We have all spent the past year reading sentences that begin with "Covid-19 has changed things…" and it is true that it has changed things: some things are for the worse, some things are simply for the time being – and some things for the better.
Covid-19 guidelines and directives globally have been to shut the doors to outsiders, to keep safe the students inside, and to try and prevent the school closing from outbreaks.
So, for many schools, they have had to rethink the ways in which they have traditionally done many things. One of those is admissions.
After all, how do you show off your school at its best when you can’t show someone what it’s like, when you can’t capture its essence, its uniqueness?
Coronavirus: Virtual school tours
We decided against a shiny pre-recorded video tour of our school as we felt it just looked too staged and forced. And while they may be easy to produce and send out, glossy brochures just can’t get capture the atmosphere of a school,.
So we have opted for live tours hosted via mobile phones and video calling, with teachers conducting the tour and giving a running commentary on our facilities as they do so.
It’s easy to host the tours, simply using the school’s WhatsApp number, and all staff are invited and encouraged to lead a tour if they would like.
Unlike traditional tours, the route isn't set and nor are the timings – for example, in previous schools you would avoid break or lunch to avoid the rush to play but in a virtual tour, you can show the parents how things really are, which is perfect for our setting.
Seeing it all
It’s not just about seeing the classrooms either: they can see the outdoor picnic area where the children have their snack time and the outdoor learning spaces, all of which are being used, showing the community we have, as well as our learning.
The tour then usually ends in my office with questions about the wider community, such as places to go and see, things to do and try and, of course, the inevitable question of the weather: how do you cope in the Middle Eastern heat?
Overall, since we started offering this, it has worked really well.
The questions from parents seem more spontaneous as they respond to the things that catch their eye or something said by their teacher tour guide.
There is also a genuine connection that happens and the joy when you pop into the classroom and kids cheer and say hello. I think it has something to do with the informality of it all: the process has become more intimate and less formal.
There are no forgiving angles on a camera phone, just as there isn’t a desk to separate you from the parents. Instead, you find yourselves up close and personal with both parent and teacher in their own natural habitat.
The students in school also recognise it as a less formal affair. Teachers also wave and smile as you pass by their class. I think it actually projects the heart and soul more.
Saving time for teachers and parents
And just as the Zoom parent meetings have been a success and changed the way we do parent evenings and student-led conferences, it gives back time to all concerned.
No travelling to school for the meetings, no sitting around waiting in a cavernous hall. Being virtual can give back time to busy parents and staff – and it is a precious commodity in our lives.
So while coronavirus has changed things, it has also shown us that we can do things in new and often better ways – virtual admissions show that sometimes it doesn’t matter where it comes from, a good idea should not be overlooked.
Julia Knight is vice-principal at Eton House School in Bahrain. She has been teaching internationally for eight years