Here’s the family conversation happening in thousands of homes tonight over pot roast:
Mom: “Melissa, how was school?”
Mom: “What did you learn?”
Fortunately, something as simple as a classroom newsletter can dispel parents’ impression that their children spend school time trapped in an academic tundra. And that impression is consequential: Multiple studies associate positive parent attitudes about school with increased academic performance. We also know that school-home communication promotes parent involvement in children’s education, leading to reduced behavior issues, enhanced academic performance, better graduation rates, and improved literacy among diverse learners.
Launching an Effective Newsletter
To enhance teacher-parent relationships, your newsletter should thematically and aesthetically represent you without being an unwieldy management job.
1. Determine your goals. Newsletters can be used to increase parent involvement, solicit materials and resources, reinforce student skills at home, and offer tips for supporting the whole child’s health, emotions, and academic achievement. Being intentional with your goals will help you focus your newsletter and provide more value to readers.
You should also consider the emotions you want to arouse in your readers—curiosity, inspiration, excitement, appreciation, or pride—to strike the right tone.
2. Identify content headings. Readers will be able to navigate more readily if they can easily scan the topics you include. Some ideas for content headings: Classroom Highlights, Donors Choose Wish List, Upcoming Events, What We’re Reading, Problems We’re Solving, Polls, Recommended Books, Homework Expectations, Behaviors We’re Working On, Dinner Challenge Questions, Thanks to..., Resources (links), Fun Photos, Exemplary Student Work, Volunteer Sign Up, and Student Quotes.
Guardians and students can provide insights about what content they would appreciate receiving.
3. Plan ways to engage your readers. Hook your readers by incorporating lateral thinking puzzles, with the answers provided in the next issue. Include a QR code that links to an uploaded video of field trip highlights.
Try providing a link to a Google Form that collects responses to the following prompt: “I am proud that [student name] _____.” Display the encouraging responses on a classroom bulletin board.
Whenever you use a student’s name in your publication, use a distinctive font to encourage parents and kids to scan for names they recognize.
Because guardians love receiving concrete tips for helping their children, feature students’ writing about academic challenges that they’ve overcome or summarize new education research from sources like Research Digest, Daniel Willingham, and PsyBlog.
Celebrate themes. At ProTeacher.net, one teacher writes, “When I do a big unit on spiders for the month of October, I title my newsletter ‘Spider Spectacular!’”
I give a prize to the student team that emails me the most creative group photo or most studious picture. They never fail to make for amusing newsletter images.
The monthly newsletter that I cocreated with all my secondary Ojibwa classes, called “Earth Tones,” was printed on yellow paper and featured learners’ doodles, poems, and shout-outs. Parents said they appreciated seeing students’ creations and liked how Ojibwa phrases were sprinkled throughout.
While online tools can translate your newsletter into different languages for non-English-speaking parents, they often scramble idioms and other content, writes researcher Deborah Ann Jenson. For early grades, Jenson recommends reading the newsletter together as a class so that learners can retell the contents to guardians who have a limited understanding of English. Make audiotapes and videotapes to reach the 14 percent of U.S. adults who are illiterate. First-grade teacher Jodi Southard’s newsletter features a QR code linked to a recording of her reading the publication aloud.
All my class newsletters concluded with a G-rated joke or riddle. Over time, I learned to use humor carefully because of research demonstrating that 56 percent of email readers fail to interpret humor as it was intended.
4. Determine how often the newsletter will be sent out. Don’t be too ambitious. Start by publishing once or twice a semester, and only increase that amount if you have enough time to maintain quality.
5. Create or use a newsletter template. Teachers Pay Teachers offers many editable newsletter templates suitable for different grades. Dozens more are available on Canva. MailChimp features a number of templates for e-newsletters and makes it easy to add new subscribers and schedule distribution. But be forewarned: I’ve spent hours trying to make content fit into complex designs.
If starting a class newsletter feels daunting, simplify the content and design. A title and two columns in Microsoft Word is sufficient design. And the publication needn’t be longer than a postcard.
Share the work with students. You don’t even have to use the traditional newsletter format. Kids enjoy contributing to a class web page or blog.
Collaborating with other teachers to create a grade-level bulletin can save time. And I promise, at least one parent will happily proofread the newsletter before you send it off.