Communicating with students and families is often the last priority when it comes to implementing programs. Nonetheless, it can be one of the most important.
Generally, educators I know love to overuse Times New Roman font and put out flyers which look more like office memos. As a busy parent, I can attest to the fact that these types of flyers often end up lost in the mail pile, or worse yet, the circular file! This used to make sense when teachers used typewriters and mimeograph machines (remember those!!!!) Nowadays, with all the great fonts and publishing apps out there, there is simply NO REASON to be handing out boring, unfriendly flyers and memos. (My favorite online sites are Canva, Notegraphy, Infogr.am, and I also like the iPad app Martha Stewart CraftStudio.)
Google clip art people!!! Let’s get creative!!!
That said, I wanted to give a BIG shout out to the North Beach-Chinatown Beacon Center (and their TRULY AWESOME STAFF!) who run after school programs and daytime clubs at my daughters’ middle school. Not only did they take the time to list all the weekly activities kids are participating in (to help get the word out about their awesome programs!!!) They also took the time to communicate it in a FUN and ENGAGING WAY!
AND.. they are translating this into the major languages at the school! (Yipee!!!!)
This kinda stuff really makes my day. You might find that goofy. But it’s actually REALLY important.
Putting time into creating friendly, fun and informative communication for students and families ensures everyone can engage with schools to support their AWESOMENESS! (Yes… that’s a word in my house.) It also ensures that traditionally marginalized families know about opportunities that many affluent, parents and kids may know about because they were raised in our current education system.
Thus, a cute, colorful flyer may help ALL kids and parent to know what’s going on in a school and how to participate… it ESPECIALLY helps those who may often get left out due to language barriers, or time barriers, or other societal barriers.
Tips for Creating Engaging, Friendly Family Communication
I’d like to call out some features that I look for in great student/family communication:
Using color keeps it from looking like a professional (read: boring) memo and helps me see where to look. Can also help break up text so that more information can fit without reading as TMI (too much information.)
Simple, Fun, Non-Serif Font
Did I mention… I HATE TIMES NEW ROMAN FONT for family communication!!!! nothing against it, it’s a great font… But when you use it in family communication, it screams “official document”. It might be OK for official letters from the superintendent and such… but PLEASE keep it off of my “Family Literacy Night” flyers!
Pictures communicate meaning. We are so inundated with images online, most folks have come to expect it. Why not use images to both grab readers attention, but also highlight tone and reinforce the main message of your communication? Families and students who have a home language other than English will also appreciate it because it gives them more context to understand the text. (ELD teachers… back me up on this!!!)
Keep it Simple (Not Stupid) and Actionable
I hate it when folks suggest the language in a family communications has to be “dumbed down”. Parents aren’t STOOPID! They just don’t know what all the ridiculous acronyms and educations terms are that most educators use all day. If you can avoid jargon, do it at all costs. That way you ensure the largest number of people can understand what you are communicating.
Additionally, think verbs as opposed to nouns and adjectives. Saying “Parents, check your child’s assignment log every night!” is much more effective and direct than “Students learn best when they receive monitoring and support from families. Parents can help their children be more successful by checking homework completion each day.” (BLAH!)
Seriously, I know lots of educators that think they are good at this. And, you may think you are doing this already. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to read and reread what you write. You may find, it can take YEARS to untrain our proclivity for education-ese in written documents. (See, I just did it again!) Best bet? Have a regular group of parent volunteers who can help read documents and give feedback.
Finally, make sure your student and family communications are translated in major languages at your school. At my daughters’ school, that means Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic. Keeping writing simple, (see above) also makes translation easier. The longer and more convoluted the sentence structure, the more likely it will get screwed up in translation.
Some advice: Translation is very time-consuming, in order to do it right. School staff can help with this but often get overloaded and may have other tasks on their plate. Help them out by ensuring your writing is simple and direct. Then cut and paste into Google translate. Share this translation with the original text for them to edit and revise. If your flyer is mostly dates, times, logistics, translations are made much easier.
That said: DO NOT SEND OUT MATERIALS TRANSLATED VIA GOOGLE TRANSLATE, WITHOUT PRIOR REVIEW!!! Just because Google says it’s good, does not mean it is good! Be respectful enough of families to take the time to ensure it’s perfect.
Stay tuned for another post on this where I’ll share some of the easy (and FREE!) ways I make graphics for my blog and flyers.
In the meantime… How do you think educators could improve and enhance family communication at your school? Educators, what effective strategies have your found? Share in the comments below.
Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.
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