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.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for the ideas, Jeff. Parent communication is so important and the computer is changing how it is done. Great tips! I’ll pass these on to the teachers at my school.

  2. Great tips Jeff. From the perspective of a parent I’d like to add one more:
    “invite parents to leave comments on a regular basis”. Many of the ‘parent communication’ blogs I’ve seen concentrate on getting the information out to parents (eg homework blogs), but few encourage the type of two-way communication that is necessary to engage parents in the education experience. Of course we must address individual student concerns in a private matter, but asking for parent input on broader issues is a great way to expand learning outside of the classroom. Let’s get parents using the read/write technologies too!

  3. These are GREAT…I have several teachers in my district that are starting to blog, I plan on sharing this with them…

    :)

  4. OK…You’ve completely guilted me. I know I’m wordy…I promise I’ll be better! link to readwithme.edublogs.org Thanks for the post!

  5. Hi Jeff,

    One element in helping teachers communicate more effectively is by making it easier for them to do so with distict-adopted “canned” software – not expecting everyone to set up his/her own blog or learn html.

    Our district has done this by providing simple means of webpage creation using a content management ASP (rSchoolToday) for its webhost. This is primarily a fill-in-the-blank and hit send means of creating pages, photo galleries, discussion lists, surveys etc.

    The other is to use a student information system that has a parent “portal” where by gradebook information and other student data is automatically made available to parents so they can track their own children’s progress.

    There is a cost associated with both these apps, but we feel it is worth it.

    Our district’s plan to “make parents partners” is described here:

    link to dougjohnson.squarespace.com

    Not everything has gone as planned since this was published eight years ago, but the reasoning behind it is still sound.

    All the best,

    Doug

  6. Excellent ideas Jeff,

    I know what you mean about wondering if the newsletter made it home. We ended up putting the newsletter online – not the best option, but one way of making sure that parents had access to it – each Friday and then checking the stats to see how many people actually accessed it.

    Blogs are an excellent idea. Years ago, I had a few teachers that I was working with who wanted to do something – this was in the preblog days – regularly to let parents see what they were doing. We came up with putting a few photos online twice a week showing some of the cool activities that the kids were doing in class. The site was password protected so only family members could get in. It was very popular.

    Something else that we did the last two years I was working as the computer guy was do a weekly podcast highlighting a different class each week. Friday mornings we would broadcast it to the whole school and then put it online for parents to access. Again, very popular with parents and the kids themselves.

  7. Great tips! I have taught workshops on both using blogs as class web pages, and wikis as class web pages. I like some of the static aspects of the Wetpaint class wiki, but I mainly us a blog for our class page. I’ll probably do another workshop sometime on class web pages using blogs and wikis. I’ll be sure to include some of your very practical ideas.

  8. Hmmmm….I personally find parents are still very entrenched in email rather than blogs, so I do that. It has become one of the most appreciated documents that the parents receive from the school. We are lucky in that have a great email manager program (Naviance) that has other reasons to keep things updated (colleges).

    So, where do smiley faces fit in? :-)

  9. I so agree with what you say! The teachers from my school are starting to use blogs to communicate with parents about their classrooms.

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