back looking forward to finding out more. I want them to know that I care and that I'm excited to teach them. Each piece of our first time meeting each other reflects these goals and I would encourage you to make sure that your plans do too!

Other Tips:
- Have coloring sheets on hand! When younger siblings come in I like to offer them the opportunity to color. I've found that this helps the kids who are bored and gives parents a chance to focus in on the student who will be a learner in my classroom.
- Have a notepad nearby! Every year parents will share with me details about their child as a learner or little human. I've found it's really helpful to have a notepad and pen handy so that I can jot down any notes while it's fresh and before I meet the next family.
- Dress to impress, but keep it comfy! I like to wear a dress on Back to School Night. I usually pick a dress that is comfy and won't show sweat or wrinkles easily (just keeping it real!). Footwear is really important as well -- I usually wear my most comfortable heeled sandals or flats so that I don't end up with blisters by the end of the night. I think it's very important to dress professionally for this first impression, but not at the cost of comfort. If I don't feel relaxed, then I won't conduct myself in a relaxed manner. Pick a power outfit that will leave you feeling cute, comfortable, and confident! 
- Just be you! Seriously! This tip is so important that I included it again. Let your passion and enthusiasm shine through. If a parent asks you a question you don't know the answer to, don't be flustered, tell them you'll look into it and get back to them. Being yourself will set your students at ease. Don't feel like you have to share the same speech or points with every family. Let conversation ebb and flow naturally. Showing people your heart for kids and education speaks volumes! 

Let's get to the freebies!
If you click on the graphics below you will be rerouted to the web pages that house these freebies and resources that I use to rock my Back to School Night that I hope can be helpful for you as you rock yours. 

I hope this post gave you some ideas for how you can rock your Back to School Night! If you have any questions or want a thinking partner, let me know in the comments below! I'm rooting you on and wish you the best of luck as you start out your year. 

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