The COVID-19 virus has certainly raised a few challenges for schools around the world with the need to quickly adapt to online learning. While Australian schools have shown incredible resilience and leadership during this time with the quick transition to online learning, school leadership teams are finding the need to shift their focus to protecting their current enrolments and ensuring that families stay with them for the long haul.
School Principals are asking what the long-term effects are going to be for their enrolments, how families will be financially affected and what they can do amidst the challenge. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already said that our social adjustments are going to be in place (to some extent) for at least six months and public schools have committed the first five weeks of Term 2 2020 to online learning.
What can be done to ensure the long-term health of our school? The first tool we have at our disposal is communication. Open, honest and regular communication is going to ease the tension that parents feel in this time and steer your school community through the crisis.
Open and honest communication
The first thing that Principals can do is ensure they have the infrastructure needed to keep communication channels open between parents and staff. Parents are primarily concerned with the impact that this is going to have on their child’s educational outcomes. As leaders, we need to show them that we have a plan and that we are thinking proactively for the benefit of our students.
Give parents a forum to raise their questions and concerns. It’s important that we have two-way communication happening over this time and that we are not just pushing out content to families, but that we are providing a platform for them to talk back and ask their questions. I advise school Principals to open every avenue of communication for the parents, including email, social media, proactive phone calls and having office staff available to answer calls throughout the day. I can’t tell you how many school offices are closed during this time.
What do we need to communicate? While updates on learning arrangements are important, it is also vital that we communicate how you are leading in this time and that your offering differentiating value above your competitors.
Communicate differentiating value
Differentiating value comprises of the resources, educational programs and infrastructure that is going to make your school’s online learning program stand out heads above the rest. Communicate how your school is providing additional value to that of state schools. State schools’ parents are especially concerned because state schools don’t have the budget necessary or the individual allocation to support students to the level that’s required. It’s time to show that independent schools are leading the way for the best student outcomes. This can be done through blog posts and articles that give families a look behind the scenes at how you are providing additional value. We need to show that our private school fees are going towards the infrastructure and teacher access that’s required to positively impact our student’s outcomes.
The first place to start on excellent delivery is our online learning experience. What does online educational excellence look like?
Provide an excellent online learning experience
Our online learning program is the main platform that going to set us apart during the next few months because schools cannot rely on their facilities to sell their school. To me, a great learning platform experience includes direct access to teaching staff, functionality like live chat where students can ask their questions to the teacher at any point during the day, synchronous content where staff are providing live lessons in a classroom like environment, and value add asynchronous content that also provides teachers the opportunity to have some down time and prepare for their lessons.
While we are focusing our attention on students and online learning, it’s important that we don’t forget to support parents in their role. Parents are asking for resources to help them educate their child from home. Provide resources, such as information sheets and videos from teachers, to grow their confidence and clarity on how they can help their child.
Resources and clear communication are a great help for families, but practical help is going to be needed for some families to stay with you for the long-haul. The COVID-19 virus is going to have a long-term economic impact on our families and while they are committed to their private school education, we may need to make some short-term accommodations for them.
I would encourage schools to reward the loyalty of their current families by pausing fee increases for next year. We also need to make it clear to our families that we are open to the discussion when it comes to fee concessions, and that this is done in an honourable way and on an individual basis with each family. Openly communicate your desire to keep that family for the long-term and that you are willing to make short-term concessions to keep that family.
While the COVID-19 virus has certainly brought some challenges for our colleges, it is also an opportunity for innovation, creative thinking and team building. We’ll soon find that we have come out of this crisis stronger and clearer than ever before.