4 Virtual Back-to-School Night Ideas for 2020

"We are living in unprecedented times." It’s the line we’ve heard on repeat for the past few months, breeding anxiety, fear, sadness, and confusion. There are no clear rules for our “new normal,” which makes planning for the upcoming school year—and Back-to-School Night—especially challenging for teachers.

As educators, so many of us are concerned about not only the academic aspect of learning, but also the social-emotional toll of current events on our students. While we have no control over what happens over the next few months or even the new school year, we can try to help our students and their families feel as comfortable as possible when it comes to remote or hybrid learning.

Many schools are choosing to hold orientations or Back-to-School Nights remotely this year. As this is unlike anything most schools have ever done, many teachers feel as if they have been thrust into the virtual learning world, trying to adjust to teaching through a screen and learning day by day. Below are some virtual Back-to-School Night activities that will engage students and their families and help them adjust to this unique learning situation.

Back-to-School Night Activities During COVID

1. Start with an Icebreaker

One of the first things teachers learn in college is how important it is to establish relationships with students. There needs to be a level of trust in order for students to thrive academically as well as socially. They need to feel comfortable taking risks and asking questions, and they perform better in class when they feel they know the teacher.

Since virtual learning can feel unnatural for many students, families, and teachers, starting off with an icebreaker or “getting to know you” activity can make everyone feel a little more at ease. Last March, one benefit of remote learning was that teachers and students already knew each other and had established relationships. The lack of in-person instruction this year means it will be harder to form those relationships with students.

"There needs to be a level of trust in order for students to thrive academically as well as socially."

Playing a game—which can be as simple as reading off statements and asking students to raise their hand if they agree—can get students and their parents to feel a little more at ease, and can allow students to identify similarities they have with their classmates as well as with the teacher. If teachers choose, parents can participate in these activities too.

2. Hold a Virtual Classroom Scavenger Hunt

Once families are made aware of the platform the school will be using for virtual learning this year, such as Google Classroom, teachers can create a scavenger hunt for students and parents to explore their virtual classroom. They can provide clues about different components of the virtual classroom and require the participants to complete certain tasks—for example, finding a certain document under the “Assignments” section and submitting it.

Students can learn how to view livestreamed lessons and pre-recorded lessons, submit assignments, respond in a discussion thread, and contact the teacher. Using the virtual classroom—even for students participating in hybrid learning—will be vital to student success, and making it into a scavenger hunt will make it more fun and engaging.

3. Introduce and Review Classroom Expectations With a Game

Part of making students feel comfortable is establishing routines. Students do well with structure and knowing the flow of the day, and their parents will likely want a glimpse at what school life will look like for their kids. Most, if not all, classes follow a similar daily flow, typically involving modeling a skill, participating in guided practice, and finally, completing independent work. It is imperative to explain to students (and their families) how to log onto the virtual classroom and submit assignments.

Additionally, teachers should review classroom expectations including broader school policies and any specific rules or procedures they have for their own classes. Given that school looks more different than ever before, it is also important to go over how students can keep track of homework (possibly through a virtual planner or calendar of some sort). Learning behaviors will change during remote or hybrid instruction, so teachers have to make sure students understand the new and different expectations and feel comfortable adjusting to this new structure. Families should also attend, as many parents/caretakers will be home helping their children on the days they attend remote learning. Understanding how a virtual classroom works will be vital to their child’s success.

"It is imperative to explain to students (and their families) how to log onto the virtual classroom and submit assignments."

Once these rules and procedures are established, teachers can play a game with students and families to ensure everyone is on the same page. One option is to use a website like Kahoot! or Quizziz to create an interactive quiz for students.

4. Create a Discussion Board or Google Doc for Any Questions

There are bound to be many questions during the livestream, and it might be too tricky to answer them all at once. Teachers may not know the answer to some questions right away. At the end of the livestream, teachers can send families a link to a shared Google doc or a discussion board of some kind. This will allow families to post questions that everyone can see, and it will give teachers enough time to provide sufficient and thoughtful responses. It will also be something families can go back to and review as needed.

This school year is definitely going to be like nothing we've experienced before. Starting off on a good note with families and students can help ease their nerves during this transitional period. These Back-to-School Night ideas during COVID-19, including games and interaction, will provide students with an opportunity to get to know one another, as well as their teachers. In a world full of uncertainty, it will strongly benefit students to have some structure and stability and learn what to expect from the coming year.

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