This is a guest post by David Leshaw, Senior Writer at Smore.
As a student in the mid-1990s, I remember my weekly school newsletter well. It was typically a 17” wide page, folded down the center, printed on pastel pink or mint green paper, which was both eye-catching and hard-to-read, considering the densely-spaced blocks of Times New Roman text. Pictures or real graphics were, of course, out of the question — nothing looked too great on colored paper. The newsletter would be distributed on Fridays for parents to read over the weekend. In my rush to get out of school, I’d often shove it into my bag before hopping on the bus. By the time I got home, it was usually a crumply relic of its former self.
Fast forward about twenty years, and newsletters have gone digital. They have evolved from a wrinkled sheet of paper in a backpack to a real, interactive form of engagement with parents, community members, and students. They are a critical spoke in the wheel of any school or district’s communication strategy. Plus, these new, digital newsletters help schools stay on budget and eco-friendly by drastically reducing paper use.
Given the ubiquity of social media, parents and community members have become conditioned to expect regular updates from their child’s school. At the same time, a 2016 report by the Boston Federal Reserve notes that “there is considerable room for improvement in the quality of [school] communication.” So, how does a busy principal or school administrator rapidly put together a great newsletter? Here are a few tips to help you create interactive, engaging updates that won’t end up like my school newsletters of 1996.
1. Think Visual
If there’s one thing your newsletter should be, it should be visual. Remember, your newsletter is competing with Facebook, Twitter, and the news for your audience’s attention. So be sure to add pictures of school events, sports games, and student accomplishments.
2. Make It Interactive
Think seriously about what interactive content will engage and inform your audience: Did you recently watch an inspiring video that community members or faculty might enjoy? Add that to your newsletter. How about a podcast that you think the history department would appreciate? Embed that, as well. Make use of headers, of rich text, and of hyperlinks to make your newsletter engaging and interactive. Keep ’em clicking!
3. Write Great Subject Lines
If you’re sending out your newsletter via email, it’s important to use a catchy subject line. It should be relatively short, to-the-point, and attention grabbing . Moreover, rhymes, alliteration, puns, or even emojis, can help ensure that your email newsletter is opened and engaged. Subject lines like “The Monday Memo” or “The Week at West Side High” make it tempting to for a recipient to open your newsletter.
4. Understand Your Audience
Parents and community members are often in a hurry, so strive to be brief. Make use of features like headers, bullet points, infographics and event forms to succinctly convey information.
5. You’ve Got Mail
It’s important to reach your audience everywhere, and so it’s table stakes that your newsletter be sent via email. Given that a school administrator is almost certainly pressed for time, be sure to use an email newsletter platform that allows you to easily import pre-existing contact lists.
6. Distribute Across Channels
While email is important, you should use other communication channels, as well. If, for example, your school or district uses Blackboard to send SMS notifications, it’s worthwhile to add your newsletter link in the school’s next text. Post your newsletter on your school’s website, as well as your Facebook and Twitter account. It’s critical to be where your audience is, and social media presents a great opportunity to reach them in engaging ways. A good newsletter platform will allow you to share across your communication channels in just a click or two.
7. Don’t Get Lost in Translation
Additionally, many schools and districts provide information to community members and stakeholders for whom English is not a first language. In order to ensure that community members are properly informed and updated, be certain to use platforms, like Smore, that allow automatic translation, so that no important details are missed.
8. Encourage Feedback
Education is a two-sided process that involves feedback from community members, colleagues, and stakeholders. In order to create a positive feedback loop between you and your community, simply encourage them to reach out to you. Ask them to respond to your email, or if you want feedback on an issue, by filling out a Google Form survey, which can be easily embedded into the Smore newsletter you’ve created within Blackboard. It’s a simple way to rapidly get constructive feedback from your audience and stakeholders.
We hope you find these tips and tricks helpful! As you settle into the new school year, it’s a great time to start implementing small, meaningful changes in your newsletter, and to improve school or district communication—without crinkling any papers.
Smore and Blackboard are excited to work together to help educators and administrators master their message and control their communications.