Back-to-school night brings school communities together to celebrate a new school year. It’s also an evening where schools distribute important information and forms. School leaders, teachers, and staff join forces to make this event as seamless (and fun) as possible (it takes a village, after all!). So how do we plan a virtual back-to-school night in the day and age of COVID-19? Here’s how school leaders are kicking off the year, along with some planning tips. Because let’s face it, we are all figuring this out together.

Find your format

First things first: how do you plan and host a virtual back-to-school night? It’s not as simple as setting a date and time. The good news: there are options to choose from depending on what works best for your school community. Here are some ideas that school leaders shared in our Facebook group for school leaders, Principal Life:

  • Create and send grade level video tours to families
  • Host a live, all-school meeting on Zoom followed by live grade level Zoom meetings 
  • Use a tool like Flipgrid to share teacher intros asynchronously 
  • Send out an interactive slide presentation with videos and links
  • Use Microsoft or Google Forms and create a schedule for families to sign up for 1:1 virtual teacher intro meetings
  • Post important back-to-school information on the school website and Facebook page 
  • Invite new families to an in-person back-to-school event with masks and social distancing 
  • Use a tool like Loom or Screencastify and record how-to videos for the school’s virtual platforms, and email to families

Now that you’ve found your formula, it’s time to get creative. For a virtual open house, what’s most important is making it easy to access, interactive, and fun. Let’s get to it.

Digitize your forms

First, decide how to communicate important information to families. Create a back-to-school night invitation and digitize your forms (thanks Microsoft and Google Forms!). Or, if your school uses a parent communication app like Bloomz, send your forms through that system. Be consistent. There is nothing more frustrating than too many communication channels. Families will thank you for keeping it simple.

Include videos In your presentation

Photo Credit: Stephanie Lewis

How can we make our back-to-school content interactive? Some school leaders are recording videos and putting them in presentation slides. Stephanie Lewis, assistant principal at Liberty Middle School in Spanaway, Washington created a video from each sixth grade teacher that was geared towards parents and the ins and outs of “doing middle school.” She sent the slides out via email and put them on the school website and Facebook page. “We’re all trying to navigate how to provide students with as much or a normal experience as possible,” she says. Reading a slide is one thing. Watching your new teacher talk about how excited she is to meet you is another.

Meet with families virtually 1:1

What if families want to have a conversation in real time? School size and culture will help you decide what is best. A lot of 1:1 meetings is a heavy load for teachers. But it is also an effective way to build relationships. If you do offer virtual 1:1 meetings, share a Google Doc where families can sign up for a 15-20 minute meet and greet. If some of your families speak a different language, consider using Talking Points. With this app you write your message in English. The family responds in their first language, and it is translated automatically. 

Meet with families asynchronously

If the times you offer for 1:1 meetings don’t work for all parents or it isn’t the right choice for your school, consider using a free tool like Flipgrid and offer asynchronous office hours. Each teacher creates a grid with a welcome video. Families can comment, ask questions, and share information with the teacher. No need to show up virtually at a particular time. 

Use breakout rooms

How can we start together and then split into small groups? If you are hosting a live virtual back to school night, open up with an all-school meeting, and then invite families to join their grade in a virtual breakout room. Do a practice run with teachers and staff to test it out. Have a plan B in case technical difficulties arise. One option would be to record your all-school meeting and then email it or post it on the school website. Ask teachers to record their breakout sessions just in case. 

Give virtual classroom tours

Photo credit: Dr. Rene Spry

How can we make back-to-school night fun on screen? We love how Dr. Rene Spry, principal at Oxford Elementary School in Claremont, North Carolina, created an interactive virtual office to welcome parents and students. She included links to important videos and teacher information for each grade.

Create “Meet the Teacher” interactive digital slideshows

Photo credit: Kim Huls

How can we engage new students when we can’t meet them in person? Kim Huls, a third grade teacher in Western Michigan came up with a creative solution: an interactive Google Slideshow. “My students can get to know me and my personality even if we are unable to be in person for our meet the teacher night. I included fun slides, GIFs, videos, and fun fonts to help my kids feel excited to watch.” She’s created a free template, and a how-to YouTube tutorial.

Build community safely with social distancing

What do you do if your school community wants to connect in person? Back to school celebrations are often traditions that families look forward to each year. Creative school leaders have come up with safe alternatives. Michelle Beninga, Head of School at Willowwind School in Iowa City, Iowa is planning a drive-through ice cream social to welcome families and mark a new school year. “We will have teachers and staff lining the circle drive with signs and cowbells, and music.” Even though families will enjoy their ice cream bars at home, they still have the experience of seeing the school and the teachers, as well as getting excited for the year to come, no matter what it looks like. 

What are you planning for a virtual back-to-school night? Come and share in our Principal Life group on Facebook.

Plus, ways to welcome students virtually.