Key points
  • The final terms of the academic year, is a great time to plan for the new school year.
  • Reviewing your current onboarding processes is a good starting point to identify areas for improvement.
  • Creating scaled communication for new students and their families can help manage anxieties while they prepare for the new year.

As Term 3 gets closer to drawing to a close for Australian schools, many of us are still currently adhering to various levels of COVID-19 restrictions and regulations. As we know, this poses a range of questions (and challenges) about what the new school year is going to look like. Whether your teams are planning for virtual or on-campus learning and events, new families will need to receive the same level of support that has always been provided by your school.

But, how can you do this when it's unclear what the first day of school will even look like? And what do you do when all of your supporting materials and standard events don't accommodate and include information for a pandemic? Unfortunately, there's no hand guide on starting school during a pandemic, so in this post, we'll discuss some procedures you can put in place to help your new students and their families more easily transition into the new school year. 

Review your current onboarding processes

To get started, take a look at what your standard process for welcoming new students into a regular school year is. Then, compare this scenario with the current regulations in your State to see where you may need to make amendments next year. As they say, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst case scenario. It's much easier to add additional onboarding touchpoints than it is to strip them back.

Be sure to review the following elements of your onboarding process:

  • Orientation events 
  • New student and family communication
  • Support materials and/or welcome packs

Orientation events

Orientation events are a great way to help new students and families familiarise themselves with their new school. Typically, these events are held in person to give new students a chance to meet and mingle with each other and get to know their way around the campus.  If the current restrictions continue into the new year, these events may have to be hosted virtually instead.

Virtual events are usually a great success, the only time they can fail is if you aren't equipped to handle technical difficulties that tend to pop-up on the spot. But with a strong virtual event plan (and some backup from your IT or support team), virtual events can be a powerful tool for connecting students and families in a COVID safe environment. 

For example, an orientation webinar could be an effective way to welcome students and to provide them with information that they would usually receive at these events. You can include an address from the Principal, information sessions on uniform requirements and code of conduct, break out sessions with activities, and speeches from teachers or department staff. 

If restrictions ease for the new year (our fingers and toes are crossed) and it's indicative that schools can host on-site events, it's still best to include a virtual contingency plan just in case you need to switch back to online at the last minute. You can communicate this virtual plan to registered attendees on your event registration landing page, as well as in the communications leading up to the event. To cater to the possibility of having to switch back to a virtual event you will need to set up a webinar link with the event date and time on an online platform, such as Zoom or Google Teams. Of course, you'll want to make sure that you keep parents informed of any changes, which can be done over email communication or push notifications on an app, such as the Digistorm School app. If you choose to host your event online, we recommend making a recording email and sending it out to all of the registered attendees, just in case they miss it.  

Another idea is to introduce a “buddy meet and greet” program for new students, where you pair up a new student with another student in the weeks prior to the new school year. This will allow new students to connect and ask any questions that they may have over email or Zoom. It will also be an easy way for students to create a familiar face if they are starting the new year in a virtual classroom. 

Managing families and logistics

We know that your enrolment teams are being pulled from all angles right now, from acting as counsellors for nervous parents to being a knowledgeable salesperson for prospective families that are juggling their school choice. In the current climate, your enrolment team is likely to be answering the same questions over and over again.  To help both parents and your school team, take the time to put together a comprehensive list of FAQs and provide this as part of your information packs. 

Not only will this save your team time, but it will reassure parents that may be anxious or unsure of the process. A handy tip is to provide your FAQs and information packs on a webpage link. This means that as restrictions change you can easily update the content on the webpage link so that parents are accessing the most up to date information. An example of this can be seen from Melbourne Girls Grammar, who host their information packs on a webpage that parents can easily access and flick through. 

 

Image of Melbourne Girls Grammar School

You'll also need to consider basic new year logistics, such as collecting uniforms and books. This is something that is essential for new students and as restrictions ease there may be a large rush from parents to collect these items, so you need to make sure that your school is prepared for this. To prepare, you should communicate and pre-warn parents that there may be added difficulties in receiving these items, introduce a registration page where parents can register to come into the uniform or book shop and roster on more staff members to cater for the influx. 

Lastly, you should also be considering your future enrolments and families who won't be starting next year, but rather in the years to follow. To continue to attract and delight these prospective families you need to consider how you can still bring engagement and human element to their journey. Segments, personalisation tokens, automation, and bulk communications on a school CRM, such as Digistorm Funnel, are all great tools to target these families in an efficient and timely manner. 

Want to connect with new families on scale?
Talk to our friendly team about how Digistorm Funnel can help.
Published 8 February 2020