Friday, July 24, 2015

Newsletters (and goals) for the School Year Ahead

I know newsletters aren't exactly the hot-topic in education right now. There are far more exciting innovations out there. However, sending home a newsletter is a really big deal for me this year.

Let me explain… 

I don't teach one class; I teach seven. Seven reading classes, for a variety of age groups and developmental levels, ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade. My students come from different classrooms within each grade level, and I work with them for a 45-minute class session each day. I love what I do. I love my class, my students, and the content I teach. 

However, due to the nature of my classroom and instruction, parent communication is a challenge. I don't manage lunch money, weekly tests, or homework assignments. The results of my assessments do not appear on report cards. I am not the "classroom teacher" for my students. I am their Reaching Reading Success teacher, and while our program has grown tremendously in recent years, it's no secret that the instructional concepts of my class are a bit foreign for most parents. On average, most parents have very little knowledge of multisensory teaching techniques, and "Orton Gillingham" sounds like fancy educational jargon that holds no personal relevance for them. I get that; I wouldn't know much about it if I didn't teach it!

We have done a lot to help parents feel more informed about our techniques and methodology (parent day in which they can actually join their child's class time to learn more; parent conferences; sending home letters and assessment results; parent night to share specific information and techniques to use at home; etc.) but I still feel as though parent communication is a weakness for me. When I was a first grade teacher, it came easy; I often felt as though I talked with parents as much as the kids at times. That's not a bad thing; it's just a strong contrast with my current reality. I want  need that to change.

I explain all of that to reiterate the significance, for me, of sending home newsletters. Now, on to the good stuff… :)

Below, you will see the first of my monthly newsletters, to be sent home in August. Before you lament the dull black-and-white design, I will readily admit that, yes, it would be much "cuter" in color. I could have easily designed it with colorful clipart, but in reality, what are parents going to see? The black-and-white version. We don't have a color copier, so the copies sent home would be printed in a grayscale version anyway. For this reason, a colorful version would probably produce less-polished copies for parents. So I abandoned my teacher-need to make it "cuter" and based my decision on practicality. I may, however, print it on colored paper to spice things up a bit! ;) 
Here's a look that the bare "bones" of the newsletter. Basically, these are the components each newsletter will contain.
Now, take a closer look at the August newsletter, which is an almost-complete version of the template, lacking specific details I will add later…
You can see which parts (graphics, quotes) will change each month to give the newsletter a more seasonal appearance. The only part that will stay completely the same on each newsletter is my contact information. If you notice, I have included my blog address and Twitter ID so parents can follow me online as well. Using social media more for parent communication is also a goal of mine this year. (If you want some GREAT advice for using social media in the classroom, visit Ashley over at Teach Create Motivate.)

The part about which I am most excited is the "Spotlight on Students." This section will be completed by my students each month!
As you can see from the above image, part of my goal in having this section is to motivate students to share more about our class at home. If they have invested in even one part of this newsletter, then they are naturally more likely to show it to someone at home. I want these newsletters to actually make it to the hands and eyes of parents -not just get shoved to the bottom of the backpack… you know what I'm talking about.

So, in this part, I will let students choose what they want to share with their friends and family at home. They provide the information here. By the end of the year, I want students to design the whole newsletter as a type of "wrap-up and reflect" project for each class. I am hoping this little snippet each month will help them feel more comfortable with that project by the time May comes along. 

What do you think about my newsletter design? Likes, dislikes, suggestions? Please feel free to share it all… I welcome the feedback! :)

Note: Clipart on the newsletter is provided by Krista Wallden at Creative Clips. She has an amazing selection in her store!