Back-to-school night 2021 may still look different in many districts. But schools and parent groups found ways to adapt their plans last year that can work just as well this year.
Typically, parent groups give a speech or a presentation during a school’s welcome back to school event. Talk with the principal about the main goals for open house and about how your group can support those goals, while at the same time taking the opportunity for your group to introduce itself and share plans. Here are some ways to do that, with examples from leaders for how they handled back to school 2020.
A welcome back video presentation has always been a good opportunity for a PTO to strut its stuff, and that might be truer than ever now when so many groups are working hard to be there for their communities.
Carolyn Dobson lives in an area of Massachusetts that announced its district’s plans relatively late, so she put together an open house plan that would work whether her school opened virtually or in-person.
“My plan for our open house is to make a movie/slide show, provide the same information that we would have at [either a virtual or in person] event. Information about the group, what we do, why it is important to get involved, how they can get help, and contact information,” says Dobson, PTO president at Hamilton Primary School in South Weymouth, Mass. “Then [we’ll] have a video walk through of the school with the things we have purchased. Interviews with parents and kids… If we go back remotely/hybrid, we wanted to add a more stress on community support and ways that we can make the school year successful.”
The PTA at Pittsburgh (Penn.) Montessori School helped put together a “day in the life” video for new parents after the school closed in spring 2020 and plans to do something similar for back to school.
“It was just a collection of photos with some verbiage but I think it was helpful,” says Andy Kubar, PTA president, adding that “I am working on another video like [it] called ‘What Does the PTA Do?’ that will be used in the virtual back to school night...[it] will be about all the PTA stuff we do (boo hoo breakfast, fundraising, talent show, fun fair, teacher appreciation, etc.).”
You might have some experience with this from previous back-to-school nights, and taking it virtual doesn’t have to be tremendously different. The content of your slide show might change to include up-to-date information on your district’s COVID-19 plans and guidelines, but the biggest change would be presenting it virtually.
“I did a PowerPoint presentation. It just explains what PTO is and how we help. There are pics of the new playground, the board, events, and volunteering. I also put our email, Facebook, school website and store info,” says Theresa Albright, PTO president at East Lake Elementary in McDonough, Ga.
Albright enlisted the help of the school’s media specialist to put the presentation on the PTO section of the school website. It was shown during their virtual back-to-school night and parents can also view it on their own time on the website.
PTO Today has a flexible back-to-school video template that makes it easy to put together a quality slide show with minimal tech skills. You simply edit the text and images for a polished presentation; check out the brief tutorial:
The good news about speeches is, you might be more comfortable to deliver one at this point after so many months of virtual meetings. Having experience on Zoom (or other videoconferencing platform) also makes it easier to share than it would have been.
Virtual or in person, here are some key points to consider when giving your back-to-school night speech:
Refine your message. Talk about what your group does to support the school and the ways you’re going to adjust your work this year.
Keep it short. Time your talk and keep it to five minutes or less.
Practice your speech. Enlist a friend or board member to watch you run through it in advance on the platform you plan on using.
Start off with an easy question that parents can answer with a show of hands, such as “How many of you are new to the school?” This will give you a chance to breathe before you launch into your speech.
Don’t worry about being perfect. Especially now! Most parents at this point have had a child or pet interrupt a Zoom meeting or two, and everyone’s gotten used to rolling with it. Parents are there to get information, not judge you on your public speaking skills. Help ease your nerves by carrying a note card with your key points on it in case you need to jog your memory.
Read “How To Give an Awesome Back-to-School Speech” for a video, sample script, and tips to deliver a speech that will make a lasting impression.
Bitmoji “Classrooms” and Tours
Parent groups can get in on the fun teachers and other school staff have been having with setting up virtual classrooms and adding their avatars. For a virtual back-to-school night, you could either set up your “classroom” and make an avatar giving a speech, or you could do a virtual classroom tour.
This Bitmoji classroom tutorial by Katherine Panczner includes a table of contents that makes it easy to locate all of the steps.
Themerrillsedu.com also offers step-by-step instructions on building and sharing your virtual classroom.
Other Virtual Back-to-School Night Welcome Ideas
Some schools are holding a parade on their would-be back-to-school night where the families can drive through and actually get to see their teachers.
Adapt these signs to decorate an area of the school or as a backdrop to virtual presentations.
School mascots made appearances all over social media during the school closures last spring: in virtual classrooms, in birthday and graduation car parades, and more. They’d make a great addition to a welcome back night or other virtual event.
Originally posted in 2020 and updated regularly.