7:45 am. Walking into the still darkened classroom, my eyes are immediately drawn to the ominous black metal panel bolted to the wall above my desk. Holding my breath, the theme music from Jaws seemingly playing from where I'm not quite sure, I quickly assess my teacher-parent communication skills with one glance. Victory! The flashing red beacon of doom — my voicemail light — is not blinking. It means my parents made it through the night, or perhaps even the weekend, without questions or concerns. They felt well-informed and they did not need me. Defeat is almost certainly mine, however, if the scarlet light taunts me with its steady rhythm. Most often it signifies the puzzled, bewildered or perplexed parent. I did not provide information they needed, and now I must pay. I will need to return their call, maybe get their voicemail, or talk to a two year old who answered the phone, and I may even have to call again.
Studies show that children do better in school when teachers keep parents informed and there is an open line of communication between home and school. If only the studies would tell us how to find the time to keep in touch and in tune with 25-30 different households. Over the years I have tried many different ways to keep parents informed of what is going on in our classroom and with their individual child, but I have kept only the methods that are most effective and efficient. Fortunately, today's technology makes communication easier than ever before.
When it comes to parent communication, my philosophy is over-inform. The easiest way to do this consistently throughout the year is by using a computerized, template-generated weekly newsletter. I had created time-consuming weekly newsletters in the past that, as the year went on became bi-monthly newsletters before progressing to feel-lucky-if-you-get-one-this-month newsletters. For the past several years however, I have used the same template to create a thorough informative newsletter in about 30 minutes a week.
How to Create and Use a Newsletter Template:
- Find a ready-made template or make your own. There are many newsletter templates readily available that you can customize to your particular classroom. Both Microsoft Publisher® and PrintShop® have a wide selection geared toward educational use and I have used both. If you prefer to make your own, you can use any word processing program. My newsletter has four main parts: a letter to parents, a curriculum update, an information-at-a-glance section and a second half-page for parent communication and feedback.
- Once you have a page divided into sections, decide on your permanent headings and subtitles. Never having to change these saves a great deal of time.
- Down the left margin of the paper, I give information at a glance. This section always includes a Coming Up calendar where I list every important classroom/school date and event for the next month. Also included in this margin are Key Words of the Week, Happy Birthday to, Star of the Week, and a list of students responsible for current events in the upcoming week. Use clip art to enhance each section, such as a calendar, birthday cake, dictionary, and newspaper.
- The largest section is a letter to the parents. I tell a little about our week in narrative form then provide very detailed information on anything they may have questions about such as projects, field trips, special events, or volunteer opportunities. I also include a digital picture in this section of the students working on some part of our curriculum. The best part of the picture is that it is easily skipped in weeks when there is a large amount of information to pass on, and on those weeks when I don't have a great deal to say, the picture just seems to become very, very large.
- The bottom of each newsletter is a Curriculum Update. I provide information about what students did the past week in all areas of the curriculum and what we will be studying the following week. I also provide ideas for ways parents can help boost skill at home in this section.
- Attached to each newsletter is a half-sheet where I can write a personalized note to parents about their child and/or they can write comments back to me. I staple this to the newsletter instead of printing it on the back so parents can return it and still keep the important classroom information in the newsletter intact. Fortunately, these half-sheets almost always come back with only positive feedback which makes all of your efforts seem that much more rewarding.
Note: Because of the digital pictures and clip art, I usually print my newsletters at home in color. I always print in draft mode to save ink without diminishing the attractiveness.
Use your template-generated newsletters to give parents every detail they will ever need to know. It may take a little while to fine tune and perfect your template. However, in the long run, you'll save yourself a great deal of time and you will no longer need to fear the blinking red light of doom.