When I went to my first Open House as a parent, my oldest, Nolan, was in kindergarten, I thought that it was going to be a chance to meet the teacher and learn about what Nolan would be learning that year. I was okay with that because I was curious about the school, the teacher, and the curriculum. In reality, the Open House was a chance to sign-up for the Parent/Teacher Conferences, to sign-up for what to bring in for the holiday parties, and to get a collection of grab-and-go handouts that told us about the PTA. We were encouraged to walk around the room, but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to see. Yup, there are books over there. I see the cubbies over there. That's where Nolan sits. Gotcha. In other words, this was a chance for the teacher to get the logistical items taken care of.
Four years later when Oliver was in kindergarten, Lilia was in second grade, and Nolan was in fourth grade, I knew what to expect and I needed a strategy. As working parents, I knew my kids were going to have to get on the bus by themselves with the party things we signed up for so we needed to get to Open House early enough to sign up for the napkins (if we were lucky) or plates; we could NOT get the juice or cupcakes-how could the kids carry those? As working parents, I knew we needed to get there early enough to have the first crack at the sign-up times for Parent/Teacher Conferences; we could NOT get the middle-of-the-day times-how could we leave work? Here was my game plan...Nolan needed to go on his own to his classroom to sign-up for the napkins and then Howard and I would have to divide and conquer Oliver and Lilia's rooms. It was a race. I did not care about where the books were. I didn't have time to look at the reading nook in the corner. Small talk in the hallway with the other parents was not possible unless and until we completed the sign-up circuit. In other words, this wasn't so much of a chance to get to know the teachers, the classroom, or the school--it was an obstacle course.
When Nolan started middle school, I was shocked that the Open House wasn't until the second week of October. It seemed so late in the year. I wasn't sure what to expect but this time it was like what I thought his kindergarten Open House would be. I followed his schedule and the parents walked the halls like middle school students on the first day who don't know where their classes are. It was helpful though to hear from his teachers what the expectations were. It was a good learning experience for me. Since it was already over a month into the school year, the teachers knew the students and would ask, "Whose parent are you?" When I said, "Nolan Lyon's" they knew who he was. The same process was repeated for seventh grade. Even though I went to the school for Open House and even though I completed all of the "Tell me about your child" forms that came home, I felt
like anytime I heard from the teachers about Nolan it was because I reached out to them. In other words, this wasn't a chance to create relationships, it was just a chance to check a box.
For eighth-grade Open House was the same process but it was a different experience. Nolan is extremely smart. I'm not saying that as his mom, I'm saying this objectively. As well, Nolan has ADHD and even though he was medicated, he was still impulsive, active, and disorganized (please note: I have Nolan's consent to share this information). The challenge was that for most of his time in school, Nolan's behaviors were more apparent to his teachers than his intelligence. I had to reach out to his teachers in sixth and seventh grades to ask them why they didn't reach out to me when Nolan slipped from being a 90s student to being an 80s student. I had to reach out to his seventh-grade math teacher to advocate that Nolan be in advanced math because he wasn't placed in the course despite getting the highest
scores on the NYS Math Assessments every year. At the end of seventh grade, I had to advocate for him to be in Earth Science for eighth grade (fast forward to his junior year when he's taking both Physics and AP Chemistry-neither of which are required). But at the eighth-grade Open House, things were different.
"Whose mom are you?"
"Oh! Nolan sits there. He's great!"
"I can't tell if you're being sarcastic."
"Huh? No. He's great. He’s a great participant and has a great personality. I love him."
This happened again and again. Teacher after teacher. It was such a different reception. It wasn't that I needed to sign-up for the napkins like I had to in the elementary schools. It wasn't that I was just being told to check the parent portal for grades and this is the syllabus--as the teachers told me in sixth and seventh grades. I was so struck by the sincere appreciation for Nolan and recognition of his capabilities that I literally cried on the way home. When I got home I told him how his teachers all told me how much they like having him in class. I cried telling him. I'm getting a lump in my throat as I'm writing this.
When thinking about the number of hours kids spend in school daily, it is often more than what they do at home while they are awake. The people in the school from the teachers to the aides, from the maintenance folks to the administrators, from the front office staff to the nurse's office all matter. This is why Open House is a chance for parents to get to know the school, the teachers, and the curriculum. Parents get to learn about expectations regarding behaviors and how to communicate with the school. Parents also get to learn about the people in the school and how they see our children. So, when thinking about what Open House should be ideally, I like to think of it as a chance to make a house feel like home.
P.S. My Catch of the Week is the book Soundtracks by Jon Acuff. Below is a little blurb about the book from Amazon. If you're an audiobook fan, I strongly recommend listening to it because Acuff reads it and he's quite funny. Even if you're not an audiobook listener, this book is worth it (really, I'm a fan of all of his books). Soundtracks is about the ideas we tell ourselves on repeat and how this can lead to self-sabotage, overthinking, and inventing problems where there don't need to be any. One of the tips Acuff offers when overthinking is to ask yourself:
Is what I'm telling myself true?
If what I'm telling myself kind?
Is what I'm telling myself helpful?
If you can't answer YES to all three of these questions, then you need to change what you're telling yourself. So good, right?
Overthinking isn't a personality trait. It's the sneakiest form of fear.
It steals time, creativity, and goals. It's the most expensive, least productive thing companies invest in without even knowing it. And it's an epidemic. When New York Times bestselling author Jon Acuff changed his life by transforming his overthinking, he wondered if other people might benefit from what he discovered. He commissioned a research study to ask 10,000 people if they struggle with overthinking too, and 99.5 percent said, "Yes!"
The good news is that in Soundtracks, Acuff offers a proven plan to change overthinking from a super problem into a superpower.
When we don't control our thoughts, our thoughts control us. If our days are full of broken soundtracks, thoughts are our worst enemy, holding us back from the things we really want. But the solution to overthinking isn't to stop thinking. The solution is running our brains with better soundtracks. Once we learn how to choose our soundtracks, thoughts become our best friend, propelling us toward our goals.
If you want to tap into the surprising power of overthinking and give your dreams more time and creativity, learn how to DJ the soundtracks that define you. If you can worry, you can wonder. If you can doubt, you can dominate. If you can spin, you can soar.