How School Counselors Can Prepare for Open House and Back to School Nights

Schoolwide events are excellent opportunities to connect with families to provide information about your school counseling program. It is also a great chance to provide referrals to community resources. 

Visibility

Consider where to set up to be the most accessible to families. Is it in your office? Your classroom? A table set up in a heavily-trafficked area of the building? The cafeteria? Is there a concurrent event going on, such as a book fair? Take advantage of the opportunity to gain exposure instead of using the time to complete paperwork. Visibility is key.

Information

Just like teachers, parents prefer to access information in different ways. For some, face-to-face conversations are most efficient; for others, websites, and for others, a brochure or letter about your program. If your school provides you with a webpage accessible from the main site, take advantage of it to post links to resources, your school contact information, any calendars or schedules you’d like to share, and more information about your educational background and your program. It is also a great spot to include your mission statement and your monthly newsletters. Before the start of each school year, ensure your website is updated with the most current information. 

Webpages might include: 

  • Individual counseling information and referral process
  • Group counseling information and referral process
  • Classroom guidance topics and/or schedule
  • Referral to community resources (with a disclaimer that the activity is not endorsed by your school division — check your division guidelines before posting)
  • Your background — education, training, endorsements, certifications, and any hobbies or family information you’d like to share
  • School contact information and preferred methods for reaching you at school
  • Monthly newsletters with program updates and classroom topics

It is helpful to have similar information on a handout as you speak with families and caregivers about your role in supporting students.

Scavenger Hunt/Passport Activity

While Back to School Night is an important chance for students to meet their teachers, it is also a great opportunity for families to get to know the specialists around the school. Consider creating a scavenger hunt students can pick up on their way into the building to complete after their classroom tour. Provide each specialist with a stamp or sticker to put on the “passport” the student must complete in order to redeem for a prize (small snack or other reward). If the students are already visiting the gymnasium, art studio, music room, and library, advocate for your program by including your name, “School Counselor,” and location on the passport. Create an inviting space to meet families — an attractive display set up in the foyer of the school, your warm and inviting office to host students, or your classroom space, if you have one and it is somewhat ready. While my office is usually almost-ready by Back to School night, parents may not know where to find me, so a small table in the foyer attracts significantly more traffic.

Information to Display and Share

I post infographics to display information about my program. I include information about:

Tangibles

Consider drawing more traffic to your table with a small basket of giveaways — candy, stickers, stress balls, etc. For a budget-friendly option, cutting up an inexpensive pool noodle can make 72 stress rings. I found that a serrated knife works better than scissors for cutting the pool noodles. I keep a pile of sticker pages for student to stick onto their scavenger hunt pages, and I also placed a fun spinner and conversation cubes on the table for students and young siblings to play with as we talked. 

School events and family programs are a great way to connect with your families throughout the year and advocate for your program. Consider hosting a family event of your own, including a breakfast event during the school day! (I have created flyers for all sorts of breakfast events here and here!)

What are some of your favorite ways to connect with families?

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