Building Rapport on Meet Your Teacher Night

I can't believe it's almost time to start thinking about going back to school!  That also means it's time to start designing your classroom, planning your curriculum, and getting ready for loads of back to school professional development.  But, there's one thing about back to school that has always made me feel uneasy in an sea full of excitement.  Meet Your Teacher Night.

Meet Your Teacher Night ranks high among pivotal times in the year, right alongside Back to School Night and Parent Teacher Conferences.  It is the first time most parents will meet you, and it's the first impression they will have for the year to come.  They will go home and chat about it with their spouse, and we all want that conversation to be one filled with happy hopes for the school year to come.  But how do we instill high levels of trust and confidence in parents when we have such a limited amount of time, are swamped with 25+ kids coming in, bringing supplies, and wanting to tell you about their summer vacation (or hiding in the corner, hoping not to have to speak to you)?  Here are some of my strategies, thoughts, observations, and best hopes for rocking Meet Your Teacher Night on a personal level and leaving parents with the best impressions possible.

Disclaimer:  This is what has worked for me.  The bottom line, though, is to be prepared and be yourself.  That will set realistic expectations and make you feel most comfortable.

We all want to be organized for our own sanity, but seeing an organized classroom will immediately put parents at ease.  The last thing parents want to see is piles and piles of papers strewn about the room, a messy teacher's desk, or cluttered areas.  I want to emphasize organization (or the illusion of organization) and clarify that having a classroom that appears organized is totally different from having a classroom decked out in Pinterest-inspired decor.  I promise you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that parents will notice a clean and calm classroom more than they will notice buntings and tissue poms (although those are just icing on the cake)!

This isn't a post about organization Meet Your Teacher Night (there are tons of great posts out there already), but there is a lot to be said about everything having a place, especially when students are bringing in supplies or other items for the school year.  Think through exactly where everything will go.  Avoid huge piles or bags full of supplies strewn about your room.  Decide if you will have community supplies or individual supplies, and know exactly where you expect them to be put on Meet Your Teacher Night.  Then, clearly articulate that expectation to students and parents, whether it's a note on their desk, instructions on the board, or clearly marked containers for each item.  This will also give parents and students something to do in case you can't get to them right away.

And when the going gets tough, and you just can't get everything organized before the big night, that's why architects made closets and cupboards, right? 🙂

Have an idea of how your year will start.  What can your students expect the first weeks of school? How will you be communicating with parents?  How will students communicate with parents about homework?

You most certainly don't need to have an entire year planned, but being able to throw out a few activities to the wallflowers who aren't looking too excited about the impending first day may be just what you need to get them excited.  “Joey, I can't wait to see you on Monday!  Wait until you see the All About Me Posters we are going to make.”  Joey will look forward to those posters all weekend long, and mom and dad will know that you aren't flying by the seat of your pants (even if you are)!

This one goes right along with planned.  If you are new to a school, do your best to learn the ins and outs of the school before a parent and child ever step foot in your room.  This will enable you to answer as many parent questions as you can and instill confidence in them.  Where will you meet on the first day of school? What time is lunch?  Should we bring a water bottle on the first day?  What's on the menu for the first week of school?  Do we have PE the first day of school?  Many parents will want to know, and of course they will want you to have the answers, even when the request may not be reasonable.

Can't answer the questions that parents have, or you're not sure about something?  Admit it, but tell them you will find out the answer for them and let them know.  I always carried around a little clipboard with me, jotting notes about things I needed to remember to follow up on.

I debated putting this one in here at the risk of sounding redundant, because aren't all teachers eager and enthusiastic at the beginning of the year?!  We know that the beginning of the year is HARD, HARD, HARD, and it is full of so much stress, and we are transitioning from weeks of lounging in the sun (right!? Ha!)… but remember that parents are about to give you their child for 7 hours a day.

They want someone who is excited to be there and enthusiastic about the school year–not verbally wishing they were still at the beach. (I know that most of us would still rather be at the beach, but I saying so to parents may not make the best first impression.)  Parents and students alike will love hearing about your summer adventures, but they will also relish hearing how excited you are about the new school year.

Let parents know that you will love their child.  This doesn't mean you have to be friends with students, but it means that parents need to know that you are human and will take good care of the most precious thing in their life.  Likewise, children need to know that they can come to you. The first days of school can be terrifying for some children, and many times, teachers are their only safety net.

When it comes down to it, if a parent feels like you will love and care for their child for the next 9 months, a fancy website or an organized classroom will be the last thing they are talking about.  Find a moment during Meet Your Teacher to get down on each child's level and talk to them.  Make it a point to find out something about each child and connect with them personally.  Again, they need to know you are human, too.

I'll never forget Sam or the lesson that Sam taught me.  Meet Your Teacher Night ended at 7pm and Sam walked in the door at 6:55.  As I finished chatting with other students and their parents, Sam and his mom quietly put away his supplies (per my directions on the board), placed a sticky note with his name on the last remaining desk, and started walking out the door.  I caught them just before they stepped out the door and introduced myself.  “I know you're ready to get out of here, so we will say hello on Monday” his mom told me.  But, I could see the nerves in Sam's eyes and I asked him to show me the desk he had chosen.  He stared at his desk as I knelt down, and he barely made eye contact with me as I made small talk with him.  Not making any progress with sweet Sam, I used my standard line. “So, Sam, how are you going to spend your last few days before school starts?”  His eyes lit up as he explained that it was his dad's birthday tomorrow and they would be spending the morning making cupcakes.  I told Sam how much I loved cupcakes and what a great son he was for doing that for his dad.  I told him I couldn't wait to hear more about the birthday celebration, and after a bit more small talk with his mom, I reminded him to have a great celebration and told him I'd be thinking of him and his dad tomorrow.

When Sam arrived at school on Monday, guess what he brought with him?  A cupcake from dad's celebration.  And that night, his mom emailed me to tell me how Sam had cried every first day of school since Kindergarten, but not this year.  And 9 months later, on the last day of school, Sam brought me half a dozen cupcakes from the local cupcake shop along with a cupcake cookbook.

And the lesson that taught me is how incredibly important it is to connect with every child from the very first moment you meet them.  Sam will always remember me as the teacher who loves cupcakes, and I'll always remember Sam as the child who clung to one little thing I said on the very first day I met him.

Share your tips and tricks for building rapport at meet the teacher night.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!


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