Parent Communication: From Print to Digital

Over the last couple of years I have helped numerous teachers set up blogs, wikis, and just plain old html pages to be used to communicate with parents.

As some point teachers always ask:

“So, I can just copy and paste my newsletter right here?”

You can, but you shouldn’t

Newsletters do not transfer well to the web. Well, as in the amount of information people expect and will pay attention to in digital form.

For example: Most parent newsletters are two pages long (or front and back). Parents will read a two page newsletter that comes home in the Friday folder, but they won’t scroll for two pages worth of information on a single web page.

You’ve seen those web pages….the ones that seem to go on forever and you know that feeling you get when you see those pages thinking to yourself, “I don’t have time to read all that!”

Starting a digital communication site for parents will also mean rethinking how you post information. Many teachers are finding blogs to be a great tool for creating such a site. Easy to use, easy to update, and looks pretty. The three things every teacher looks for in a web site. 🙂

So, how do you change your communication style when you move from print communication to digital communication?

1. Shorter is better
Think about the length of your posts. I’m not saying that you need to leave stuff out. But don’t include math, reading, writing, science and social studies all in the same post or on the same page.

2. Increased Frequency
We expect digital print not only to be shorter but to be updated more frequently. So think of it this way. Don’t write about all subjects in one post, or even in one day. Do shorter posting over multiple days. For example: Reading report on Monday, Update on Math on Wednesday, Weekly reflection on Friday.

Instead of giving parents all the information in one long sitting. Give it to them in shorter more frequent bursts over time. Many teachers also find this easier then having to write the complete newsletter in one day. Take a bit of time every day will make those newsletter blues slowly disappear (I can still remember doing my newsletters during library time. Frantically trying to create and print the whole newsletter in 45 minutes).

3. Images, Images, Images
Parents like nothing more than to see their little loved ones hard at work in the classroom. Know your schools policy for putting student pictures on the web and work within it to make your posts more inviting to your parents. We (and I’m talking elementary here) love putting those clip arts into our newsletters..they make them seem….prettier. Do the same with pictures from your classroom. If your district doesn’t allow student pictures on the web, get creative and take pictures of student work, or when talking about reading, just two little hands on a book. You can still add imagines…you just need to be creative. You can always use Flickr Creative Commons search to find that perfect picture (and they are already on the web!).

4. Add a personal touch
Whether you use a blog or not, make sure to add a personal touch to your communications with parents. Talk about lessons you did, or an exciting day where you as a teacher were really excited about the way a lesson went. Celebrate the small things, not just about your kids, but about you. Be human to your parents and they will react in kind.

5. Keep Stats
This might be a strange one. But I have found that teachers that have some way to keep stats on their web sites have buy in. As a 4th grade teacher I never knew how many newsletters made it home or how many were ever read. With a stats tracker you get that feedback and you can see that people are reading what you post. Knowing there are readers will keep you motivated to continue to post information.

Also, remember we live in a time of data gathering in our schools. Keeping stats on your site makes it easy to go to your principal when they say “How have you been communicating with your parents?” you can show them how many hits you have, and if you use a great free tool like Google Analytics you can even tell them how many are within your district/school boundary.

Learning to communicate with parents in a digital world is more then coping and pasting your newsletter into a web page. It means learning a new writing skill…the same skills we need to be teaching our students. 🙂

If you have a good online parent communication portal that you want to share with others, feel free to add a link in the comments for others to see and for all of us to get ideas.