Many elements go into planning a new school year, with one of the most important being communication.
We asked two public school principals, and expert Smore users, how they succeeded at family and faculty school communication: Roxanne Thomas, Principal at Brooklyn Scholars Charter School, uses a school newsletter to communicate on a weekly basis to hundreds of parents, staff, and board members. Similarly, Ross Hogan, Principal at Duzine Elementary School, distributes a weekly school newsletter to hundreds of families and staff.
When speaking with them, these were the three common principles of successful school communication: consistency, intentionality, and listening to feedback.
Consistent School Communication
Consistency has been a recurring message in regards to successful school communication. Principal Roxanne Thomas originally felt overwhelmed by the pressure to create amazing newsletters. Once she got started and realized Smore was actually “...very simple to navigate...” she began sending them out every Sunday. She noticed that her staff, parents, and board members had come to expect her weekly updates; by observing the analytics, she understood how much that consistency helped build her readership.
For Principal Hogan, consistency has also been an essential element to his success. He understood that parents wanted to know more; they’re not always able to enter the school or to see what’s happening in their children's classrooms, so, as research also shows, by encouraging teachers to prepare weekly newsletters for the parents, families felt more informed and connected. He said, “I see it as an important way to let families know these are the great things that we're doing and these are the ways that you know your children are creating.”
Intentional School Communication
Principal Thomas shared with us how she began putting her focus on the content of her school newsletter, choosing to add pictures and messages that highlighted the students and the teachers. By making her school newsletters more intentional, her readers were receiving relevant and insightful information that they were then willing to engage with, “The focus is when I walk throughout the building or when I talk to teachers and other staff members, there's an intentional focus on what we are doing, what the parents need to know. That whole area now focuses my attention and makes my newsletters better. I now have more time to walk the building and not be stuck in my office, and do more observations, and talk to the kids.“
As the principal of an elementary school, Principal Hogan made intentional decisions with his newsletters that fit with his audience. Not only was it important for him to present a product to his families and faculty that was fresh, new, colorful, and family-friendly, he wanted to make sure to include every parent and guardian; so, a translation feature was a must-have. By figuring out the right communication structure for his school, Principal Hogan mentioned he was able to finally shift his attention and “...focus more on the day-to-day runnings of the school, focus more on the great things that go into the newsletter, which is, you know, developing school-wide programs and school-wide initiatives,” and with this, his communication became more intentional.
Listening to School Newsletter Feedback
“Now, in this day and age where people are clicking and pushing buttons, [Smore] definitely allows for that. It's interactive and that's what people want; they don't want to just sit and get, they want to be involved by getting up and moving and Smore allows you to move, by clicking a button.” - Roxanne Thomas, Principal of Brooklyn Scholars Charter School
Principal Thomas discovered the importance of data and analytics when she started making decisions that were directly impacting engagement rates. Families were not only receiving the information in an organized fashion, they were finally also reading and engaging with it. She learned, through reader feedback, that what mattered the most to her community was the content that highlighted student and faculty achievements. Seeing her readership rise in response to certain content and images influenced the future content strategy of her school newsletters.
Likewise, Principal Hogan found that it was the engaging, dynamic, and visual aspects of his school newsletters that were garnering the attention of his readers. The feedback he was receiving was how much parents enjoyed seeing their children's pictures and artwork and the different initiatives taking place at school. Finding the balance between content that will engage parents, while also keeping families and faculty in the loop with important information, is Principal Hogan’s goal for his school’s communication strategy, “...the world is changing and schools are changing and you really need to be nimble in terms of your communication and to make sure that you're being reflective of what the needs are.”
Approaching your communications with the underlying principles of consistency, intentionality, and listening to feedback will go a long way to ensuring a strong relationship with parents, faculty, and staff. We can sum it up with this thought from Principal Ross Hogan:
“I think it's really important that I view the family-school connection as a partnership. It has to be a partnership. Families are giving us a lot of responsibility by allowing us to be in charge of their child's education for six and a half hours a day, and so, as part of that partnership, there needs to be an open line of communication at all times. That's really a part of the philosophy that I have when I approach parent communication, is that it's really critical that families understand that they have a say and that we're listening to them.“