Distance and hybrid learning has helped many school districts cope with the ever-changing COVID-19 crisis. But a school is more than just classes – it’s a community. How can K-12 districts keep their sense of community as restrictions continue to stretch into the future?
Live Streaming School District Updates
Since March 2020, there has been a never-ending parade of sudden changes, and it doesn’t look like that will stop any time soon. Emails and physical mail sent to parents are easy to misunderstand and come across as cold and harsh. Live streaming video of school district announcements and updates will help parents remember that school administrators and school boards are people, too, who are doing their best to stay on top of a difficult situation. It humanizes what could otherwise be a faceless monolith. Live events for school district announcements also gives an opportunity for parents to get clarifications on new policies, and for administrators to stay on top of public perceptions.
Virtual PTA – Involving Parents through Video
One of the limitations on PTAs has historically been who was available for meetings. One advantage of taking meetings virtual is that it removes travel time and childcare needs, making it easier for parents to participate. A few notes on making online PTA meetings a success:
- Send the agenda ahead of time, and follow up with the meeting notes. If you can use a platform that has a shared notes function, it can make it much easier for people to follow along. And hey, fewer dead trees!
- Choose your mode based on your expected attendance. Many virtual platforms have both meeting and webinar modes. If you’re expecting a dozen or two people, make sure you’re in meeting mode so everyone can participate. If you’re expecting more than that, though, it can get chaotic. Start in webinar mode, with a handful of presenters, and have people raise hands or submit questions and comments through the chat.
- Manage your recordings. While many districts do not want to record classes to protect students’ privacy, adults are often a little more comfortable having their meetings recorded. The ability for people to catch up on meetings they missed can be invaluable.
Wrestling matches and chamber choir are off the table for the moment. But there are still a lot of traditional school events that can be modified to a virtual format, from elementary school through high school. Here are some ideas for ways to use video for virtual school events:
- Virtual talent show. Most talent show acts transition fairly well to an online format. If you can accept pre-filmed videos and mix them up with the live acts, you open the door even wider. Dance, musical performances, comedy routines, magic tricks – they all work on video. With their TikTok experience, many of your students are already pros at mugging for the camera.
- Radio play. Maybe the school musical isn’t happening this year. But creative drama departments have some options that don’t require in-person interactions. Go digging for radio play scripts – encourage kids to get creative with the sound effects! Students can still do a live performance for friends and family from home.
- Career fair. On one hand, parents are stretched thinner than ever. On the other, for many of them, taking half an hour to talk to a class about their career is a lot easier right now than it ever was. Take advantage of everyone working from home and get some great guest speakers from your community!
- Online fashion show. Who needs a catwalk? Sponsor an evening of showing off everyone’s coolest looks. Many people would love an excuse to show off something besides leggings for the first time in months.
- After school programs. While some clubs aren’t going to work virtually, there are plenty that can. Language classes, programming, aerobics, yoga, art, school newspapers, student government, Model UN, literary magazines, even creative service opportunities – there are a ton of extracurriculars that can still be made to work as virtual events. For younger kids, especially, parents are desperate for ways to keep their kids busy while they finish their work days. Dance parties, story time, scavenger hunts, hangman, trivia contests, spelling bees, even madlibs – anything that can engage kids a little more than another round of Frozen will earn enormous gratitude.
- Parent meet-and-greets. Building networks among parents can help combat isolation and help families keep up virtual relationships. Ask your PTA members to help organize events such as ice breakers, happy hours, or trivia nights for class parents, so they get a chance to get to know each other.
Private School Video Needs
Private schools have a few additional problems, especially around admissions, recruiting, and alumni relations. Now more than ever, private schools need to be able to make a good case for why they are the right choice for any given child. They also need to make a good case as to why they’re a worthy recipient of alumni donations. And that means info sessions, tours, interviews, and other events. These, too, need to go virtual.
- Virtual campus tours. If you don’t already have video tours of the campus, now is the time. You can get fancy with VR and interactive videos, but you need at least something basic.
- Info session webinars. Webcasts or webinars are a great way to handle info sessions with parents and prospective students.
- Video interviews. You’ll still want to interview candidates – keeping interviews virtual avoids introducing a lot of new kids into the building, even if you are holding classes in person.
- Alumni events. Inviting alumni to campus virtual events is a way to keep them feeling connected. Hosting networking events for alumni can be another way to remind them of how much they valued their time at your institution.
Video Tools for K-12
What tools do you need to handle the video needs of primary or secondary schools? There are two concerns – the live stack and the VOD. Common needs you’ll want a solution for include:
- Small video meetings. You’ll want a video meeting or virtual classroom solution for times when you want to have a relatively small group where most people will be participating. This is great for class events or small group meetings.
- Large scale live broadcasts. If you’ve got to present information to a large group (such as rolling out new information across an entire school district at once), you may want a full webcasting solution.
- Managing recordings. Video recordings stack up fast. You’ll want a way to keep what you want to keep, in a way you can find it again. You’ll also want to be able to share it securely. Some videos you may want to make available to the general public, but anything involving sensitive discussions or including minors, you’ll want to fully control. Many video meeting tools like Zoom, Webex, or Teams do not make the recording management step particularly easy – even if you choose those solutions for your meeting and broadcast needs, you’ll want to give a thought to how you’ll manage your VOD content.
There are a lot of more sophisticated video tools out there, as well. You may also want to explore:
- Video messages. Being able to easily send personalized video messages by email can smooth the way for everything from fundraising to welcoming new students.
- Interactive video tools. Adding hotspots, quizzes, and interactive video paths to your video recordings is a powerful tool in the classroom. It can also be useful for tours, information session recordings, and other times you want to make sure your audience is engaged.
- Captions. Accessibility is increasingly a concern – make sure your video content is accessible by adding captions and using accessible video tools.
Why Not Use Social Media for K-12 Video Needs?
Social media is powerful, familiar, and “free.” But there are several reasons you might not want to rely on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or the like for all of your video needs.
- Social media is not known for great security. You will want to be able to make your own decisions on what’s public, what’s private, and who can access what.
- “Fair Use” can get tricky on social media. It’s very easy for takedown notices to get served, and the tech giants usually opt to do the easy thing and immediately block content, even if you are using IP in valid ways. Make sure your content is under your school’s control, so you can decide what stays up and what comes down, rather than an algorithm.
- Social media algorithms decide who sees what. The feed is built to keep users endlessly scrolling, and social media companies tinker with how things are displayed all the time. If you want your community to be able to find all of your content, rather than wait to see if Facebook chooses to show them the videos created by one of their advertisers instead this week, you’ll want a central place where people know they can go.
- Social media is designed to be distracting. They want users to keep endlessly scrolling. That may not be what you want to happen – sometimes, you’re going to want your audience’s full attention.
There’s nothing wrong with also using social media for your school’s video content, if that’s what you want! But you’ll want to have a place that you control as well, where the whims of Mark Zuckerberg can’t suddenly turn your entire PTA outreach plan on its ear overnight.
Nothing about the Coronavirus situation is easy, and for the teachers, parents, and administrators of K-12 kids, the situation sometimes feels almost impossible. But since we know now we’ll be dealing with this for awhile, the best way to get through is by working together. It’s only by keeping our community ties strong that families will make it through, from the littlest elementary school kids to the high school seniors. With the right video tools, it’s possible to keep school spirit alive.