If you're looking to develop a parent newsletter at your school -- or if you're looking to improve the value of, and response to, your current newsletter -- be sure to read this advice from Education World's "Principal Files" team of experienced newsletter writers.
"Just do it!"
Those words might be most recognizable as a Nike slogan, but they are also Brian Hazeltine's simple and straightforward advice about creating a school-to-home newsletter. "Home-school communication is vital," said Hazeltine, principal at Airdrie Koinonia Christian School in Airdrie, Alberta (Canada). "Maybe everyone won't read your newsletter, but many parents will. A newsletter is a great way to help build your relationship with the home and assist parents with practical ideas."
Hazeltine was one of more than a dozen principals Education World talked with recently. All of them had advice to offer for principals who want to start a newsletter -- or to improve the one they currently send out.
Click to view a list of the principals who contributed to this article.STEALING IS NOT A CRIME
Principal Les Potter started off the conversation by suggesting that principals can learn a great deal by stealing.
Stealing ideas from newsletters produced by other principals, that is.
Any principal can get some great ideas by simply by asking colleagues in their district, or neighboring districts, to share their newsletters, said Potter. Principals who are taking college courses or who are active members of principal associations can set up an informal newsletter sharing with other principals too.
Whatever approach you might use, "steal the ideas you like, the ideas that might help you meet the needs of your school or community," said Potter, who is principal at Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida.
Want to begin "stealing" ideas right now? As a starting point, you might check out school newsletters that are available online. We found a bunch of current newsletters online. See the sidebar for links to those newsletters.
If students are old enough, have them write some of the articles in your newsletter, added Potter. "They can write features about teachers, sports articles, and much more."
Principal Deepi Kang-Weisz echoed Potter's sentiments: Gather sample newsletters from others and use them as models from which to borrow, she said. Kang-Weisz also recommended keeping articles short and trying different layouts. She uses a Microsoft Publisher template, which she has adapted to suit her needs, to create The Edenrose Editor, the parent newsletter at Edenrose Public School in Mississauga, Ontario (Canada).
NEWSLETTERS BENEFIT FROM PRE-PLANNING
When we asked Tim Messick for his advice about newsletters, he didn't need to think for long. "Think ahead of a plan for your newsletter. How often do you want to communicate? What will draw parents to read your newsletter? Then set aside time each week to dedicate to the constructing it."
Messick, principal at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina, also advised doing a parent survey to see if the work that you will need to commit to this endeavor is needed or wanted. "Then take a good look at the other communication that is going out of your school to see if there is a way to consolidate all that goes home and to maximize readership," he said.
"Get others involved," added Messick "Make communication a shared responsibility."
Karen Mink, principal at O.C. Allen School in Aurora, Illinois, also advised planning ahead. Creating a year-long map of content to be included in newsletters can help a great deal when a principal is crunched for time and up against a deadline. "With a plan in place, you won't end up kicking yourself for forgetting something important," said Mink.
"A newsletter is a huge undertaking," added Brenda Hedden, principal at the Park City (Utah) Learning Center. "It is easy to let the newsletter fall by the wayside when we are buried in other duties. Planning ahead to know how articles will be collected, who will put together the newsletter, and the timelines, will be a big help."
"Be sure to share your newsletter with the district office personnel and Board members so they are kept up to date about the exciting things happening in your school," added Hedden.
Addie Gaines, principal at Kirbyville (Missouri) Elementary School, is another planner. "Thinking through the purpose of a newsletter is essential," she said. "Is it for the purpose of providing parenting info? Is it for PR? Is it to promote school activities? To increase parent involvement? Maybe it is for all of those purposes. Then gear your content toward your goals."
Principal Ken Rogers agreed: "Figure out what your parents need to know about you and your approach to leadership and education." That, said Rogers, is at the heart of developing a successful newsletter.
"I try to be myself, and be natural -- to let my personality show through," added Rogers, who is the middle school principal at The Wellington School in Columbus, Ohio. "My parents know me well, as much from my articles as they do from conversations with me. My newsletter is an opportunity to share my thoughts, expectations, and core values. It can be used as a tool to reassure parents that the school and I know what we are doing."
If you're not a good writer, that's no excuse for not doing a newsletter, added Rogers. "Get those on your staff who are naturally good writers to help you with your style if it is a little stiff. Let your artistic and technology folks help too if those areas aren't your forte."
CREATE A SCHEDULE -- AND STICK TO IT
Publishing on a schedule is important to Marguerite McNeely, principal at Hayden R. Lawrence Middle School, a grade 4-5 school in Deville, Louisiana. "If you are going to commit to a weekly newsletter like I did, it is important to do it every week," McNeely said. "A newsletter is a wonderful means of communication with parents. I have gotten many positive comments this year at my newly assigned school."
