Every week it comes—a plethora of papers and school communications from my children’s schools. They come home via colorful backpacks, fabulous apps, and informative e-mails. My personal favorite delivery method is the reminder pinned to my child’s sleeve!
As a parent in a busy family, one of my greatest struggles is getting the messages sent from schools. My children attend high school, junior high, elementary, and preschool, and staying au courant in our home is no small feat. So, if you can get my attention, you’re really doing something right.
First, I am proud to say I am a fan of the oft-underrated mode of communication called newsletters.
I think newsletters possess a fabulous potential for rapidly connecting your school to the multitude of homes your students return to each day. This school-to-home connection is immeasurable when considering your students’ individual needs.
However, newsletters and I have a love-hate relationship. I either really love them, or I completely ignore them. If you want me (a typical busy parent) to take time to read your newsletter, you need to make it worth my while.
Ultimately, it’s all about content, design, and format. Here is a compiled list of best practices for any school newsletter from a busy parent’s perspective.
School Newsletter Tips
- Have a purpose. What is the purpose of your newsletter? Ask yourself often, am I accomplishing the goals I had when the newsletter first started? Ask your readers for feedback. What are they looking to gain by reading your newsletter? Does your school newsletter engage its readers? Does it inform in a creative, entertaining way?
- Content is still king. You may get many to read your first new school newsletter; however, if you want to hook them from edition to edition, you must constantly fill it with valuable information. As you consider what this type of information might be, think about your school mission and goals. Using this powerful tool helps you publish supportive evidence of the school’s values and all the exciting things happening!
- Create enticing subject lines to increase readability. If sending your school newsletter via e-mail, mix up the subject line. I receive an e-mail newsletter every week with the same subject line. At first, I opened it, but then I gradually started skipping over it. Even though the content probably changes, the stale subject line makes me think it will be just the same old news. Keep it fresh!
- Consider your audience. It might not just be parents who read your newsletter. When considering your audience, remember the students. One lesson I learned as a PTO president is that McDonald’s has a great marketing plan. Even if most parents don’t want to eat there, they go. Why? They go because the children are asking for it! McDonald’s doesn’t just reach out to parents in their marketing; they market directly to children. I’m not sure any school marketing plan can be truly successful unless it includes its students as part of the audience the school is striving to reach. If you reach the children, they will market for you too!
- Give them the full picture. Since your students’ families do not participate in all school events, bring the school events to them by sharing some highlights from a variety of school activities—the every day as well as unique. Why does this matter? As you share these highlights, you bring the activity to the students’ families in story form. Sometimes parents grapple with understanding the full scope of what their children experience at school from the child’s perspective. One of your newsletter goals should be to increase readership as well as include parents more in the educational process. It helps parents to have a chance to be like “flies on the wall.” Ask yourself, “How can I better, more accurately share the perspective of the positive and necessary school experiences with students’ families?”
- Be personal. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings with your school community. It’s not likely you have the chance to share all of your thoughts with those in your school community through conversations alone. When you see something good going on at your school, share it! Share it often! As you add your enthusiasm to your message, families will notice.
- Write it well. If you want to draw your audience in, try hard to avoid using passive voice. You engage your audience by using active sentences. For example, check out the difference between the following sentences:
a. The solar system was explained on Wednesday, and on Thursday, models of the planets were made.
b. Ask your children to share interesting facts they learned about the solar system! On Thursday, students created their own solar system models. Watch for them!
Does one phrase engage you more than the other? While both sentences contain important information, the second sentence is engaging, inviting. There is an underlying message of reader inclusion, an invitation from the educator to the parent. This should be an important aspect of any school communication. Even if writing does not intimidate you, consider including The Elements of Style, aka “the little book” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, in your personal library. The book contains simple and direct writing tips and continues to earn credibility through the years.
- Keep it brief. Newsletters should look more like an infographic than a novella. Busy parents don’t have time to read lengthy newsletters. Make it look good, simplify messages, and provide a link to the school website where they can get more information. Rather than a wordy page explanation of the things you are talking about in your classroom, consider showing them. White space is critical.
- Share the good around you. Everyone appreciates sincere recognition for their efforts. Newsletters can be a great place to communicate these feelings towards faculty, students, school staff, and their families. When your students and faculty achieve certain milestones, post their pictures prominently in the letter. Don’t limit the achievements to one certain category. You may feel strongly about how important academics or sports are, but keep your horizons open. Recognize all students!
- Don’t worry about repeating yourself. If you share information in a variety of ways, you are increasing your audience. Don’t just copy and paste your message, however; as you share repeated information you might consider dressing your message up in different ways based on the means of communication.
- Be creative! Engage your audience by formatting your newsletter with an attractive visual approach. Imagery is key to getting your readers’ attention! What images could you use to enhance your message? What if you were to use GIFs and emojis to catch parents and students’ attention in places they don’t expect it—like a newsletter? Use color! It’s economic these days, especially if you are sending your newsletter via e-mail. Imagery adds depth to the message you are sending.
- Pass the mic! Allow others to share their thoughts. Think about ways to open your newsletter to include the voices of your school community. Involve varied voices—include students. My high school newspaper had a section with a question answered by random students in the school—topics ranged from current events to holidays or getting-to-know-you questions. Consider implementing something small into your form that you can easily add that personalizes each newsletter and makes people look forward to the next edition.
- Think mobile. Many folk open e-mails on their phones these days. What happens when they open your newsletter from their phones? How does it appear? How can you ensure that your newsletter is mobile-friendly? One easy way to make your newsletter mobile-friendly is by driving traffic to your website. A school district in Ridgefield, Connecticut, sends out its monthly newsletter with story snippets that link back to the news page of their website for full articles.
Newsletters strengthen or weaken your school brand and can be a valuable public relations tool. As an effective form of school storytelling, use newsletters to publish all that is good and necessary. I’m confident that making the minimal extra effort to follow these tips will go a long way toward increased readability of your newsletters, which will translate into a well-informed and active school community.
Emily Boyle, School Content Specialist