February 4, 2015

Why No One Reads Your Classroom Newsletter

Guest post by Jennifer Gonzalez

As the parent of three elementary students, I get a lot of classroom newsletters. And every time I get one, I fully intend to read it. I know how important it is to keep track of school activities, to know what my kids are learning, and to support their teachers.

But I don’t always do it. I put the newsletter into a pile of important papers, and other papers pile on top of it, and far too often, I just don’t get to it.

My own disorganization can take some of the blame, but I’m sure my reading would be more consistent if the newsletters were designed differently. If you suspect parents aren’t really reading what you send home, see if your newsletter suffers from one of these five flaws.

Five Common Newsletter Flaws


1. It’s too wordy. 


People are really, really busy. So if your newsletter is comprised mostly of long paragraphs, parents are less likely to read through the whole thing.

A paragraph can be “long” in one of two ways: The first is that it simply contains too many words, too many sentences all pushed together. If you want parents to send kids to school with warmer coats, they might miss that request if it’s buried in a five-sentence paragraph about how cold it is. When you want a message to stand out, cut down on the chit-chat as much as possible. Breaking paragraphs into bullet points also helps.

The other meaning of “long” is more literal: Magazine designers know that long lines of type are harder to read, and they try to limit themselves to 9 to 12 words per line. If you want more parents to read your newsletter, format it in columns.

2. It’s too crowded.


If your newsletter has very little white space – the space on the page that contains no text or graphics – your readers will have a hard time getting through it. White space not only makes reading easier, it also helps important elements stand out.

Adding more white space to your newsletter can easily be achieved by increasing your page margins and the space around individual blocks of text or images. If you find you have too much text to add sufficient white space, reduce your font size a little bit. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes to move from 12-point to 11-point. And if you can say the same thing in fewer words? Even better. Think of it like a resume: If you can’t get it all on one page, start cutting words to make it fit.

3. It’s loaded with recycled content.


Some newsletters include the school mission statement, the class motto, the daily schedule, and a blurb about the class website in every issue. After a few newsletters, I don’t even see this stuff anymore; it’s just a lot of visual noise. Then there’s other content that changes only slightly each week: spelling lists, specials schedule, math topics. This information is important, and as a parent, I go straight to the newsletter if my son loses his spelling list or we don’t know if my daughter should wear sneakers the next day. But that’s the thing – I go to the newsletter when I need this information. The newsletter is not always interesting enough for me to read it for its own sake.

To draw parents’ attention to the truly new content – the announcement of an upcoming field trip, your enthusiastic report on students’ science projects – that content needs to stand out. Create a focal point in your newsletter for the most important, freshest story, and push the repeat information to less-prominent spots on the page.

4. It’s a cacophony of clip art. 


Clip art can be pretty irresistible. There’s so much adorable stuff out there, and adding it to your newsletter breaks up what would otherwise be a big, boring block of text.

But too many graphics make your newsletter a mess. And if you use the same exact clip art from week to week, the newsletters will be indistinguishable from one another. Take a “less is more” approach and include just a few pieces of art. Or consider using student or classroom photos instead: Remember, your readers are adults, so it’s possible they might be less drawn to adorable clip art than the kids are.

5. Parents don’t know what to do with the information. 


All advertisers are familiar with the term “call to action.” It’s the thing they ask you to do at the end of an ad – try their product, ask your doctor about a certain medicine, or visit the company website. By giving the recipient something to do, the call to action ensures that the relationship doesn’t end with the ad.

Although you’re not selling anything to parents, you probably want them to do something with the information you send home. But unless you tell them, they won’t always know what that is. Here’s where the newsletter can be a powerful instrument in the parent-teacher partnership: The next time you write your newsletter, consider what you ideally want parents to do as a direct result of reading it. Then include that information.
Putting together a classroom newsletter takes valuable time from your day, but by applying these lessons to your next issue, you’ll make sure it is time well spent. An effective newsletter will strengthen your partnership with parents and ensure your students keep learning well after they’ve left the school building.

Free Newsletter Templates
If you’d like some help with layout, try one of the clean, contemporary designs in my free Newsletter Templates pack, available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It’s completely editable and customizable to fit your own style and taste. Whether you use my templates or create your own, remember to avoid these five common flaws to make sure your newsletter doesn’t end up at the bottom of the pile!


Jennifer Gonzalez is the creator of Cult of Pedagogy, an online magazine for teachers of any subject or grade level. In Jennifer's words, "Teaching is an art, a craft, and a science, and perfecting it is an ongoing, endless process." Visit Cult of Pedagogy to read more of her insightful posts! 

