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School Orientation Nights: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

School Orientation Nights - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 

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Most schools have some sort of an orientation process to introduce parents to the school and the people who will be working with their kids. You can usually get a pretty good feel for tenor and quality of your school by noticing what sorts of things are emphasized during these orientations. Here, for example, are two versions of possible introductory remarks that might be made on a typical Orientation night. 

Brookdale High:

I hope you all had a good summer, and are now ready to have your children get back to the books.

We were thrilled that our students recorded among the city’s highest average test scores on final exams last year and we are looking forward to doing even better this year.

Your children should have all been assigned a homeroom by now and should also have been given timetables showing their various classes. If you have any questions about your child’s schedule, please contact a counsellor.

Please be sure to remind your sons and daughters that it is important that they check into their homerooms each morning, so they can confirm their attendance. 

Before I finish, I would like to remind you that it is the responsibility of parents and  students alike to familiarize yourselves with the school’s code of conduct, as well as the guidelines regarding the use of school facilities and equipment which are posted on the school website.

If you ever have any questions or concerns please know that my door is always open  and you can drop by anytime for a chat.

Hilltop Collegiate:

 As this is the first day of a brand new year, I want to say a few words to you about what we hope to accomplish together.

Our purpose at Hilltop Collegiate is to help equip and inspire students to cultivate their humanity [or some such other guiding purpose]. That sounds like a pretty ambitious goal – and it is. Let me try to explain what this means in terms of some of  the things your sons and daughters will actually be doing through the year.

  • It means that they will get a thorough grounding in core skills like basic mathematics, grammar and sentence structure, expository writing, the fundamentals of rhetoric, reading for comprehension, and an introduction to reasoning. 

  • But it also means that they will be introduced to what we like to call “the great conversations of human inquiry” – to help them understand how the ideas they will explore fit into the big story of civilization.

  • It means that we will give them opportunities to pursue their own questions and projects, with a view to helping them discover and develop their particular interests, abilities, and passions. 

  • It means that they will have experiences that take them out of their own social and cultural milieu so they can begin to see things from a different perspective. 

  • It means that they will have the chance to make a positive contribution to the community that live in. 

In short, we expect their time here to be much more than just a way station enroute to college or a job. We hope, instead, that their time with us will make a lasting impact on the rest of their lives. 

But in order for any of that to happen, we need the support and commitment of parents to help us give your children an education that is worthy of their time. The road ahead will not be straight and narrow. There will be diversions, mistakes and miscues along the way. When those occur, we would ask only that you come and see us and work through solutions in the context of our bigger, shared project. Working together we can do great things for our kids. 

Thanks for listening. We look forward to getting to know all of you better this year. 

What makes these presentations jarringly different is that the first is preoccupied with institutional compliance, while the second reveals the school’s core aspirations and explicitly invites parents to be a part of the process. Even though it is actions -- not words -- that ultimately determines a school’s effectiveness and credibility, what gets said at a Parent Orientation is at least one indication of what a school wants to accomplish. What cues will you receive at your Parent Orientation this fall?

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Dr. Ted Spear is the founding Principal of two independent schools in British Columbia, Canada. Using research on contemporary educational innovation, and drawing on 25 years of teaching and administrative experience in public and independent schools, his book on the future of grade school education is now available on Amazon.