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How to start a parent newsletter that bridges school and home

By Laura McClure on August 12, 2016 in TED-Ed Innovative Educators

Nola-Rae newsletter

Ask a kid how their day went at school and you may get a one-word answer: “Fine.” What’s a parent to do? For her TED-Ed Innovation Project, administrator Nola-Rae Cronan created a school newsletter template that’s designed to start more textured conversations at home.

Below are her notes on the project:

The goal of my project is to make parent communication easy for schools and families in three distinct areas: general school/grade topics, class/course specific material, and parent-focused advice.

The newsletters

I designed three newsletters — one in March for 8th grade, and two in May for 6th grade and 8th grade. I struggled to find a format that would be free and easy to work with, both of which I felt were needed to insure accessibility for any school.

The first newsletter was completed on Google Docs, which is a free and somewhat easy to format option. Unfortunately, the videos cannot play within the newsletter and the formatting becomes wonky on various devices/screens.

I continued looking for an alternative format and was introduced to Sway by Office while at EdCamp Detroit. Sway is easier to use than Google Docs and has unique features such as video playback, animation and easy updating. The May newsletters were both developed using Sway. Here’s the 8th grade newsletter and the 6th grade newsletter.

Let’s take a closer look at the 8th grade newsletter.

In the first section, I decided to address general grade specific concerns. I used this TED-Ed Lesson about sleep to drive home the importance of balance during the end of the year finals. This section can be used to communicate general parenting advice (sleep, eating, study strategies, etc.), general school updates (vacations, holidays, programs, etc.), and special concerns (social media issues, bullying, behavior).

In the second section, I focused on the course material covered. I asked teachers to suggest 3-5 topics that had been covered in class with in the last month. I then researched TED-Ed Lessons that would be a good fit (in the March newsletter I also included foreign language, and created the complete lesson in the target language). I decided to have the teachers give me topics vs having them look up TED-Ed Lessons, to reduce their workload in this project. In the future, it might be easier to have the faculty offer the newsletter author actual lesson titles to use, and/or create lessons for material not available. In this section, I encouraged parents to take a peek at what their kids were working on and to have conversations with their children about their understanding of the material. Within this section, each subject area was highlighted with a short description/explanation of the material and a TED-Ed Lesson.

The third and final section was designed just for parents. For this section, I chose a fun TED Talk about children lying to address the stereotype of “normal” adolescent behavior. This section can be related to parenting, or just a wonderful way to introduce parents to TED. It can also be a great way to encourage parents to have meaningful dialogue with one another in the discussion part of the TED-Ed Lesson or at a parent event at school.

Parent Feedback

I received 9 responses for the 8th grade newsletter with the following responses:
8/9 found the newsletter “helpful in understanding what your daughter is covering in class”
8/9 found the newsletter “easy to navigate”
8/9 responded ‘absolutely’ to “would you recommend this newsletter?”

When asked if there is “anything you would like to add?” I received the following:
“The videos provide variety and a different approach to conversation with our daughters. I see this as an excellent communication tool that can be used in multiple ways.”
“I would want to see more videos and get this newsletter on a regular basis as the girls are learning new concepts.”
“Great way to send information. Very easy to use and a fun experience!”

When asked how the newsletters could be improved, I received the following:
“These newsletters might be helpful if they were shorter and given more frequently during the school year.”
“Feature a teacher, so parents can become more acquainted.”
“I suggest you walk through an example of this at parent visiting day so that we have a greater awareness that this is available.”

Closing thoughts:

I really enjoyed making the project and the newsletters. I felt that the feedback, although a small sampling, was very positive. Additionally, working at a private school I am very conscious of the challenges some of our families might encounter. For some families, sending their student to our school might be a hardship financially, and the commitments we ask them to make to their students’ schooling can also be difficult. Asking parents to actively engage with topics and material they may have forgotten or may never have experienced could inadvertently widen the divide they feel to the school. This can also be true for public school families, or for any family. My hope is that schools will use my newsletter template to strengthen connections between parents, teachers, and students — and that families will find it to be a meaningful way to deepen dinner time conversations about school.

This article is part of the TED-Ed Innovation Project series, which highlights 25+ TED-Ed Innovation Projects designed by educators, for educators, with the support and guidance of the TED-Ed Innovative Educator program. You are welcome to share, duplicate and modify projects under this Creative Commons license to meet the needs of students and teachers.

Tags: Newsletter, Parenting, Parents, School, Student, TED-Ed Innovation Projects, Thinking & Learning