21 comments:

  1. I love to use smore.com for my e-newsletter. It's super easy to use and looks very nice.

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    1. WOW!!! I just drafted a first day newsletter! Super simple! Thanks for sharing!

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  2. My weekly classroom newsletter used to incorporate almost all of these design ideas. It didn't matter; it mostly wasn't read. When I occasionally had to skip a week, I was never questioned about it. I have included quotes from children and pictures from class. Once I included a picture of all the random bits of unclaimed winter clothing from our classroom coatroom (boots, mittens, scarves, COATS) - not one parent responded. The only thing I am consistently questioned about is the spelling list, one of the least important parts of the curriculum. Oh, and I get a good few questions about field trip dates, after they have been in my newsletter and the school newsletter for weeks. "I wasn't told about it!" is the cry. I stopped sending home paper newsletters (in common with many others at my school) and started sending them home attached to an email, in .pdf format. That apparently became a bother as most people use their phones or tablets to access email and .pdfs are one more step to open. Now I put the most important points in the body of an email. I'm thinking of going to a system like Remind 101 where I can just shoot out a brief reminder message when necessary.

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    1. I am with you. It is tricky to communicate. I have a blog with photos/videos and a brief description. Yet it is another link. I keep my weekly email updates brief. Parents and children are bombarded with too much information. Yet it is their children! I read my children's newsletters. Do I read them all time, no. Do I miss dates, yes. Yet that is my fault because my son's teacher is a good communicator. I like the Remind 101 idea! Happy summer!

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    2. I put an invitation to join Remind on the back of my newsletter... know how many parents responded? ZERO. Teachers can only do so much...

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    3. Janet,
      At our Open House, we have parents sign up for Remind right then and there before they leave the classroom. It works and parents love it.

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  3. One of my pet peeves in teachers' emails and newsletters is the abundance of misspellings and poor grammar. I can only guess these teachers are too rushed to spell check and proofread properly.

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    1. Please let your teacher know of the misspellings. I know that can be tricky.
      As a teacher, I have made typos and a parent reluctantly told me yet I was thankful and I was more careful.

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  4. I just do a YouTube news video. I can actually see how many parents have viewed it. I keep it between 5-7 minutes. Kids love watching them too! Parents can just put on my video and listen while doing something else like cooking dinner or drinking coffee. Think of it as your Saturday morning news! Feel free to check out my website christopherteske.com and click on Teachers Desk to see my recent news casts!

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    1. What an awesome class website you have! I love it: Master builders! I liked your You Tube "newsletter" idea too! How do you set it up so that only your class and their parents can see it? Is it possible to have the kids read the news for that week on the your You Tube newsletter? I'd love more information if possible.

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  5. Love the suggestions on your site. As a teacher, I often mistake "comprehensive" for "more". Being to the point will get more readers. That being said, parents are bombarded with emails and media. So parents ( I am one as well) Read your teacher newsletters and get off Facebook, Pintrest, your phone and check out the newsletter with your child. You have the time, you have your kids.

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  6. Great tips! Love the Focal Point and Call to Action suggestions. Someone mentioned Smore in an earlier comment and I want to try this out. Do you think it helps to spotlight students in the newsletter?

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  7. These are nice ideas. I think the call to action is the best tip. So often when I did a newsletter of sorts (I teach older students, so it was a bit different), I never included that. I should have included an idea for at home implementation.

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  8. This is the best advice. I'm saving it to use a s a guide for all my newsletters!

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  9. I put a sentence in the middle of a newsletter that needed a response back! 5 responses out of 24. My letters are not to wordy or long. I use very little clip art. I only send them monthly and the required reading slip is stapled to the back. People just don't read notes coming home like they used to. I had a parent who wanted me to text her. I said I would as soon as the school provided me a cell phone as my personal phone was not for my job.

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    1. I too have had parents ask me to text info to them. I love the response to that, perhaps school cell phones is something we need to look into. We all feel the grief of trying so hard to communicate effectively only to be ignored. It is sad. Just keep trying!

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    2. That is why Remind101 is helpful. A teacher can give the code for the class at Open House, so the parents can sign up right then. Also, have the codes on the classroom and school's websites. Remind won't post more than 140 characters, including spaces, so it forces the teacher to be succinct. It can be set up as one-way or two-way communication.

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  10. I am getting ready to teach a 3rd/4th grade class how to write a newspaper and these tips are so helpful!!

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