Tonight I attended Open House at my son’s elementary school – the very school where I spent much of my teaching career. Leaving the school grounds, I was reminded how exhausted I always was at the end of nights like these when, after days of planning and anticipation, the last of the families finally left (toddlers and balloons in tow) and another Open House was successfully in the books. Early in my career, I would fret about nights like tonight – the nervous anticipation of meeting families building as I washed desks, organized and rearranged furniture, printed colorful sign up sheets, and carefully selected the perfect student work samples to display.
It wasn’t until tonight, as I walked through the building where I had spent a decade welcoming parents into my own fourth grade classroom, that I realized that I just may have had my Open House planning all wrong. I’ve spent the last few hours thinking – As an educator, and as the mom of a spunky, animal loving, first grader, – what exactly is it that I would like to see tonight? What would show me that my boy’s days are spent in an environment where he is valued and loved? What might demonstrate that his learning environment is one that fosters differences, creativity, and flexibility? What could I find within these classroom walls to illustrate that he is asked to try and fail, think and rethink?
I’m afraid that the answers to these questions aren’t found in neatly stacked textbooks or colorful name tagged cubbies. No, you’ll have to go much deeper into the messiness to find the makings of the true, meaningful learning experiences that I would like a glimpse of. Rather than an Open House focused on the periphery of learning, I propose an Open House Remix.
WAYS TO REMIX YOUR OPEN HOUSE
Team Building Activity or Get to Know You Game: Have an ongoing game occurring in a portion of the classroom. Brain teasers, word play games like Whozit, puzzles, and other traditional classroom games are a great way to break the ice while demonstrating a commitment to collaboration, team building, and fun.
Twitterfall: Utilize a classroom hashtag or Twitter account to share the learning happening in your classroom. During Open House, display a Twitterfall of the posts by the class account or a search of your class hashtag.
Work Thought: During my years of ten years of teaching, I often had student work displayed for parents to view during Open House. Think about how powerful it would be though, had I shifted this focus from student work to student thought. Rather than displaying traditional student ‘work’, invite parents to see the inquiry that occurs in your class. Make the current problems students are tackling available during open house so that children can share their progress and current thinking with their families.
Empathy: Use the Open House as an opportunity to share the community service projects your students are engaged in and the connections they are making with other classrooms both in and out of the school. Invite parents to join in the work by sharing their expertise, resources, and ideas for extending learning beyond the classroom walls and spreading empathy and love in the community.
Student Agency: Offering student choice and voice in the classroom is essential when creating an environment for learning. Consider how your everyday pedagogical decisions and classroom procedures allow for student choice and opinion. Display some evidence of student agency like choice centers, a variety of tools to select from, evidence of varied assessment options, etc. In one classroom at our local middle school, I spotted this bulletin board that got me thinking:
How often do we communicate the specific traits we’d like our students to exhibit, yet fail to ask them what they look for in a quality teacher? I love this simple way of polling which ‘teacher traits’ are most important to our students.
‘Get To Know Your Teacher’: Just as you strive to truly know and connect with your class, your students and their parents want to know who you are as well! Display a few artifacts and/or photos that allow guests a glimpse into your hobbies, interests, and goals. Encourage your students and their families to interact with you around the artifacts, share stories, and make connections.
Relationship Building: What evidence will parents see at Open House to show that you love their child and strive to build a meaningful relationship with them? Provide space and time in your classroom to let student interests, hobbies, and talents shine. Prioritize creating meaningful, lasting connections with each of your students and their families -and let this be the central focus of your Open House.
“Let creating meaningful, lasting connections be the focus of Open House . . . and everyday of the year”