Brenda Power

Newsletters are like bulletin boards — they can trumpet some of the liveliest work of the year for a larger audience. They can also become the bane of a teacher's existence. But I've found that newsletters, like bulletin boards, are well worth the effort if you have an effective strategy for designing them. Brief, well-designed communications will be read by parents — there are few better vehicles for getting their attention. And in this technological age, there are many time-savers available to help all of us create newsletters in a fraction of the time it used to take.

Divide and Conquer

You may choose to create a newsletter just for the parents of your students, but collaboration with other classroom teachers can save time as well as enrich the final product. Consider writing a joint letter with colleagues teaching at the same grade level or, if your school is small, with the whole staff. Figure out what other teachers' strengths are, and divvy up the jobs accordingly. If one teacher on your staff is a computer whiz, she or he can be responsible for formatting. Another can compile the events of the week. Still another can ferret out inspirational quotes for reprinting from newspapers and magazines about teaching, parenting, and kids' achievements. If one teacher is assigned the most intensive, challenging task of writing feature articles, consider bartering to free up his or her time to accomplish this. In exchange for the extra work, a colleague can volunteer to take over his or her lunch or recess duties during the week.

Desktop Publish

At a small cost, purchasing some clip art and graphic materials can add pizzazz to your newsletters. Indeed, a number of school-focused paper and electronic clip art collections are available, such as ClickArt Express Education (The Learning Company). In addition, most multipurpose word-processing programs, such as Microsoft Word (Microsoft), include at least a small amount of school-related icons such as pencils and apples. You can find a number of clip art collections for free on the Internet by doing a keyword search, simply using the term "clip art." Student-produced artwork (or sketches created by the school art teacher) can also add a personal and lively quality to your publication.

Standardize Features

Decide individually or with colleagues what features you want to appear in every newsletter. For example, you may wish to have:

  • A roundup of projects and special activities in each classroom;
  • Announcements of class and school events;
  • Quick summaries of recent research on schooling and parenting;
  • A "Question of the Week" that families can answer and send back with their child or through e-mail. Parents' answers to the question may be published in the next edition;
  • A "Learning Activity of the Week" for parents to complete with their children;
  • A cartoon or piece of clip art;
  • A "Web Site of the Week" that parents may enjoy exploring along with their children;
  • An educational message from a "special guest" (varying from week to week, guests might include custodial staff, administrators, lunch workers, bus drivers, and school volunteers).
  • Very short quotations from published sources can be legally used in your newsletters as long as the source is cited. For longer quotations, permission from the owner of the copyright may be necessary.ÂÂÂ Check with your school's legal counsel for further guidance.
Less Is More

It is better to send a short newsletter home on the same day of the week or month than to have a larger periodical that varies in quality or is published on a haphazard schedule. Parents (particularly those who are not avid readers) are more likely to read something that is brief and informative than they are to wade through pages of features and examples of student work. Try to keep your newsletter to one or two pages. You may choose to save paper by printing on both sides of a single sheet.

Use the Web

A number of Web sites have myriad material that you can download for your newsletters. These sites might offer information on topics your class is studying, child safety tips, bulletin boards, and forums for parent discussions, or current events of interest to parents. The sites can be bookmarked and referred to when you're struggling to find material to fill your newsletter. For parents who are especially computer literate, you might also include in your newsletter an annotated list of such sites. Make sure you report information about when school and public libraries and school computer labs are available for use by parents who don't have Internet access at home.

Enlist Volunteers

Parents who can't volunteer during the day might be able to do the desktop publishing, writing, or layout at night. If you put out a call for assistance late in the summer, you may be surprised at the expertise available. During the school year, computer-savvy students at the upper grade levels could also assist you. Ask colleagues who teach the upper grades or work at the high school, especially in computer labs, if they know conscientious students who would enjoy volunteering. Your own students may also prove to be valuable contributors.

While producing a newsletter does take work, I think you'll find, as I have, that it will become an integral part of your routine. Parents — especially those who are unable to attend school functions — will both appreciate and rely on consistent, informative, and reassuring messages from the classroom. When we respect parents as partners in their children's learning, the lines of communication between home and school are strengthened, and we as teachers are not quite so alone in our efforts to educate children.