Involving Families in Your Classroom: Back To School Night "Morning Meeting"

Hi, Teachers,!

Have you done anything special during the past few days? I hope so! I've been busy re-organizing my apartment. I'm super pleased with how everything has turned out! So far, I've completely re-arranged my kitchen, the coat closet, and our living room. We really needed to be more organized, but it is so easy to forget about our homes and what WE need to be productive during the school year. I took advantage of this past week to really de-clutter. Next week I'll be leading a small science summer camp at the public library. And, of course, my puppies have been keeping me very busy with their preposterous level of cuteness. JUST LOOK AT THEM!!!!

Okay... enough blab! I wanted to talk to you about something that can be a challenge regardless of whether you work in an urban, suburban, or rural school district: involving families!! Whether you have working families, families who speak a different language, families from completely different cultures, or some other type of barrier between you and the families of your students, there are so many strategies you can utilize to help build a strong, working relationship with whatever family walks through your door.

I like to start building this relationship right away on Back To School Night! Something I have never done before but I've really wanted to do in the past is run my Back To School Night like I would typically run a Morning Meeting in my classroom. I am BEYOND excited to be doing this! I will post pictures when Back To School Night comes around and even share my powerpoint that I use, but it's going to look very different this year than it has in the past.

First of all, when parents filter in, we are going to start by letting them find a seat in the circle (not their child's seat) and having them read the "morning message" (which in this case will really be the evening message, I suppose). The book Parents & Teachers Working Together by Carol Davis and Alice Yang has a great sample morning message in the back of the book. This is what it looks like:

I will obviously be making some changes, like adjusting the time, my name, etc., but for the most part, I will be leaving it as is. I will leave a post-it note and writing utensils on a table so that parents can write questions/concerns on their post-it and stick it inside of the squiggly space. I like that this puts the ownership on parents to get to know each other RIGHT. AWAY. Last year, we had a really fabulous reader's theater performance/heritage potluck totally run by the kids, and the parents really liked mingling. It was less structured than I might have made a performance in the past. What that ended up doing was creating a relationship among families in my classroom, and I've realized that I do NOT want to wait for the middle or end of the year to get that going this year. I think we have an hour in my school, so I will try to get everyone seated in a circle (I will have to set up chairs ahead of time) by 5 minutes after the official start time. I will probably include a couple of volunteer sign-ups (like class parent sign-ups, field trip chaperone volunteers, etc.) and my class wish-list (things we'd love if parents could donate) at the same table. I'll make reference to this table in the morning message.

Once we start the meeting, that is when things are going to get tricky! Of course I should start off by introducing what Morning Meeting is, how it will be used in my room, etc. I also have to make sure to structure this so that it's not awkward for parents. They are already probably feeling like they are taking a risk coming to this circle, introducing themselves to someone new, etc. Therefore, when I structure my morning meeting, I need to make sure that each portion of the meeting isn't pushing my parents too far outside of their comfort zone. A morning meeting is typically scheduled this way: 

  1. Greeting- classmates (or parents in this case) greet each other, greeting /being greeted by at least two people
  2. Share- we either share 1 thing out in a circle, have a few students share something special with the whole class, or have a partner share
  3. Activity- some sort of song, chant, game, or any other interactive activity that builds the community
  4. Morning Message- reading the message that is on display together as a class

The order of a morning meeting is really important. Everything is organized to keep things fun, engaging, and meaningful with students while allowing for it to flow into the rest of the day. While my meeting will be different because it is for parents, I will follow the structure of the typical Morning Meeting.

For the greeting, I will probably have what I call a "quick greeting." When my students do this, they greet as many people as they can in a minute (or if I'm really pressed for time, 30 seconds). I might let the parents do this so they don't feel like they have to be greeting people in the "spotlight." I will have to feel the group out though. Honestly, at this point I am leaning more towards just having each parent introduce themselves to the group individually by sharing their name, their child's name, and one interest of their child's. We shall see!

For the share, I will probably do a partner share. It's a bit easier to manage, and we can have a few people share out afterwards. I'm thinking I'll have parents share about one hope and dream they have for their child during the year with someone next to them. I'll have to watch to make sure everyone has a partner or two. We might publish the parents' hopes and dreams and connect them to their children's hopes and later on in the evening. 

For the activity, I would like to get the parents up and moving. We are going to do the activity "A Warm Wind Blows" after I teach it do the parents. I will start by turning my chair around (making it inaccessible to people in the circle) and saying one fact about myself. For example, I might say "I have dogs at home." Everyone else who agrees with that fact (everyone who has a dog at home) would then stand up and find another seat, just like musical chairs. The person who cannot find a chair is the new person to share a fact. It's short, fun, and gets people noticing the commonalities they have.

For the message, we will read the morning message I write and talk about the questions they've asked. Many of them will not be addressed right away--I will skip the ones I know I will address in my powerpoint later. I might have the parents reflect on morning meeting before segueing into my usual powerpoint to discuss curriculum and classroom information. I'll talk to them about how they feel after the meeting compared to how they felt first walking into the room (I sure hope they give me a positive answer!!), what social skills this will help their kids to learn, academic skills, etc

Finally, we'll have a super quick break (just enough time to get people settled into their chairs by their child's seat), and jump into all of the policies/curriculum I need to share: homework, birthdays, class expectations, reading, writing, etc. I'll probably have something out on the desks covering the students' name tags to make this fun. Some years I have had the kids draw a picture of themselves, and the parents have to find their kid's drawing. That's always a favorite. If you're interested in more ideas about this, I suggest checking out Responsive Classroom's website. Here's a great article to get you started.

How do you run Back To School Night? Are you interested in trying that idea? Do you have any great student projects that you display? Please comment and share your ideas below!

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