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How to Ace Back to School Night

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back to school night picture
Photo credit: Getty Images/Michelle Pedone

During back to school season, it's easy to become overloaded with school supply shopping, planning for activities and the many new routines that signal the coming academic year. But don't overlook one of the most important chances for you to become involved with your child's learning: back to school night.

At many schools, back to school night is a rich opportunity to meet other parents at your child's school, listen to the principal's remarks and make a personal connection with your child's teachers. At some schools, unfortunately, it's a dull and lifeless affair, with boring speeches and endless powerpoints. Regardless of which flavor you experience, you should take the chance to wring the most out of back to school night -- for the good of your child's education.

Showing Up Is Key

The most important thing in life, we know, is showing up. The same goes for back-to-school night. Plan early to arrange child care if your school doesn't provide it on-site, or request time off from work if you have an evening schedule.

You may have to be proactive in getting the dates for back to school night from your school system early enough in advance that you can make logistical arrangements. Take the initiative to call the school office if a simple calendar search doesn't help you.

This is the first impression you'll make on your child's teachers, and if they see no adult present, they may assume you don't want to be involved in your child's education or that you don't want communications about your child's school progress. Even if you have to send a spouse, grandparent, uncle or aunt, make sure some adult is there to show the family flag.

Make a Personal Connection

Once you're there at back to school night, make the most of it by connecting with other parents, staff and teachers. It may seem that people are overloaded with activity, but a friendly smile and handshake is always welcome. If you don't remember someone's name, don't be afraid to re-introduce yourself -- better to do it now than three years later, after attending the same school performances, athletic events and meetings together.

Of course, it's key to introduce yourself to your child's teachers, with the understanding that they may not remember you perfectly or even your child. With so many children in each class, they're most likely just getting to know each individual. This is not the time to monopolize the teacher with specific advice on how to get Johnny to sit down and focus in class, or with a barrage of questions about the back to school transition.

Finally, you should have an opportunity to make a personal connection with your own child by observing the contents of his desk, looking for school work on the wall and even leaving a note for him to discover at school the next day. Your child spends so much time at school; it's a loving gesture to give a piece of yourself as a connection to home.

Follow Up With Your Child and Teacher

The benefits of back to school night don't end with the one evening. This can be the first step in a year-long relationship with your child's teachers, or perhaps even longer. You can follow up with a quick email acknowledging the work that went into back to school night or just saying "nice to meet you." If you have a specific concern about your child's academics, this would be a reasonable time to request a meeting or phone conference.

It's also important to take a few minutes with your child to let him know what you observed on back to school night and hear his impressions of the classroom and teachers. This connection will serve you well in the months to come, and sends an important message about the importance you place on academics.

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