ToucanTech's Community Comment series provides a view of how community management is evolving, from a range of experts around the world.
The past year
How has your professional community responded to the unique challenges that we have faced during the global pandemic? What do you think the biggest challenges have been for the professionals you interact with?
Last year’s biggest challenges were getting to lightning speed with technology and the speed at which decisions had to be made. Many educators also struggled with their own fear of getting sick or putting their families at risk as most of our schools were on campus for much of the year. While educators may feel safer than they did a year ago, the need to constantly design, and redesign the overall school experience remain a constant
What impact are you aware of on the ultimate causes behind the communities you are in contact with - have people, campaigns, or goals been put at risk, or suffered as a result?
Yes - starting the school year with an already high level of fatigue has had an impact on all of the above. Many campaigns and goals had been paused - but not all. Many schools are faced with the reality that pausing goals in previous years has now resulted in the need to address multiple goals in the current year.
On the other hand, do you have any examples of success stories or anecdotes about positive outcomes that have emerged from operating differently during the COVID era?
Innovations and ease with technology have opened many conversational doors about the definition of “school” and all school-related structures: schedules, calendar, reach, marketing, connections, etc. Virtual gatherings have allowed participation and connection for those unable to be physically on campus, while also providing flexibility in the timing of connections. Virtual tours, interviews, presentations and performances have become commonplace in many schools which have resulted in new or stronger connections for current and prospective families, donors and alums.
The here and now
What is the atmosphere like at the moment within the networks you work with - would you say there is a positive undercurrent and signs of optimism, or are people experiencing fatigue with the limitations that we are dealing with across the world?
We are aware of significant and ongoing fatigue in school leaders at all levels. We also hear about the energizing strength and optimism in the ability to manage the ever-changing circumstances which has allowed students and teachers to be on campus. Although not back to pre-Covid circumstances, educators are finding their own joy in seeing students return to a more normal school experience. Following 18 months of significant responsibility and commitment, many leaders are now finding ways to limit access to email, texts, etc. on weekends and evenings to protect family time and overall well-being. Finding ways to protect personal time has become an essential component to exceptional work at all levels.
Are you seeing any marked change in how networks have started to reinstate in-person engagement practices in recent months, or during periods where restrictions are lifted?
Some, but on a very small scale. Few networks have returned to “normal” practices - most have downsized events or offered a virtual or hybrid option. Schools are committed to being exceptionally creative in providing redesigned hallmark experiences for students (i.e. graduations, etc.) wherever and whenever they can.
Have you spoken to any contacts recently who have taken the opportunity to change their ways of working, are employing new tactics or trialling alternative techniques?
Most schools that supported a working from home model are now requiring faculty to be on campus, while also providing reduced flexibility for students and families who want to move back and forth between virtual and in-person. Partnerships with parents seem to be structured in a more hybrid model - allowing for small in-person gatherings but also supplementing with a virtual option. Schools are using more and significantly better video to market and communicate outside of the school.
In the future
Whilst it’s tricky to predict, do you foresee any long-lasting outcomes for fundraising and community engagement operations or initiatives that your community would welcome?
As new parents, in particular, reported feeling significantly disconnected last year, we might foresee an impact on their overall engagement with the school moving forward. This may require a reboot or rebuilding of the relationships that began during Covid to allow for a more comprehensive and meaningful connection with the school and community members. Some new families remain unaware of the potential strength and impact of the connections they were unable to build last year.
What kind of message would you like to send to your peers and professional network in the coming months - what is motivating you, and have you found a silver lining?
My silver lining has been found through robust online communities and conversations where those with expertise and creativity have provided inspiration and models. Due to the increase in access to virtual presentations, I have had ongoing opportunities to hear directly from international leaders in all aspects of education. It is inspiring to see how committed and creative professionals have learned to thrive in spite of the challenging circumstances. Their energy is contagious!
Also, finding opportunities for humor is helpful.
Jill Webb is the Director of Professional Development at the Independent Schools Association of the Central States. To find out more about their mission to inspire independent schools, visit the website.
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