Creating the School Newsletter Parents Ask For -- and Share!

Educators make a difference every day, but mainstream media often focus on the negative stories. Subtle but hopeful stories—such as a teacher’s conversion to a paperless digital learning environment—go unseen and unheard.
— Eric Sheninger. "Transforming Your School with Digital Communication". ASCD Educational Leadership | April 2015. Vol 72. Number 7.

All schools print or publish a school newsletter. It's become a traditional part of the school landscape. After a complete overhaul, we found the "right" formula for our school newsletter. When parents began asking for a copy of the newsletter and requesting permission to share them with parents from other schools we knew that we had successfully met their needs.

School newsletters are typically produced with a "school-to-home" lens. The content is often a delivery of "to do" information for parents, and less a celebration of what makes your school special. Does your school newsletter provide parents with a clear picture of your school identity?  Let's take a fresh look at the purpose of the school newsletter. 

Defining Your Purpose: "Is your newsletter a spark to 2-way communication?"
When we looked at the "Why" behind creating our school's parent newsletter, the primary objective became clear. More than pushing out information, we wanted to more fully engage our families. We would define success as an increased 2-way communication rate. With this focus, it immediately became apparent that we needed to rethink our newsletter.

Quick Tip: Complete communication loops by providing readers with stories about the outcomes of projects. Create a history of success.

Planning, Design, and Content: A fresh friendly design consistent with our school image and meaningful content. We developed a communications plan that was both holistic and comprehensive.

The monthly newsletter was replaced with a weekly email to improve the timeliness of information sent to parents. The choice of email as the delivery method increased relevancy, the ease of publication and reduction of staff time needed for production.

The newsletter became a quarterly publication that combined information important for parents to know about in the upcoming quarter and a celebration of our successes from the preceding one.

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A clean, well-organized layout that makes it easy for readers. It's vital to make your content reader-friendly with the consistent use of standard fonts, adding images and icons to direct readers' attention, and limiting text to short paragraphs.

The most impactful changes were to consciously replace all jargon and incorporating a warmer tone to encourage contact so that readers would feel comfortable developing a personal relationship with our school.

Design for 2-Way Communication. Parents liked seeing replies to their questions, and those asked by other parents. Including articles that answered our parents most frequently asked questions helped them to feel heard and created a stronger sense of community.

Make Acquiring Content Easy
One of the most frequently expressed challenge for schools, and the person responsible for creating the newsletter is collecting content. Our solution was to invite everyone on campus -- office staff, custodians, security, teachers, counselors, librarian, etc. -- to send in a plain text email message anything they wanted to have included in the newsletter. They were given the publication date and the assurance that if they missed the deadline that their information would still be published in our email "bulletin" to parents. A key component to the success of obtaining faculty and staff contributions was providing them with the "why" motivation for including their information. We let them know that we wanted to help them either resolve recurring concerns and answer the most frequently asked questions from parents.

It's a Process
Creating a distinctive newsletter that reflects your school's identity is a process. Plan for changes and refinements over a school year. It's a collaborative process that begins with empathy and leads you to a better understanding of your students' families.


Recommended Reading: For setting the vision for a school (or district) and evaluating the best path forward, read Tom Murray's blog post "The Waze of Great Leadership".