Back-to-School Nights — A Missed Opportunity

By Karen VanAusdal (Senior Director of Practice at CASEL), Melissa Schlinger (Vice President of Practice and Programs at CASEL), and Tyrone Martinez-Black (Practice Integration Specialist)

Imagine walking into your child’s high school, where members of the marching band are performing outside the building. Student greeters hold the doors open and welcome you warmly. Inside, parents put on name tags that indicate not only their own names but also the names of their children.

In the auditorium, the principal begins with a personal story about their favorite teacher from childhood, and invites parents to turn to someone next to them and share their own memory of an adult who supported them when they were young. The principal shares a vision for the school year that helps all parents feel positive and part of the community and encourages them to contribute to that vision by adding sticky notes on a wall display.

As parents move to classrooms, teachers greet parents at the door as they would students and open the conversation with an invitation for parents to introduce themselves before discussing what their children can expect in their classroom. Parents are invited to leave notes for their children and can share one thing they hope for this school year.

How does this experience match the types of back-to-school nights or open houses that families attend this time of year? Often these events, in the spirit of expediency, miss important opportunities to catalyze a sense of belonging and authentic partnership between schools and families. As caregivers ourselves and SEL professionals who help districts create this type of community, we offer a few tips to keep SEL in mind as you welcome families back to your school.

First Impressions

How can you welcome families as they enter your building and set a tone of student-centered welcome, support, collaboration, and joy?

Getting to Know One Another While We Get to Know Your School

How can you ensure that families not only learn about the school curriculum, but also get to know the school staff and each other?

Optimistic Close

How can you end your time together in a way that leaves participants feeling connected and encouraged to stay in partnership with school staff and one another?

End your back-to-school night by inviting caregivers to share something positive they have heard this year from their student or something they are curious to learn more about in the coming months. Share opportunities for caregivers to sign up for newsletters, roundtables, and volunteer opportunities and to partner with you on the design of these experiences and resources.

Just as we hope that SEL and academic growth are intertwined throughout our students’ school experiences, we see back-to-school nights as opportunities to model those connections for caregivers as well. Wishing you all a beautiful year ahead!

Karen VanAusdal serves as Senior Director of Practice at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Karen oversees multiple initiatives to support and scale SEL in service of equity and excellence in school districts and with collaborators in the field.

Melissa Schlinger serves as Vice President of Practice and Programs at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Melissa leads CASEL’s efforts to advance systemic implementation of high quality social and emotional learning in districts and schools across the nation.

Tyrone Martinez-Black serves as a Practice Integration Specialist at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Tyrone seeks and solidifies connections between CASEL research, practice, and policy efforts, with a focus on engaging and empowering families.



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