This post is written by Brett Vogelsinger, a Freshman English Teacher in Central Bucks School District in Doylestown, PA. You can connect with him on Twitter @theVogelman and check out his blog at 30gopoems.blogspot.com.
Last September, entering my sixteenth year of teaching, I realized I felt less excited than ever for Back to School Night. Over the years I had developed and refined an enthusiastic shtick that left parents with no doubt as to my credentials, love of teaching and learning, reading and writing. They witnessed that their child’s English teacher could integrate humor, movement, and emphatic gestures into a presentation, not to mention circulate through the audience while advancing a PowerPoint all within the allotted twelve minutes.
However, I could not shake the feeling that it did not reflect the reality of my classroom, where students are active participants and thinkers. I wanted to connect and collaborate with these people. Before me sat the parents of the teens I was about to teach for the year — their first teachers — and all I was doing was talking AT them. It moved me to develop a different model that embeds some aspects of blended learning.
The Blended Back to School Night model
The week before school began, I sent out an email to all parents with a link to a Prezi, using my district’s parent email list. Within the Prezi, I packaged all of the necessary but somewhat dry information — grading policies, expectations, and lists — into a polished professional presentation and paired it with a warm greeting expressing my excitement to begin the school year.
When Back to School Night arrived, I mentioned the Prezi without reviewing it and took the first minute to explain to parents that I wanted to meet them in this brief span of time we shared. I invited any who had not received my email to view the Prezi on my teacher website when they returned home.
Parents could move between stations set up in my classroom, each with a tech-friendly option using QR codes and a tech-free option for those who prefer this approach. The QR codes allowed parents to preview or interact with activities, reading, and vocabulary from our year whereas the more traditional option for each station allowed them to do things like writing an encouraging note to their child or add to a poster listing ways in which they use writing in their work life.
- Social-Emotional Learning
- The Classroom Library
- Poem of the Day
- Writing and Vocabulary
Pictured below are the two options from my Social Emotional Learning station and my Writing and Vocabulary station. Click here to see all of the examples.
As parents interacted with these stations, I had the opportunity to interact with parents in more meaningful ways than ever before. I asked them questions like “What should I know about your child as a reader?” or “What is a strength that your child has that I could build on in English class?” and received answers that could help me reach students better the next day in class.
Feedback from families
In a follow-up survey, many parents expressed that this personal bit of conversation made Back to School Night just as special to them as it was to me. They felt their children were in the care of a teacher who wanted to know them individually because I took the time to meet and talk to their parents individually.
Some parents who were unfamiliar with QR codes also expressed that in the future it would be helpful to communicate the need for a QR code reader in my early email so that they could participate more fully in that aspect of the stations. And in retrospect, four stations probably would have sufficed given the short period I am allowed at BTSN.
I am eager to share a slightly improved version of this model with the parents of this year’s students as well. If you would like to talk further about this model, please reach out on Twitter where you can find me @theVogelman.