In the world of COVID, brick-and-mortar-schools have had to shift physical operations to digital ones. While most schools were pretty quick to download Zoom for teachers to host classes, another important gap appeared in their operations: how could prospective students actually visit their schools?
One of the most important activities that many prospective families engage in is the school visit. How else are they supposed to learn about the school firsthand? But with the pandemic shuttering school campuses and otherwise preventing many families from even visiting, brick-and-mortar have had to adapt to the best of their abilities. But unlike classes, it’s a bit more difficult to translate the feeling of being at the school to a virtual environment.
At Sora, we’ve been hosting virtual Open House events since our inception. We’re a natively virtual high school, and knowing how to engage students online is part of our DNA. Here are 5 lessons we’ve learned about hosting engaging Open House events online.
Have a mix of presentation and interaction
Nothing is more boring than sitting in front of a camera on Zoom and listening to someone talk for an hour, no matter how fun and colorful the presentation slides look.
Just like teachers on Zoom have learned, it’s important to include interactive elements in your event. Icebreakers in the beginning can work, but it’s just a start. Include games or activities that tell the prospective families more about the school, like trivia. If people are shy to talk, you can also encourage them to post things in the chatbox. Change up the people who present—don’t just have one person handle the whole event.
Make sure to also include breaks between presentations. Additionally, playing music while you’re waiting for a presenter to show up or during the breaks also helps!
Observe a class—virtually
In a school visit, prospective families are there to achieve one goal: understand what it’s like to actually go to the school. In the world of COVID, most administrators haven’t even thought about figuring how to let families observe the school in action—most just default to hour-long presentation decks about the school.
A unique opportunity in a virtual environment is the ability to just drop in a class and have families observe the class for themselves, minus the hassle of physically shepherding a group of people somewhere and making them all fit in the room (or weirdly look into the classroom from the doorway). You can let teachers know when a group of prospectives is coming ahead of time, and then the families get to see how the teacher works with students! With Zoom, the teacher can also mute people to ensure there aren’t any unexpected distractions. Getting to see class in action is certainly better than just talking about it.
Include visiting or observing a class in your open house event, and you can be sure that prospective families will appreciate it.
Host a student panel
When parents see students at the school, they almost see their own children among them. The students are an excellent way of inspiring prospective families, and it’s important to include them in both virtual and physical open house events.
With virtual events, it’s simple enough to just ask a few select students to join a Zoom call and participate in a Q&A event (bonus: it’s also interactive!) with prospective families. They get to learn more about the school and actually interact with others during the event.
Communicate with families before and after the event
In a physical open house event, there’s often a lot of interaction with prospective families between engagements. In a virtual environment, it’s harder to have that casual yet intimate conversation with a parent or student. That’s why it’s important to converse with families separately outside of the event—before and after.
You can call the parents before the event to learn more about their student and get them excited about virtually visiting the school. You should definitely call them afterwards, too—your school will still be on their mind, and you can see how they’re thinking about enrollment for their student. It’s easy for prospective families to slip through the cracks in a virtual environment, so make sure to put the effort to connect with them outside of the event.
Host events frequently
It’s easier for many people to just visit a school physically since they can just adapt it to their own schedules.
Although parents certainly can’t visit your school virtually without help, there’s a benefit to being virtual: it’s much easier to actually host open house events, since there are no physical hassles like making sure everyone stays together, planning a path, etc.
Since parents can’t just visit whenever they’d like, it’s important to host multiple open house events throughout the year to give them more opportunities to attend and participate. Although it takes more planning, the prospective families will thank you!