1. Identify the Need
Newsletters provide an accessible, predictable way to communicate with parents. A newsletter gives you the opportunity to communicate key messages about your group and your school, and to present your group as a helpful and important part of the school community. It also:
- improves communication between the school and parents
- increases awareness about school events and activities
- engages more parents
- creates a sense of community and pride in the school
2. Make Key Decisions
Identify the purpose. The purpose guides the process and content and helps determine the audience and format. A critical decision is whether the parent group produces its own newsletter or simply contributes to the school newsletter. If the school produces the newsletter, the parent group may only need to supply a column or information about events. If your parent group produces its own, you’ll need to gather information from several sources, edit the information, build the newsletter, and work with the school to distribute it. Talk it over with your principal and ask about any district communication rules you’ll need to consider.
Identify the point people. This key point person is often called the editor and may be the principal, a teacher, an administrative staff person, a parent volunteer, or a PTO officer. Heather Williams, president of the District 75 PTO in Mundelein, Ill., suggests splitting responsibilities among a few people, such as having two or three editors responsible for a few newsletters each during the year.
Choose a format. The newsletter might be a hard copy sent home with students, a downloadable document posted on a website, an e-newsletter emailed to a subscription list, or an email with links. Because the format you choose determines so much else, “Figuring out your method of distribution is probably the most important thing,” Williams says.
Determine the frequency. Most hard copy newsletters are produced monthly, although some are produced every other month. Most schools have to consider the cost of printing when deciding how often to publish. E-newsletters are often distributed more frequently. For example, Carden Academy of Maui in Pukalani, Hawaii, sends two short electronic communications per week: “Monday Memo” and “Thursday Thoughts.” Consistency is more important than frequency. The newsletter should be distributed on the same day of the week or day of the month every week or month. Train parents to expect it, and they will come to depend on it.
3. Plan the Process
A written production plan that is communicated to everyone involved makes the job easier. It should address deadlines and formats and identify who is responsible for what. Meg Wright, vice president of the Kula School PTA in Kula, Hawaii, says that having a consistent submissions deadline and clear instructions about how to submit information to the editor increases contributions from the school and PTA. “Teachers need to know whether they have to write an article or can just submit bullet points,” she says.
Here’s a sample production plan for a newsletter produced by parent volunteers and distributed on the last Tuesday of each month:
Two Tuesdays before distribution: The editor sends reminder emails to teachers, administrative staff, and PTO officers that the submission deadline is Friday.
Two Fridays (11 days) before distribution: Deadline for submissions; contributors send information to the editor.
Friday through Monday: The editor writes and formats the newsletter.
Tuesday and Wednesday: Another volunteer proofreads the newsletter; she and the editor make corrections.
Thursday and Friday: The editor emails the finished newsletter to the school secretary by Thursday morning. The secretary prints the newsletter on yellow paper.
Monday: The secretary sorts and distributes the newsletter to teachers. One copy per family will be sent home with the youngest student in the family.
Last Tuesday of the month: The editor emails the newsletter to parents. Teachers send the newsletter home with students. The editor posts the newsletter on the school bulletin board and website.
About two weeks later the process starts again.
This is a fairly relaxed schedule, providing some flexibility. Many newsletters are produced within a week. Williams urges newsletter editors to understand the time needed to produce a good newsletter. When she was communications cochair, she spent six to eight hours collecting and writing content, editing, and formatting each two-page newsletter. (The production schedule also included time for the newsletter to be translated into Spanish before printing.)
4. Use Existing Tools and Resources
Newsletters do not require fancy design programs or advanced technology skills to be created. Easytouse templates are available for most word processing programs. E-newsletter templates through free services allow users to create e-newsletters and manage email lists. PTO Today also offers free clip art for school newsletters.
E-newsletters should be mobile-friendly. “Parents tell me that if the newsletter is included right in the email and they don’t have to open an attachment, they are more likely to read the content,” Wright says. Market research backs her up: Marketing trend reports say that more than half of all opened emails are accessed on a mobile device. Be cautious about including multiple images or large images—they can slow email loading time and decrease chances that the email will be read.
5. Include Useful Content
Tailor your content to the newsletter’s purpose. If the goal is to increase awareness about school activities, include a calendar and RSVP details for upcoming events. If the goal is to grow school pride, include announcements and photos about student achievements. Williams recommends translating the newsletter into another language if many students live in homes where English is not the primary language and a single second language is predominant. Her school district’s newsletter was published in English on one side of the page and Spanish on the other.
6. Take Chances (and Have Fun)
There is no single path to newsletter success. Your newsletter should reflect your school’s personality. Learn from others and then improvise. Williams encourages editors to have reasonable expectations and to think of their newsletters as a work in progress. Wright offers a final suggestion for success: “Remember that you are doing this for the kids.”
- Calendar of events
- Schedule changes
- A message from the principal or PTO president
- Invitation for parent involvement
- Photos of fun PTO activities
- Notice of upcoming events with
- RSVP info
Experienced editors also recommend:
- Volunteer recognition
- Parent group budget update
- Progress toward school goals
- Testing information (schedule, success tips, results)
- Student achievements with photos (with signed photo release)
- Volunteering or community service opportunities
- Reminders about school policies
- Student writing or art
- Health and safety information
- Parenting tips
- Staff or student spotlights
- Community partner and donor recognition
- Parent surveys