Saturday, September 25, 2010

8 Suggestions for a Successful Open House

Exactly one year ago, I shared this brief anecdote explaining why I was intimidated by presenting at Open House.

For reasons not glaringly apparent, I went into this year's Open House without these reservations, and -belief it or not – even a little excited to speak with my students' parents. After, I got to thinking about what makes for a good Open House experience. Here's my list of suggestions.

Remember your audience
Some days when I come home from work and start a conversation with my wife, she'll interrupt me to remind me that I'm not at school and the teacher voice can be put away for the night. All teachers have this voice, although it's difficult to describe – it's somehow a combination of volume, speed, emphasis, and diction. During Open House, don't forget that you are talking to adults, not the kids that are usually sitting in front of you. Speak professionally, but save the teacher voice for their children.

Don't try to prove yourself
I had a first year colleague one year begin her Open House speech by explaining to parents that she had a master's degree in mathematics so her teaching should not be questioned since she was considered an expert on the subject. While her intentions may have been good – to establish herself as a competent and intelligent teacher – the result was a room full of parents thinking she was a pompous ass. Don't go out of your way to try and prove you are an exceptional teacher. If that really is the case, parents will realize it when their children are successful in your classroom.

Establish contact
Use Open House as an opportunity to establish some form of contact between yourself and parents. Make sure your phone/email is available. Parents who are dedicated enough to come to Open House will be the ones who are willing to contact you with a problem before it inflates to a major issue. You may also want to collect their contact info as well by using a sign in sheet with columns for an email address and phone number.

Classroom Feng Shui
I remember a conversation I had years ago with my own mother as I prepared for my first Open House as a teacher. I asked her what she wanted to get out of open houses back when she attended them for me and my brothers. She said simply that she wanted to see what a day in our shoes was like – where our lockers were, how long it took to get from one class to the next, and of course, what each room looked like. I try to keep this in mind when preparing for Open House. Make your room look nice – straighten up your desk and shelves, and maybe hang up some exemplary work. Remember that your room on Open House will be the mental image in parents' heads whenever your class in brought up at the dinner table.

Make a handout for parents, but keep it brief. Contact information, teacher website address (if applicable), general curriculum outline, etc. I knew of a teacher who made sure one of the points addressed on her Open House pamphlet was the importance of remembering to bring a writing utensil. Open House is not really the time or place for this, and it certainly does not need to to printed somewhere for parents. If you aren't sure about a handout, write an outline of what you'd like to talk about on the front board and parents can jot down whatever they think is important.

Brevity is the key
Keep the recitation to a minimum. Parents are looking for a generalized understanding of your classroom experience for their child. You don't need to be very specific to do this sufficiently.

Time to Explore
If my school's Open House schedule gives me 15 minutes with each group of parents, I make sure that I wrap up my presentation with at least 5 minutes to spare. I then encourage parents to walk around the room and look at some student work, or I put out textbooks or novels that we will be using during the year, or I call up the class website/blog on a few of the computers. This gives the parents a few minutes to explore the classroom on their own.

Avoid conferences
Open House is intended to be a time for parents to get general information about their child's classes, however, some parents try and use it as a opportunity to sneak in a quick parent-teacher conference. This is an all around terrible idea, and should be avoided at all costs. If little Jimmy's mom starts discussing his poor test grades, two things will happen. You will be stuck talking with Jimmy's mom for far longer than you'd like, and you actually run the risk of possible legal trouble because it is unethical to be discussing one child when other parents are milling about within earshot. If a parent wants to talk specifics, encourage them to schedule a conference at a later time.

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