8 Ways to Own Your Parent Orientation

Here it is, ready or not: Back to School Orientation for parents. You have everything out, you're excited, you're nervous, and then that one parent walks in the door. You know the one that I mean. The one who wants to find fault with everything, or tell everyone about their old school, or argue that that isn't they way they learned it, or even the one with 12 kids around their legs (or pets, heaven forbid!) who spend the evening undoing your nice neat classroom. And you're stuck holding the bag, with an orientation that is disrupted and miserable for everyone involved. We've all been there, or at least, I'd like to think we have. I'd hate to be alone!

It's time for teachers to take back these parent sessions! I'm here to provide information, answer questions, and help parents. I am doing my job if I do not give in to the few parents who would, intentionally or unintentionally, derail the meeting. 

8 Ways to Own Your Parent Orientation | Elements of Elementary

"Respect, simple respect. I expect nothing more, and I demand nothing less."
(Thank you, Margaret Houlihan!) 

The last few years, I've been perfecting my orientation to avoid the most common pitfalls a teacher deals with. I realize that virtual orientations are a bit different than in a physical classroom, but I've had everything I mentioned above during virtual orientation-the littlest of kids have managed to wreck the slides and cause commotion, and the pets in the background mean no one can hear what's going on. So what have I learned that I will be doing differently this year? 

8 ways to own your parent orientation:

1. Plan. And then plan some more.

             Adults are much more observant than children. The more you prepare, and the more familiar you are with your material, the easier it will be for you to bluff convincingly when the time comes. Note that I say when, not if! Something will go screwy. Someone will ask a stumping question, someone will pull the fire alarm, you'll run out of papers you swore you printed enough of (and then later discover said pet ate them :) )... If you don't have to stop and think about the plan, you can devote your brain power to the more important, pressing matters. Remember to overplan, but never expect to finish!

2. Set a schedule that won't bore.

             Parents nowadays have about the same attention span as their children. Don't expect to change the world with your moving speech about literacy if they have been sitting for more than 15 minutes! Remember-if you are bored, so are the parents! Be sure to plan in opportunities for them to talk, collaborate, or move around. This can be done without it feeling cheesy. Think about those wonderful faculty meetings you've sat through. No adult wants to have to think pair share. But they might want to break into self-selected groups to discuss reading strategies, after school programs, volunteer opportunities, or the latest kid-friendly activities in town.

3. Take time for quality questions--and plan your wording to spark those quality questions!

            You might be thinking that it's your job to present information and fulfill a task, and you are correct. No parent wants to feel like a student again, though. Remember to leave ample time for quality questions. You know the questions I mean. When you are discussing parent volunteers and Mrs. Johnson asks if there are any special requirements for who is allowed to help, it's a valid question worth your time. Mr. Stewart may not have understood how the homework log works, and if he is confused, chances are someone else is as well. Be sure that you are asking for thoughtful questions. Don't say your piece and then say "any questions?" Instead, ask "does anyone have any concerns about helping their student with the homework log?" That way, Mr. Peterson does not feel validated about asking when lunch is for the third time.

4. Have a plan for deferring misleading or distracting questions.

            Have a set of redirects in mind before you begin for those non-relevant questions. When Mr. Peterson asks what time lunch is three times before you hand out the schedule, make sure you are polite when you tell him that "Schedule information is next on the list." To that thought, you want to make sure to have an agenda handy for parents to follow along with. If they know their questions will be addressed, they will be more inclined to wait. Whatever you do, don't start answering questions about other topics that will get you off track, even if they are good topics. Acknowledge the questions, make a note of them, and then cover them when they come up. Every time you get off topic, three more parents will think their questions are more important than your plan.

5. Share plenty of relevant info.

          Parents came to your orientation to learn about your classroom and school. They took time out of their schedule in order to come, and might have even hired a babysitter so they could come undistracted. They want to hear relevant information that matters to them. One of the things I do is find a parent who is involved with the school and subject them to the CliffNotes version of my presentation beforehand. This works well because I trust this parent to be honest with me. Sometimes, she will tell me "I don't really need that information," "Can you tell me that when it is closer to time? I'll just forget before then," or even "Honestly, as a parent I really don't care!" If you can't borrow a parent to steal their feedback, try to put yourself in their shoes. What matters most to your grade of parents, and in your community? There is no one-size fits all answer.

6. Don't share too much info.

            Oversharing can be as detrimental as undersharing. Not only will parents be frustrated, they will forget the most important things! Make sure that you give them the method you will share further information, and leave it at that. Even if one person asks about the Valentine's Day party, you really don't want to answer that in front of the whole group. The next thing you know, someone will bring a card box for the Christmas party, and no one is happy. One of the best things you can do other than paring down your info is to make sure to summarize the high points at the very end of your session. That way, parents will leave remembering what you want them to, and not whatever random fact stuck in their mind.

7. Have a plan for unexpected guests.

            This will differ from school to school, but always make sure there's a plan for unexpected guests, even if your school discourages them. Will your school have a sitter in the library for younger siblings? Is there an area of your classroom you can designate for roamers? If you have fragile things in your classroom, like technology, put it high enough up that little fingers won't be able to pull it off of shelves. I know that we shouldn't have to worry about it, but Mrs. Casey will turn her back on her precious angel to talk with Mr. Carter, and the next thing you know, you new markers are open, and your bulletin board is a new color. If you can, set aside a special place for small children, or at least provide them with something to occupy their time quietly to reduce the possibility of commotion.

8. Take a deep breath and have FUN!

            I know, I know. You can't have fun, you're too nervous. There's too much to do. If you smile, they'll eat you. I've heard it all, and believe me, it's not true. You can relax and have fun. If something wrong happens, if you roll with it, parents will implicitly trust you so much more with their kids than if you fall apart! Remember, you're making a first impression. Parents are more worried about you being nice, polite, and prepared than they are about you being a rule follower or a by-the-book teacher.The more confidence you have in yourself, the more confidence they will have in you.

Let me know below, what strategies do YOU use to have a successful orientation?


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