Let me begin by admitting that I am not the most tech savvy person in the world. With three teens in my home, the deficit in my technological awareness is highlighted daily. I am not even up-to-date on how to maximize my iPhone.
To give you a recent example, my daughter sent me a text with a picture attached to it. She had somehow circled the face of someone in the picture and written in their name to help identify the person. I had no idea that you could write on pictures, so I asked her to tell me how she did that. She said that “it was easy” and proceeded to tell me the order of what to punch on my phone: “Select the photo, hit edit, select the three little dots in the top right corner…” When she realized that she lost me at “select the photo,” she came over and slowly demonstrated the steps to help me understand.
This experience reminds me of an important point for Christian schools. In my work at Charter Oak Research and with CACE, I often talk to schools about their distinctives and what sets them apart from other options in their market. School leaders need to provide an answer to the question on the minds of parents as they investigate the school, “Why should I spend the money to send my son/daughter to this school?” We discuss the importance of being creative in demonstrating and proving distinctives, versus just stating them. It is easy to make a claim without backing it up with data or narratives to make the case. I encourage schools to make the argument believable by providing the evidence to justify the claim.
One of the first and most common distinctives that schools often share is their great community. Whereas this claim might be true, the challenge with stating community as a distinctive is that every school will say it has a wonderful community. Thus, it really isn’t a distinctive in the minds of prospective and inquiring families. Moreover, community is difficult to demonstrate as people can’t easily experience community from a distance. How often have you tried to express how grateful you are for the way families and the school care for each other and feel as if the words don’t adequately express your feelings?
It is true that for our current school families, community is a main reason they love the school and continue to re-enroll. Strong community is an incredibly important factor for retention. Great schools do an amazing job of creating, growing, and sustaining community with their families. Students and their families are able to experience and value the great community that is really difficult for a prospective family to understand through words alone.
But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a unique opportunity. Community is a distinctive that can be more fully demonstrated for prospective parents in this virtual reality. It is precisely community, while ironically not manifested by being together physically, that is helping us navigate and push through these difficult times as Christian schools.
Many Christian schools have been able to pivot quickly to serve their families and continue the teaching and learning in innovative ways. On top of the academic education, schools are creating and implementing plans to serve the school community by providing chapels and small group experiences that can help the students grow spiritually. Via social media, leaders are creating unique competitions to help keep the families engaged with the broader school community. Virtual concerts are taking place to continue growth in the arts. Communication with families has increased as school leaders share how they are valued by the school. Teachers are engaged differently, creatively caring for students even from a distance. Special attention is being provided to seniors who are missing the final months of their high school career.
The strong community that our school families have valued for so many years is what allows our schools to continue serving in the midst of this crisis. While virtual isn’t as good as face-to-face in terms of community, we can demonstrate that there is a depth of care that is unique and found only in Christian schools. I pray that we will think creatively about how we can demonstrate this quality to a world and future families who could really be impacted by Christian education.