I’ve spoken at many gifted programs’ parent nights all around the US (and once in Canada!) for several years. This chance to drop in on various programs has given me a unique perspective and I thought I’d share a few thoughts in case you’re planning your own parent night.
Build A Community
Think less of this as a chance to “tell parents about something” and more of a chance to build relationships.
Something I’ve noted at many parent nights I’ve been to is that the person running the event clearly doesn’t know any of the parents. Sure, they say “hi” when folks walk in but don’t really interact with the parents otherwise. After the hour-long event, that person didn’t know any of the parents any better.
So rather than wondering, “What information should I tell these people?” consider asking yourself, “How can I build a community tonight?”
Think “hospitality” rather than “presentation”.
Set the room up to build community, not for a business presentation. Provide snacks and beverages. Carefully consider your table and chair layout. Make your parents the focus, not a big PowerPoint screen. In fact, I’d ditch PowerPoint altogether.
Goal #1: Know Your Parents
This (in my opinion) should be Goal #1: Get to know your parents. Some of these parents could be in your program for more than a decade if they have multiple children! Learn their names. Learn their needs. What are they wondering/worried about? How can you best serve them? Do you have groups of parents with similar issues?
Again, think “community event”, not “business meeting”.
Goal #2: Parents, Meet Parents
Are there parents in the group who have solved other parents’ issues with their own kid(s)? I love it when another parent raises their hand and has some awesome, from-the-trenches tip that I never would have thought of.
That leads to Goal #2: Help your parents build relationships with each other. They can often help solve each others’ problems better than you can – or at least relate to having the same problem.
This can be as simple as giving explicit time to chat at tables at the beginning of the night, “We’re going to take ten minutes and let you introduce yourselves to those around you.”
Are you a bit more daring? Group parents by their children’s ages and have them introduce themselves to each other. Get them talking about their kids with each other.
Cool bonus: when you build a community like this, it protects your gifted ed program. The next time your budget is in danger, your tight-knit parent group will show up at the district office and make a stink for you. Engaged parents will fight for your program.
Make a Choice: Kids or Not?
That brings up a key point: consider whether or not you want kids at this event and make this very clear on your promotional material. As a presenter, I can either prepare something designed for kids or for adults, but not both. Many times, I was told I’d be speaking to parents, but showed up to an event with a bunch of kids. This made for an awkward evening.
I’d recommend setting up some basic child care (get a couple of teachers to help you) and making your event adults-only. I think you want parents to be able to speak frankly and kids make that difficult. Student-focused events are great and you should totally do them as well, but if it’s a parents’ night, make it a parents’ night.
Parents Often Have A Problem
Then, when you think about structuring your evening, consider this: Parents don’t want a 40-minute talk about a topic you (or your presenter) picked. Parents want help with their problem.
Parents who give up time to attend evening events often have a very specific question/problem/need about their particular child. Make your event about uncovering these issues and providing resources that will help parents handle those issues (other people, books, organizations, websites, etc).
Rather than spending your time building a PowerPoint presentation (seriously, no PowerPoint), start gathering parent’s questions ahead of time. Create a form with Google Forms, Survey Monkey, whatever.
Just make one big box and label it:
“What’s your biggest question/concern about your child and our program?”
Use your planning time to go through these responses rather than fiddling with PowerPoint (seriously, no PowerPoint!). Look for patterns. Figure out what your particular community needs from you. Find resources ahead of time.
Then, spend most of the parent night addressing these common questions and concerns.
Is this advice too late? Is your parent night tomorrow night?! That’s fine. Just pass out notecards at the event as people arrive. Have parents jot down their number one question/concern about their child. You’ll have to think on your feet a bit more, but you’re showing that you care about your community.
And finally, if you really want to pick a set topic, then I think these are the biggest problem families will struggle with:
- Defining ‘Smart’ – Let’s be super careful about using this word because kids interpret it to mean something different than what we intend.
- Impostor Syndrome – Beware setting kids up to think that “success” and “easy” go hand-in-hand. Because, eventually, they won’t.
- I’ve also found the five intensities to be of interest to many parents.
Is this helpful? Want more information that’s specifically about running a gifted program? I’m building out a series on this topic. Sign up and I’ll let you know whenever there’s more.