Sunday, April 17, 2016

Ideas for Making Your Class Newsletter More Interactive

We've all been there! The big field trip has been on your newsletter for 6 weeks at least, but the day before you are still getting emails, texts, phone calls, and notes about when the field trip is taking place. Even though all of the details are available in the newsletter in their child's folder. It can be frustrating! You are left wondering if anyone even reads the information you painstakingly type, print, copy, and send home every week without fail.

If this has ever happened to you, too, here are a few quick and easy and often free suggestions for increasing family engagement with your newsletter. Hopefully, you will find a trick or two that might work for your classroom.  Nothing is one size fits all!
I am old school. I like to send (and receive) a paper copy of newsletters. I see so many classrooms with far more technology options than are available where I live. Some homes don't even have cell reception or internet access. I think it is good to have options for parents. So, here are a few you might want to consider:
-Send an old school style paper copy.
-Email a .pdf file and request receipts for when it has been read.
-Set up a private blog for your classroom and post it there.
-Post it in a private Facebook group.
-Use to text message families when an updated newsletter has gone home.
-Upload it to
-Send it as an attachment via Class Dojo.
So, what do they do with it once it's in their hands? How can you know if they read it, or at least perused the parts that you NEED them to see?  Here are few ideas for getting a response from families once the newsletter has gone home.
-Add a puzzle, riddle, or math word problem for them to solve as a family, sign, and return to you.
-Add a neat trivia question (possibly related to something you are currently studying). They can research the answer and send you their response.
-Put a conversation starter at the bottom. (As the mother of a boy who always says school was "fine" until I ask him very specific questions, this would come in handy at home.) Some examples could be: Ask your child to tell you about our science lab experiment, our new class pet, today's assembly, our upcoming field trip, etc..
-Ask the families a question about pertinent information contained within the newsletter. (i.e. What time does Field Day begin on Friday?) Maybe you can head off some of those calls/emails/texts at the pass. 
Once they have completed the engagement part, they can submit it for a bribe reward/incentive. You will probably want to switch out your bribes incentives regularly.  If you keep it new and fresh, they will stay more responsive. Sometimes you may want to offer everyone the same prize. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
-Earn Class Dojo points
-Give out small treats (bubble gum, erasers, suckers, etc.)
-One Night Homework Free passes
-Eat lunch in the classroom
-Extra computer lab time
-Extra recess
-Stuffed Animal Day
-Sit with your friend
-Special snack 
-STEM time
-GoNoodle Dance Party
There are other times when you might want to go for a big individual reward. Anyone who completes the newsletter interaction piece gets their name entered in a drawing for:
-Sit at the teacher's desk all day
-Write with special supplies
-Be the teacher's assistant
-Raffle style drawing for a larger prize: toy, game, school supplies
-Lab assistant during STEM
-First Choice Award: the owner gets first choice during flexible seating, indoor recess, weekly job selection, etc.
**It might be fun to put rewards in envelopes for kids to choose as a surprise.  Throwing in a few zonks could be fun, too.  I have a freebie with picture cards you could print and use {HERE} in my Let's Make a Deal blog post. 

In this struggle, remember that kids are your greatest allies. I have tried every format I knew to reach certain parents with no response. Then, in desperation, I enlisted the child's help. All I had to do was sit with them at lunch or buy them ice cream and those critical forms magically came back! Lesson learned! 

Kids are naturally curious! If you tell them that they won't believe how awesome this week's treat is, they will jump through flaming hoops to find out what it will be. 

During MOST of the year, small incentives will work. However, there are times during the year when families tend to disengage because they are so busy. For me, even my most engaged parents got overwhelmed at the beginning of fall and spring sports season, the winter holiday season, and the end of the year. You may want to "up the ante" with some larger scale incentives during these periods of time. 

Then, there's the elephant in the room. What about those precious ones who are NEVER going to get someone to interact with their newsletter? Here are few suggestions for dealing with those in challenging situations. 

-I am required to submit my newsletter to someone in administration as a part of the communication part of my evaluation. Why not have a "specially selected" messenger or team of messengers? They can share the newsletter and complete the engagement piece with a great role model. Double win! 
-Assign a child to a co-worker, parent volunteer, or school mentor.
-Give select children full credit for completing items that were on the newsletter even if they are taking the responsibility on their own little shoulders: homework done for the week (check), permission slip returned (check), wore class t-shirt to school program (check). NEVER exclude a child from participation in incentives because of circumstances out of their control! Give them credit for stepping up and doing the things within their control. 

I hope some of these ideas are useful to you! If you would like to print these out to keep handy or share with a friend. You can download a printable copy {HERE}