We see it everywhere: Development is recalibrating. Admissions is pivoting. Distance learning is here to stay. But what do these mean for your school?
These virtual efforts are all important parts of your school's Digital Campus: Like your brick and mortar campus, your Digital Campus includes building person-to-person relationships, creating learning experiences, and engaging in community-building activities — all under one "roof," so to speak, with your website at the core. Components include helpful content offers, virtual tours, online meetings, interactive online events, purposeful communications; you name it. The ability to communicate your campus experience effectively through your website has always been important. However, we can all agree that there's a new sense of urgency to have online resources and virtual experiences up and running as we work together to prepare for the future.
Two schools from opposite sides of the world have been on the forefront of creating their digital campus: International School of Brussels in Belgium and St. Anne’s Belfield School located in Virginia, USA. So, we went live on Instagram to get their insight:
With Changes Come Collaboration
A talk on admissions strategies with David Willows, director of advancement at International School of Brussels: Watch on IGTV
Q: How has distance learning changed International School of Brussels?
A: Today, we’re at a point where we’ve finished [more than] four weeks of distance learning. And more than anything, it’s not just the students who are learning; we’ve really been learning an awful lot ourselves as a team. As I talk with colleagues all around the world, one thing that’s still clear to me is that we’re all learning and navigating our way through this particular event in our lives.
I’ve been amazed by the amount of collaboration and creativity that I’ve seen between colleagues in every corner of the world. It’s brought us closer together, even when we feel locked in our homes.
Q: How has your work changed?
A: I think one of the things that we’ve always said is that the work we do is to tell the story of our school and to help people find their place in that story. More than ever before, that storytelling and engaging role is at the heart of what we’re doing.
When looking at the past, we’ve sometimes taken two or three years to make an event happen or to make an idea a reality. And the speed at which we’ve had to engage people — and in which the team has had to implement ideas — I think is significantly different these days. We’ve had to reshape the way we work.
[Additional note: ISB published a great video about distance learning that we recommend checking out!]
Q: In terms of admissions, what changes to do see happening now that will affect how you approach the future?
A: At the end of the day, working with prospective families is really about helping them learn. It’s not just about giving information. So, as we’ve taken that idea into this digital space, I think the question that is driving a lot of our thinking is, “How do we help families decide if this is the right school for them — and for their children?” I think that once you begin with the assumption that it’s about learning and not about information, it changes the way you imagine what that digital [experience] is going to look like.
Another principle that we’ve thought about is to what extent admissions within schools is actually an expression of institutional kindness. And this is an opportunity for us to sit back and listen, and make families feel that they are understood and that their questions matter. So, our team has begun to think about how this virtual admissions environment isn’t only about learning, but it’s also about kindness. It’s about giving families the space to express what’s really important to them.
And lastly, even though in years’ past we’ve said, “The future of learning is going to be online. It’s all going to be learning in a digital landscape,” I think one of the things we’ve realized now is that much of who we are as learning institutions is connected to a physical place. While we’ve created this virtual experience for families, it may still feel like something is missing.
So when I look to the future, I see three things:
- As we look into next [school] year, we’re probably going to go into a period of oscillating between onsite and online learning — so our platforms will need to be able to pivot back to distance learning and online admissions when they need to.
- I think we’re going to become a lot better at telling stories of learning — of really focusing on how young people are learning and how we’re learning as professionals. We will emerge with a greater sense of confidence in our ability to create and implement ideas [quickly].
- As a network of schools, I truly believe that we’re better together. If I wanted one thing to last into the future it would be that we keep this connection — this sense of learning from one another, copying ideas from one another, and maybe even learning to give away some of our best ideas. Because I believe that at the end of the day, innovation is always in community, and not in isolation from one another.
Getting Creative with Content
A talk on content strategy with Erika Hadland, marketing communications coordinator at St. Anne’s-Belfield School: Watch on IGTV
Q: St. Anne’s Belfield-School recently put out a 30+ page guide to virtual field trips. How did that come to be, and how do you see it driving engagement?
A: The virtual field trips ebook started way back in our first week of distance learning preparation. It started in our communications planning document, where we were adding all of our research, and then we decided to roll out [this information] as a series of blog posts.
Initially, all of our distance learning updates were going to stab.org/coronavirus, but once we started distance learning, we renamed [the web page] /distancelearning as a more positive place to highlight student work and to show what we were doing. Then, as we were updating our admissions page to be more virtual-focused, we noticed that our ebook, 25 Questions to Ask on a School Tour, wasn’t really fit for a virtual admissions experience. So, we converted our virtual field trips blog series into an ebook.
We wanted to make sure that we were age-inclusive so that this could be a resource to everyone from two-year-olds to seniors in high school at a variety of depths. We created it in mind that it can be evergreen, even after we transition back onto campus.
Q: How has your social media strategy shifted?
A: Initially, I was nervous about our social media content moving forward. We weren’t going to be on campus, and it was going to be difficult to get pictures of students interacting — which is usually the content we put out. But that said, seeing everyone’s faces during our very first virtual faculty and staff meeting was so inspiring. So, I got the idea to post more home-video-type content that I think puts a smile on everyone’s faces when the rest of your social media feed can feel dense.
Our school decided to be positive and to continue to build that community that we have every day walking around our hallways. That was our shift: using our accounts to recreate that feeling of positivity.
Q: What types of content has been working well for St. Anne’s Belfield school on social media?
A: Our teachers have been fantastic. Any time we’ve asked for content, they’ve shared their own projects with us. So we’ve been able to put out their video content showcasing what they’re doing every week and telling their stories.
We’ve definitely seen an increase in engagement in our video content. Last week, we hosted a Virtual Family Fest. Family Fest is an event that we usually have on-campus at school, and we took it online. We shifted it to an at-home bocce ball night for our families, with our P.E. teacher going live on Facebook to host it. It was really fun to have families tune in and play together in their backyards.
Q: How do you see distance learning playing a part in the future at St. Anne’s-Belfield School?
A: I think we’ll continue to be a virtual platform, even when we go back to a physical school. Going virtual is a great way to connect with families who may not be able to make it to events, and being able to offer live events and recordings will be very beneficial in the future. I also think it’s nice for our international students to have recordings when they can’t tune-in live due to time differences.
While distance learning has challenged schools around the world to pivot and work quickly, it has also inspired them to be creative and to work together as a community. Ultimately, this experience is teaching us how important it is to have an effective online presence that is built on emotional intelligence. A Digital Campus provides the necessary tools for success now and later — because from admissions to everyday communications, working in a virtual environment is here to stay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In her position as Inbound Marketing Manager, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website and social media communications at Finalsite. With over five years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their branding, SEM, SEO, social media, and inbound efforts. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite