15 Strategies to Make Sure Parents Get Your Information at Home
Written by James Berigan
As a principal, one of the regular frustrations I had was making sure information I wanted/needed to get home into parents' hands actually made it to its intended destination. The amount of papers that go home with students today is monumental. Corrected homework, tests, quizzes, art projects, teacher newsletters, flyers from other non-profits, school picture packets, field trip permission slips, fundraising materials, progress reports, and report cards- the list is indeed substantial. If a family has multiple children, absolute chaos can break out in trying to sort through all the essential and non-essential notes.
The following list details some of the strategies I used in attempting to make sure the things I considered important got home.
1. Be Consistent
People crave consistency and uniformity. Try to design your newsletters or letters with a common masthead or logo placement, so parents are trained to recognize important information from the office. Maybe you could get a huge stack of goldenrod copy paper at the beginning of the year and not allow teachers to ever use that color. Only important bulletins from the office ever are printed on goldenrod.
2. Write in Bullet Points
Nothing puts people off more than big blocks of text. To get your points across use bullet points, short sentences, and lots of bolded subheadings, just like in this blog post. It is very helpful to break your information up like this, as people have become trained over the years to read in this kind of a format. No one wants to read a novel from the school office.
3. Use Humorous Clipart and Headlines
Since our society has become so visual, I regularly tried to come up with a funny headline or a humorous photo to place near the top of the document. If you are able to catch the parents attention with something that will make them smile, you're halfway home!
4. Use Various Print Formats
On occasion, I would create a tri-fold brochure with the important document. In general, we rarely, if ever, sent home tri-folds, so when I did, it really stood out to parents. With a program like Microsoft's Publisher, you can create a tri-fold brochure in no time.
5. Use Email
For around $20 per month, you can use an email service like Constant Contact that will allow you to manage and send mass emails out to your school parents. The system is simple to use with a design wizard and many pre-made templates for non-computer savvy people. I did this and got great responses from parents stating that it was so helpful to have a message from the office delivered directly into their email inbox. I know $20 per month can be an expense, but I found it to be very effective and worth every penny.
6. Put Forms on the Internet
If your school has a website, and it definitely should, you should post a downloadable version of your important message on it. Many times, families will lose an important document and need an extra copy. You will save everyone many headaches if you can just point them to your website.
7. Institute Friday Folders
Many schools do this, but it is still good to mention. It is wise to institute a policy that any announcements, newsletters, permission slips, or fundraising material only go home on Fridays (for example) in a specified folder. If you cut the parental sorting down to one day per week, you are more likely to get them to pay attention to what you are sending them. Again, this consistency is a very helpful tool.
8. Mandatory Sign & Return
On very important documents, I would include a portion at the bottom of the page for parents to sign and return, verifying that they did, in fact, receive and read the note. This way, we could pinpoint which families were getting the information.
9. Bribe the Kids
It's always helpful to get students working for you in your quest to ensure parents are reading important information. One way to develop your sales force is to bribe them with a piece of candy or a classroom treat. If the kids know they can get candy, they will make sure mom and dad see whatever we ask them to. If you promise that the kids can get an extra 15 minutes of recess if everyone's parents sign and return a form, peer pressure will be used in a positive and effective way.
10. Use Teacher Newsletters to Reinforce
Many times, I would ask the teachers to write a quick one or two sentence reminder in their weekly newsletters about an important issue to the school. It can never hurt to get your info out there in as many methods as possible.
11. Utilize the Postal Service
I have a son in the fourth grade, and his school has a policy to put anything really important in the mail addressed to the parents. While this let the child off the hook, I think there is a risk for the information getting lost in the mail or lumped in with junk mail. No solution is perfect, but the school must find this to work for them, because they keep spending the money on postage, albeit at a reduced, non-profit rate.
12. Staple Multiple Sheets Together
If there were many sheets that I needed to send home at one time, I would staple them together, so that parents were presented with an all-encompassing packet. This type of organization is much more preferable to a bunch of loose sheets crammed into a backpack. The potential downside to creating a stapled packet is that if the student loses the packet, everything is lost. Just make sure the teachers are thorough in getting the information into backpacks, say a prayer, and hope for the best!
13. Use Manila Envelopes
I have also gone to the expense of putting important information into a manila envelope and handwriting the parent's name with a big, fat sharpie marker on the front. This really does get people's attention and it keeps whatever is inside from being crushed or generally roughed-up.
14. Use Voice Mail
If something were very important, like a fundraising meeting, I would have a person on the office staff make a phone call to all the families. This isn't as cumbersome as it may sound. With so many families gone from home during the day, it's very easy to just leave a thorough message. You're not asking them to call you back unless they have questions, so it's fairly simple. If your school is fortunate enough to have one of the automated calling systems, that can also be used very effectively.
15. Post Copies at School
There is no such thing as overkill when it comes to an important message. So, make sure to make many copies of your flier and post them all over the school, including the front door of the school. We're talking total saturation.
Many of the most important items on a principal's agenda require parent participation. And since the parents aren't in the same physical location as the principal, effectively delivery and distribution of information is vital. Many of the above listed suggestions work very well in ensuring your message is heard loud and clear
About the Author: James Berigan is a former school principal who enjoys guiding schools with their fundraising efforts. He writes for the Top School Fundraisers blog at http://TopSchoolFundraisers.com/news which includes a variety of fundraising options like school carnivals.
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