The ritual of back to school nights, when teachers meet the parents and parents meet the teachers, is always full of anticipation and tension – on both sides.

Parents are sorting through the stories they have heard about the various teachers, and teachers are sorting through the same information about the parents and students.

What can make these back to school nights easier and more productive?

  • Make video and audio files of yourself before the night comes and send it home with the student. Keep the time frame to 10 minutes. Show the parent the room, tell them a little bit about yourself and why you are happy to teach their child, and give them a phone number and email address that they can use to reach you. Parents then have an idea of what to expect and also recognize you when they see you.
  • I would have bottled water in the classroom for parents. Water is used to calm individuals. It is also a sign of welcome.
  • I would have written documents – simple, clear, with lots of white space. One would be the “Year at a Glance” (i.e. the major units that will be covered in your content that year). Another item would be the dates that report cards are given and the dates of holidays. I would also include a page that has pictures of the covers of the books, apps, software, programs, and websites that you will be using/recommending and a short description of each.
  • If the parents come from poverty, they want to know about you as a human being – what are your hobbies, do you have children, what do you think a good teacher is, what do you want for their children. If the parents are educated, they are more interested in your credentials, your professional experience, your expertise, and your preferred theories of pedagogy and instruction.
  • When seeking information from the parents, it helps to use “invitational language.” These are phrases that encourage a response without being intrusive. For example:
    • “I noticed…”
    • “I wondered about…”
    • “Could you help me understand…”
    • “You will find that…”
    • “If there were a way to… What might that be?”
    • “What can I do for you now to help your child…”

Please remember, many parents have had horrible experiences at school. So back to school nights are less than pleasant and often avoided. Some parents are working two jobs and cannot come. Some are not available (mental illness, prison, physical illness, travel, disabled, caretaker for an aging parent, no transportation, etc.)


I always thought of back to school nights as an incredible opportunity to gain insights into my students. For me, it was a gift to know my students better.

Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D. is the founder of aha! Process and an author, speaker, publisher, and career educator. Recognized internationally for A Framework for Understanding Poverty, her foundational book and workshop, Dr. Ruby Payne has helped students and adults of all economic backgrounds achieve academic, professional, and personal success.