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Pawlas on PR for Principals...

Newsletters:
An Essential Tool
For Every Principal


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The public's view of schools is based on many factors: the quality of the teaching, the achievement of the students, the physical condition of the schools, and the communication received from schools. I learned early in my administrative career that regular, informative communication from my office helped to build local support for my school. Not coincidentally, it was about that same time that I discovered the value of a principal's school-to-home (or, better yet, school-to-community) newsletter. My school newsletter became one of the cornerstone strategies of my overall communications plan. It was one of the most valuable tools I had for sharing information about my school with parents and others.

WHY A NEWSLETTER?

A newsletter can be an excellent tool in a principal's arsenal of tools because a newsletter can accomplish many things:

Newsletters inform. A newsletter is a great tool for sharing information about curriculum, staff organization, programs, policies, procedures, or services. For example, your newsletter might include

  • information about student and faculty accomplishments;
  • information about new school procedures, and reminders of important procedures such as those related to traffic concerns when dropping off and picking up students;
  • brief summaries of important PTO business;
  • personality sketches of teachers, secretaries, and other members of the school's family; and
  • your school's breakfast and lunch menus (remember to include a "subject to change" statement).

    [content block] Newsletters educate. Information that can help readers in their role in the educational process should be included too. Some possibilities include

  • tips to help parents be active participants in parent-teacher conferences (see last month's column, Getting the Most Out of Parent-Teacher Conferences);
  • an upbeat "thought for the day" or quote that might give inspiration to weary parents;
  • strategies to help parents get their children to focus on and complete homework assignments;
  • reasons why you will be sending newsletters on the days you have selected for the entire year;
  • how staff development programs or early release days better prepare teachers and what specific activities they participate in on those days; and
  • opportunities for parents and others to help at schools.

    Newsletters promote. Newsletters can be an excellent way to promote your school's best features and special events, to gain support for education, or to develop good human relations. For example, a school newsletter can include

  • a calendar template on which are recorded the dates of important events such as PTO meetings, sports events, school holidays, fundraisers
  • the benefits of new initiatives to develop appropriate student behavior in school and on buses; and
  • school activities, especially classroom activities.
  • GATHERING IDEAS

    Many principals, myself included, find that their daily visits to classrooms are one of the best methods for gathering newsworthy items. I used to jot notes about great stuff going on in classrooms on 3- x 5-inch cards. I know other principals who carry hand-held recorders and speak their notes, or who enter their notes into a personal data assistant (PDA).

    Many of us also encourage our teachers and other family members to share items that might be of interest to the school's population. It's a good idea to supply a form for that purpose, and then to encourage its use. That form might include spaces for staff to record the 5 Ws -- who, what, when, where, and why -- about their story idea. Newsletter story leads such as those can be stored in a pocket folder until they are appropriate for publication.

    DISTRIBUTING THE NEWS

    Most effective school newsletters are distributed on a monthly basis. In the elementary school, newsletters are usually sent home with the children. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days of the week to send newsletters home. That way, newsletters don't get lost in the shuffle. I've always found that, late in the week, teachers are sending home and communicating with parents about schoolwork done during the week; on Monday, parents are often responding to the work that was sent home.

    Many of us have each student take home a copy of the newsletter. I always encouraged parents with several children in the school to share extra copies of newsletters with neighbors who do not have children in the schools, with the pastor at church, or with members of community organizations to which they belong. Getting out the word in that way is a quick and easy way to build wider support for our school.

    Middle and high school principals often find it worth the money to mail newsletters rather than to send them home with students. Advertisements in their newsletters help to defray costs of printing and postage. Many principals share copies of the newsletters with real estate offices, beauty and barber shops, doctor and dentist offices, and other places that are visited regularly by people throughout the community.


    Brief Is Best!

    Three final pieces of advice, and I will keep them short:

  • Brief newsletters, usually no more than two pages printed on both sides, are better than long ones.
  • The more frequently a newsletter is published, the fresher the news is.
  • If the news package is smaller, there is also a better chance it will be read.

     

  • POSTING NEWSLETTERS ONLINE

    Many school principals are making newsletters available on their school Web sites. Newsletters are posted on the same day that paper copies are distributed. Past issues can be archived for easy retrieval. If parents' email addresses are known and kept on a listserv, those parents might prefer to receive the newsletter electronically.

    Posting newsletters online makes them available to anyone who has Internet access in the community -- and around the world. Many parents say that aunts, uncles, and grandparents who don't live in the area love being able to read about the school that their loved ones attend. Online newsletters provide information they can email or talk about with the children in their lives. Having newsletters online can also be a great way to build support for school programs. Grandparents often have time to write letters when support for school programs is needed, and they will buy tickets to events they can't even attend -- just because it gives them a good feeling to support the work of the school.

    NEXT TIME: Building Positive Relationships With the Media

    Article by George Pawlas
    Copyright Education World 2005

    Article last updated 07/26/2006



     

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