If your parent night isn’t packed, you aren’t doing it right.
A statement we often hear in education, especially in schools in urban areas, is “Parents don’t want to come out to school meetings.” I challenge that notion.
The real issue? Schools aren’t doing what is required to reach parents effectively. Educators, we have to change what parent nights, and parent events, look and feel like. We have to plan with parents in mind.
In my twenty years as an early childhood educator and center Director, I have had many successful parent events. How? It’s simple. I promised myself to never accept a lack of parent engagement as a norm. Why? Because parents love their children.
In my school, parent engagement is not an afterthought, but a priority.Our children are too young to be in school or anywhere without having someone to represent them. And as a preschool educator, I know my students need a voice. It is my job to make sure a parent, auntie, grandma or older sibling shows up for them. And when we change the culture of what “showing up” means in the early years, we see parents being more engaged in the later years as well. It’s a win-win.
Listed below are few of my tricks of the trade – the creative process I use to ensure my parents come out and support anything we do. When we call, they come. Travel with me on this journey, and hopefully we can all land on a successful parent night.
1. Plan and invite well in advance
When we set out to plan an event for parents, it is our goal that they feel special and welcomed. We give our parents an invitation more than a month in advance and send reminders home because we value their time. Last minute invites mean last minute planning, and a great parent night can’t be developed in two weeks.
2. Create a “proud parent” atmosphere
Make sure that when parents come to school they find something significant waiting for them. On each classroom’s bulletin board, attach a personalized letter from the teacher to the parent, or a little love note from the child. Have all of the work their child has done since the first day of school placed neatly on top of the child’s desk. Make sure each classroom and space where parents will be are clean and bright, and that all of the floors look beautiful. Celebrate the parents and the children by personalizing the experience for your families.
3. Show unity
When teachers, staff and school leaders are united, parents want to be united as well.
At our school, the staff must dress in unity every year. All of my teachers dress in the same color to show togetherness amongst the staff. This year I chose the basic black classy dress with a string of pearls along with red roses for their pin-on corsage. When the teachers walked into the meeting room, the parents were absolutely shocked and in awe of the beautiful show of unity that was on display by the teachers as they entered into their reserved seats in the front row. It also showed that we believe our teachers are important. And they are.
4. Tell your school’s success story
At each parent event, provide a meaningful update on the awesome school year. You want parents to rest assured that they have chosen a great program for their child’s education, so use that time to brag!
However, you can also use that time to communicate goals for the school and how parents can help achieve them.
5. Give to get
Everyone loves to win something! Find a way to raffle something useful at your parent event. This year we did a raffle that included one free tuition week, and a very beautiful basket. Seek out community sponsors for your raffle items and advertise them on the event flier. The opportunity to win something is a nice incentive.
6. Give parents an opportunity to talk, and listen
At every parent meeting, open the floor up for questions. Make sure that each parent has your undivided attention, and that you respond to all concerns and questions.
You must know your craft. My motto is that our parents always deserve an answer. Make sure you have one to any question they may have.
7. Be organized
Whenever I plan a parent event, I play out the entire event in my mind. I put myself in the place of the parent and ask, “What would they like to see and experience?”
Think the night through and make sure the entire staff is on the same page. Never look unorganized. Unorganized parent or school events create the impression that your school is also unorganized.
8. Take care of the children
Now here is the fun part: offer babysitting service free of charge! Also provide a pizza party for your students or make sure that they have dinner. While the parents are attending to the meeting, the children are being fed, entertained and kept safe. We also keep the camera surveillance on at all times, adding another level of peace of mind for parents.
9. Get rid of the punch and cookies!
Parents are coming from a long hard day of work to support their child, so make sure they are given a great meal! At the end of the night they can go home, give their child a bath, and not have to worry about feeding the family.
For 22 years I have given my parents a delicious dinner and dessert. I try to make it something to look forward to.
These nine tips are not hard to do, however they require a little extra love, care and concern. Having excellent parent engagement is worth it. I have learned that when you invest in your parents, the return is out-of-this-world, and most importantly, our children benefit.
If you want to pack in the parents, you have to pack on the planning. Here’s to more amazing family events, better parent engagement, full attendance sheets, and an outstanding remainder of the school year.
Marlene Mack Ayers is a 20-year early childhood educator, founder and director of One Step Ahead Learning Center, a celebrated performing arts preschool in the heart of East Orange, NJ. One Step Ahead serves over 120 students in a beautiful facility, with a growing staff and waiting list. OSALC is more than a traditional preschool. Marlene incorporated her love for the arts into her approach to early childhood, which includes daily exposure to arts education, a plethora of enrichment opportunities such as karate and cooking classes, and a yearly talent show. Marlene is also the producer of Divas of Day Care, a web show based on the daily life of her staff as they prepare students for upcoming performances. At the end of 2016, students from the four year old class stared in what later would become known as The Preschool Mannequin Challenge on social media. To date, the video has almost 13 million views and thousands of comments from people around the world. The preschoolers have been featured on the BET, Inside Edition, and The View.
Marlene is married with four children.
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