Before schools had efficient systems for digital communications, there were just two ways to pass information easily to parents and guardians–either in print (remember those fat envelopes of flyers and forms) or in person. Educators know that most families, at best, skim documents like handbooks, so they relied on in-person gatherings to stress what mattered most. Most of these start-of-year events bombard attendees with calendars, syllabi, and schedules.
Looking at the Pulse results, we see that the events that are most focused on information–Back to School nights, college counseling meetings, and grade-level meetings–are back to being held in person. The events that are focused on community and connection, however, like family education, family association meetings, and conferences, are more likely to be online.
With that in mind, it’s time to re-evaluate the purpose of on-campus events. We all know how exhausting the start of school is for educators and families alike. In this context, it’s important to make sure that schools are asking parents and guardians to invest time where it makes the most difference. Academic Leaders have the resources to get information to families without asking them to invest the time and resources it takes to be on campus. It’s far harder to use online systems to help parents and guardians feel connected to administrators, faculty, and other families.
In-person gatherings may be structured around information-sharing, but they will truly be successful when they build community. This means creating warm and welcoming environments, reserving time for discussion, facilitating small group conversations and providing affinity spaces. Schools must also recognize that on-campus gatherings are not equally accessible to all families–language, childcare, geography, and working schedules, among other factors, can present challenges or barriers to participation. Proactive planning is essential to ensuring that events build community instead of reinforcing inequities.
The primary purpose of on-campus events should be to build relationships and community. After three academic years of disruption and distancing, people are yearning to feel connected. By providing those connections, independent schools and Academic Leaders meet families’ needs.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)