Sending the school newsletter home regularly is important, Addie Gaines agreed. "Our school has a system of 'Friday Folders.' All school correspondence goes home in those folders. Parents know that the newsletter will be in there every week."
Gaines also recommended saving all newsletters in files by school year. That way, you can access back issues at any time. Back issues can be very helpful when you're planning ahead next year, when you're stuck for content this year, or if you worry that you're leaving out something. A review of the newsletters from the same month the year before might reveal just the omission that's nagging at you.
CHOOSING SOFTWARE ISN'T HARD
The software used to produce your newsletter can be another key element of its success, said Debi Veranth, principal at Bryant Elementary School in Tampa, Florida. "Be sure to coordinate your software," she advised. "If everybody is using the same software and submitting newsletter content in the same format, that will cut down the work for the person responsible for putting it all together."
And be sure to turn on your spell-checker, added Veranth.
Or, as principal Ken Rogers, put it in his written response to our "Principal Files" conversation: Have good prufreeders.
Addie Gaines echoed Veranth and Rogers. "Design a template so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time," she said. "And be sure to have someone that you trust proofread, proofread, proofread. Remember, that newsletter is your ambassador for the school, so you want it to be a good representative. It can be positive, powerful PR!"
Gaines also recommended using an easy-to-read font like Century Gothic, Arial, or Comic Sans. "I like Century Gothic and Comic Sans because those fonts form all of the letters 'correctly' -- just the way we teach our elementary pupils to write them. That aids readability, especially if you have parents who may not be advanced readers."
Finally, Gaines suggested purposely keeping the readability level of your newsletter down about 5th-grade level. "That way, you will reach most of your parents," she said, adding, "Use 'educanese' sparingly, and define words you use in 'regular English' if you are trying to explain a concept to parents. I have had some parents tell me that they like my newsletter better than those they had received at other schools because it isn't written with words they don't understand."
Dr. Layne Hunt, principal at Monroe (Michigan) High School, agreed that it is essential that "your newsletter's message speaks to the reader rather than at the reader."
"Far too often educators forget that they have the responsibility to communicate effectively to their audience," said Hunt. "Parents are already aware that we have been to college and we are educated. It doesn't impress them if they need a dictionary and thesaurus to understand what we have written. Quite frankly, writing in that way is insulting, condescending, and disrespectful."
THE WEB EXTENDS YOUR NEWSLETTER'S REACH
If you print your newsletter, print it on colored paper, suggested principal Andrew Torris. "Always print your newsletter on the same color paper. That way, parents will spot it in a backpack," he said.
Torris sends home one copy of his school's newsletter with the youngest child in each family. "We have found that to be the most effective way to get the message home," said Torris, whose school, Yanbu Interational School in Saudi Arabia, is a K-12 school. "Those middle school and high school kids seem to 'forget' about handing almost anything to mom and dad. Distributing the newsletter to one sibling saves us about $400 dollars a year on paper."
Torris has also begun to publish his school's newsletter on the Web and send it via email. "I've established an email list and I convert each newsletter issue to PDF format and email it to families and community leaders in full living color," he said. "In many cases, the newsletter lands in parents' work email boxes. I know that many of those get printed and posted on work bulletin boards.
"My newsletters go to parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all over the world. People move away and still want the newsletter, so now they can get it online. I get emails from past students and parents all the time as a result of the newsletter being online."
Phil Shaman, principal at Neepawa Collegiate Institute, a grade 7-12 school in Neepawa, Manitoba (Canada), also recommended posting newsletters online. "Make the newsletter as appealing as possible, then post it online and invite community members and alumni to sign up to receive it electronically."
Brian Hazletine posts online too. "Make your best articles permanently available on your Web site, and post your newsletter as often as it comes out," he said.
Are you not publishing a newsletter because of the costs of printing it or mailing it? Emailing and posting your newsletter online can be a great way to save money, added principal Les Potter.
Did you see the other article we posted today? Don't miss
Is Your Parent Newsletter the Best It Can Be?
Education World's "Principal Files" principals agree that parent newsletters should be an essential part of every school leader's communication plan. They offer encouragement, ideas, and advice for those who want to start a newsletter or improve their current one.
Thank you to the 17 "Principal Files" principals who contributed to today's articles. Click to see a complete list of today's contributors. Then click to learn how you can join the "Principal Files" team or to view a complete archive of Principal Files articles.