As a teacher, Open House is a tough night. I inevitably find myself dodging parents who want to line up and get one-on-one time with me to talk about their child. Dodging is maybe too harsh a word, but I definitely work diligently to avoid these conversations. And I want to avoid them because this isn’t the time or the place. Parents of stellar kids want to hear kudos about how stellar their kids are. Parents of struggling kids want to discuss what can be done. Both conversations are important, but in a classroom with dozens of kids and parents milling around, discussing private, confidential details about individual children isn’t appropriate.
Additionally, Open House isn’t about just one child. Open House is about the school’s learning environment.
So with it being Open House season, I wanted to share a few suggestions about how to learn the most possible from your child’s Open House -- without having to wait in line to talk to the teacher. I promise, my approach will be much more enlightening.
Is the displayed work engaging and purposeful? When I attend Open House this week for my own kids, I will be looking closely at the displayed work. I’m hoping the walls and desks will be filled with it. Be wary, however, of just a “pretty picture.” Look for lots of writing -- in all classrooms. I want to see that the writing has been generated by my kids and not just information gathered from websites and textbooks. I want to see thinking and creating. And does the writing I see demonstrate a true skill or strategy that can be used in multiple settings and classes and situations. I want to see engagement and purpose in the writing process.
Do I see depth or breadth? I intentionally look for depth. It is easy to be swayed by “stuff,” but more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Look for multiple activities created for one concept. Look for process. Look for content mastery to be demonstrated in various ways. I want more than just rote, superficial work; I want to see deep engagement and rigor in what is being learned.
Can your kids walk you through the learning? Think of your own children as docents. Take them with you and ask them to walk you through their classrooms and explain the displayed work. Can your children articulate what they learned? Why they learned it? Where they struggled? How they persevered? The importance of the skill or strategy? I want my own kids to be able to explain their growth this year; I want them to see the value in the learning.
Are assignments new and relevant? In the social studies classes I want to see infographics, current events and parallels between history and our current realities. In science, I want to see hands-on activities, experimentation and scientific articles about new findings. In math, I want to see integration of multiple concepts to solve real-world problems and not so many textbook equations. In English, I want to see reading, writing and speaking. I could go on-and-on. But I won’t. Nevertheless, I hope you see my point -- new and relevant.
Do I see evidence of collaboration? Whether online or on paper, is it observable? I want to see my kids have opportunities to work with others in groups to solve problems and generate new ideas. Collaboration is a skill they will need in the real world, so I expect the school to be helping them become good teammates and leaders. You’ll see this reflected in the layout of the classroom. Are desks in traditional rows or small groupings? Imagine yourself as a student in the classroom -- does the environment lead to isolation or collaboration?
And if we are really lucky this year, then our schools will have kids on display: choir performances, drama monologues, band performances, poetry readings, science experiments in action, art decorating the campus, rockets on the field, and student-created computer programs up and running. This is true learning in action.
With all there is to see and do in such a short amount of time, don’t spend your time talking one-on-one with the teacher. It’s not necessary.
Instead, have fun, enjoy yourself and revel in the accomplishments of all our kids -- they have earned it!