It’s September and that means it’s time for most teachers to give the oft dreaded back-to-school-night presentation.
Next week, that’s certainly what I’ll be doing.
But this year, I’m looking forward to it. In previous years, not so much. Why the positive outlook now? Before answering, let me give you some background.
As a high school-social studies teacher with more than thirty years of classroom experience, I’ve given over 150 back-to-school-night presentations. And as a parent of two, I’ve sat through another 100.
In other words, I have personally experienced 250 back-to-school-night presentations and from this overall experience have concluded that most are nothing more than a rushed, boring, colossal waste of time.
As a parent, I often found myself complaining in the car on the ride home from my own children’s back-to-school-night presentations that all I heard from their teachers was already written in the course syllabus. No Q&A or get-to-know-you activities. Just a boring read of what I could have read for myself. Yawn.
Yet, as a teacher over the years, I didn’t break the mold. I did what everyone else did.
That is, until last year, when my friend Jon Bergmann (the Flipped Learning pioneer) encouraged me to “flip” my back to school-night presentation.
“A pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”
I define it this way: The use of modern technology to provide students with the ability to learn, while away from class, the very content that students were typically taught while in class. This provides the teacher with more and more freed-up class time which they can use to employ strategies that maximize engagement and increase students’ depth of knowledge.
Two Ways to Flip Your Back-to-School-Night Presentation
When flipped learning is applied to the back-to-school-night presentation, there are essentially two ways to go.
One way is to send a letter or email home to parents in the days leading up to the back-to-school-night gathering. This letter can provide a copy of your course syllabus and your hopes and expectations for back-to school-night. Then, open up your back-to-school night presentation by simply asking if there are any questions
This is the approach I took recently. You can read my letter below, or view it as a Google Doc.
For all of you planning to come to room (404) this coming Wednesday to hear my 2018-2019 back-to-school-presentation, I want to try something different this year.
Rather than simply do as I’ve done for the past thirty years, and that is to provide you with a copy of my course syllabus as you walk through the door and then to spend whatever time we have together reading to you from that syllabus, I’d going to provide you now with a copy of my course syllabus. (Click here to view.)
My hope and expectation is two-fold.
1. That you will thoroughly review the course syllabus before entering my room on Wednesday and thus spare me from having to bore you with a read through of that which you can read for yourself.
2. That you will enter the room with a few questions about the course and/or my educational philosophy.
All in all, I want you on Wednesday to leave Room 404 saying to yourself that your time there proved not only informative but also interesting and engaging.
Interaction, not just a one-way presentation with you passively sitting there listening to me drone on about the course expectations, that’s what I’m hoping for and hence this attempt to try something different.
Looking forward to your questions.
Questions that I was asked at back-to-school night last year (and would look forward to being asked again this year) included the following:
- What is the hardest part of this class for most students?
- What part of this class do you enjoy teaching the most and the least?
- Have you ever thought of teaching the class thematically?
- Have you ever thought of teaching the class from present to past?
- Can you tell me about how you have the kids use technology and digital media?
And what was the parent reaction to all of this? All good, with one parent even going so far as to send me an email the very next day that read: “thank you, that was not only informative, it was also interesting AND engaging.”
Another way to flip the back-to-school night presentation is to provide your parents, in the days leading up to the presentation, with a link to a 3-5 minute video that you have produced which describes the content of your course syllabus.
- One great example of this kind of video was produced by middle school-science teacher Sarah Kesty.
- Another great example was produced by high school-social studies teacher Scott Petri.
Sending home a video before back-to-school night, rather than sending home a letter, is the more common way to flip the back-to-school night presentation.
One More Reason to Flip Your Back-to-School-Night Presentation
Regardless of how a teacher chooses to flip their back-to-school-night presentation, all teachers should keep this in mind:
Not all parents can attend back-to-school-night. Some work at night or need to stay home with their other children. And those with two or more children at school may find themselves having to skip your presentation for the sake of another teacher’s presentation.
For parents like this, a flipped back-to-school-night presentation would probably allow them to feel included even if they are unable to show up in your classroom during back-to-school-night.
So what do you say, teachers? This year, let’s avoid boring ourselves and each other by taking advantage of the flipped model. It’s not just for students—parents can benefit too.