Mornings at Mount Holly used to buzz with parents and kids in the cafeteria, in the hallways and in our classrooms. There were so many opportunities for parents to get to know this place where their children spent so much of their day. I knew that was not going to be the case this year: because of COVID times, there are actually stickers on our doors that say, “School Employees and Students Only.” This is a big change for our school community, so as the school year began, I made a commitment to use a classroom newsletter to connect with parents.
Little did I realize back in September how transformative this one small practice could be.
Our little school decided to basically divide the in-person students equally so that our class sizes were smaller; my cohort this year has nine lively 4th and 5th graders. Newsletters aren’t new, I have written them before. The big difference was I did not intend to write it this time.
Here’s the story of what happened when I turned into we.
For the first few editions, we brainstormed things we wanted to share and then wrote the short articles together. I focused on modeling, while I typed up their ideas. I started noticing what a great opportunity this was for reflection on our learning and community. While we were writing our fourth edition, one student asked the questions, “Is this worth doing? Is anyone even reading this?”
I had a choice at that moment.
I chose to be open and hear those questions as sincere, instead of being dismissive or taking it personally. So we solicited feedback right in our newsletter from the readers. I didn’t really know what the responses would be, but sometimes you have to take a chance.
I shouldn’t have worried at all. Nearly every parent responded, and they were effusive!
I pasted all the feedback into a document and excitedly shared it with my students. Their enthusiasm was palpable, and it felt like the right time to hand over the reins a bit more. We continued to brainstorm article ideas together but afterwards, students chose which article they wanted to write. Some wanted to write alone, others decided to write it in pairs. I became the editor and stepped back as they all stepped forward as writers.
One of the biggest changes is that I have less control over the content, which sometimes makes me nervous. In the past, my articles would have been primarily focused on our learning. Instead they’ve written about an amazing bike flip someone did at PE, how we celebrate birthdays as a class (which is different during Covid times), why kindness is important, or why masks are annoying. They are more creative because of this freedom and the newsletter is more of an authentic representation of who we are. One student explained their favorite part is that, “It comes out of our minds. We get to choose.”
The newsletter gives us a real audience and our writing is purposeful. We are becoming more reflective and there is tangible proof of student ownership in each edition.
We are continually coming up with new ideas – one student stepped up as a photographer and the joke corner definitely has fans. Another popular addition is making “Kahoots” for the parents, and pasting a link into the newsletter. Interestingly during this digital age, they are asking to make printed editions, which we are considering.
A new favorite moment for me is when I hear a student spontaneously exclaim, “We should write about this in our newsletter!” Each week we share our experience and highlight parts that we value. We all need more connection right now and this has helped grow our home/school partnership. Instead of being a showcase of our learning, our newsletter is an opportunity to learn in itself. I am not documenting our time together, we are.