“Back to School Night” and Articulating Your Vision

Note: Before the start of each school year, ISPD has shared this newsletter for the past 10+ years with Catholic leaders across the country. It is also one of the chapters in the “25 Lessons Learned” publication. Again, we hope it will spark some creative ideas as you begin the 2022-23 school year.

All across the country, Catholic schools will open the doors on the 2022 – 2023 school year either before or right after Labor Day. What a wonderful time for marketing and for Catholic Development personnel and efforts to step up and make a difference. These can be teachable and/or impressionable moments – with many different audiences. It all adds up to whether or not we want to change the narrative.

Let’s look at the infamous “Back to School Night.” This is one that most all Catholic schools open up with, and for many, this is where first impressions are made – especially for new families and for new faculty and staff members. How many WOW moments will your “Back to School Night” have? Or will it be the same as the last 5-10 years? Will you use this opportunity to really kick off the new school year with a bang, or will you pull out the old schedule from the last few years and go through the motions?

Here is how many “Back to School Nights” operate:

  • Parents meet in the gym, cafeteria, or auditorium.
  • Opening remarks from administration and welcome back
  • Introduction of new faculty and staff
  • Introduction of the “old timers”
  • Parents then “run thru” their child’s schedule with the bells ringing, the hallways jammed, parents getting lost, and the teachers having all of 7 minutes to explain everything parents need to know about their class and how that teacher operates.
  • The final bell rings and parents, faculty, and staff meet back in the gym for coffee, punch, cookies and a big WELCOME BACK cake, and we can finally put that “Back to School Night” to bed for another year.

Maybe or maybe not the above sounds familiar. I don’t know. I do know that many Catholic schools run their “Back to School Night” very similar to what is outlined above.

So, the question comes up: How can you change it? What can you do to make sure the “Back to School Night” has many WOW factors? What can you do to make sure that when parents leave and walk back to their cars (or stand in the parking lot where most real conversations take place) they emphatically say, “YES! This is why we send our children to this school!”

Are you ready? Have you developed your Top 10 Selling Points? Do you have your WOW – what makes your school positively distinctive from other schools (Catholic, private, public, charter, etc.) in your area? Not better than – just positively distinctive.

Where can you wow stakeholders in your upcoming Back to School Night? What can be done to have parents leave feeling so good about their choice of schools that they will want to cry it out to the mountain top? Here are some suggestions:

  • One week prior, why not have some of your present parent leaders (or faculty members) call every family in the school and personally invite them to attend “Back to School Night” and say how excited they are about the new school year? Simply welcome people into your Faith Community.
  • Why not have students in the parking lots welcoming everyone who drives up and handing them an agenda or prayer card for the evening?
  • Why not consider making teams of parents (3-5 on each team) whose children have the same classes and have a student, parent or faculty/staff member be their “guide” and “host” for the evening?
  • Why not have a Parent Buddy System in place to announce that evening, where every new family at the school will be able to meet their “Buddy” family for the year?
  • Why not create an Share Your Gifts card in which parents can write down what gifts they would enjoy sharing at the school? (Photography, horticulture, small group facilitator, coach, financial planner, cook, painter, carpenter, etc.)
  • Why not have some kind of game for a handful of new and returning parents to play at the end of the evening (like Jeopardy, Pictionary, etc.) that relates to the new school year?
  • Why not hand every parent a card that asks this question: “As a parent, how will you know that the school year is really going well for you and your family – by October 1st?” Have each parent hand their card back in before they leave. Please publish the results in the next parent communication, and as an administration, faculty, staff, and leaders, work on the suggestions.
  • Why not have decorations up outside and inside that reflect a genuine WELCOME to all families involved in your Catholic school?
  • Why not hand each parent a REFERRAL CARD in which they can write down the name of future families they would like to see you invite to your upcoming Open House this year?
  • Why not invite a student or two who graduated last year or the year before (a student that a lot of your parents would know) come and talk about the value of his/her education at your school? (3-4 minutes)
  • Why not have one of your teachers, parents, alums, parishioners, or any person associated with your school who has the expertise prepare an outstanding slide/video presentation (with dynamic music) that heralds and touts the wonderful people, events, and charism of your Catholic school? Possibly have all leave with this visual fresh in their mind.
  • Why not hand each parent a 6’ x 10’ card when they leave with an appealing visual on the front of 2-4 students and the caption: THANK YOU FOR BEING OUR PARTNER IN THE (NAME OF SCHOOL) FAITH COMMUNITY!

Now is the time to re-think, which leads us to the second piece of this article: articulating your vision. Not only is “Back to School Night” a wonderful time to articulate the vision for the future of your school, but there are many opportunities with the school year beginning. New meetings with faculty and staff, meetings with student leaders and the entire student body, meetings with parent leaders, with boards, the first PTA meetings, the first parish council meeting (if applicable), your welcome letter home, and the list goes on.

Your vision – what is it? What are your plans for this year? For next year? For 3-5 years from now? What is exciting about your school? What do you want to brag about? What do you want to let people know that you are so proud of?

We hear the word vision all of the time, but what does it mean? And, why is it so important? Great questions, so let’s spend a moment on these two.

First, vision is when we stand at the top of the mountain, look out into the distance and see all the things we would like to have happen over the next 1-3-5+ years at our Catholic school and/or parish. These are things that are attainable; these are items that grow out of planning and visioning sessions; these are goals that are measurable and achievable, and they excite you and they excite others. They could be items concerning the curriculum, or your service program or your facilities, or your personnel, or your endowment, or one of your departments, or a new building renovation or addition, or your community outreach, or your Catholic identity, or your collaborative relationships with hospitals, universities, and/or businesses. Your vision distinguishes you; it makes you unique.

Now is the time to articulate your vision – in these meetings and get-togethers that start a new school year, in your letters and correspondence home, and on your website — plus other venues.

Hosting a remarkable “Back to School Night” and Articulating Your Vision: Two opportunities of which you really should take advantage.

ISPD welcomes you back to an exciting time with this new school year!

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