In these uncertain times, some families may have made a choice to withdraw their children from your school. As a school leader, it is easy to take these departures personally and even to feel a sense of failure as these families leave. But it’s important to remember that these families are not leaving because of a failure on the part of your school, but due to their concerns and the uncertainty on how COVID might impact schools and their children in particular. Many of these families still care deeply about your school and have a strong desire to stay connected with your school community. One of the questions to ask yourself as a school leader is: How can you continue to nurture, sustain and even strengthen those connections?
Even in “normal” times, it is good practice to leave the door open for parents who may desire to return to your school. At this time, it is even more important! Your efforts to reach out and engage these families will demonstrate your commitment to the relationship even when they are not a tuition paying family. This spirit of community tells families—both those still attending, and those who have chosen to homeschool for a season—that the relationship is not simply about purchasing a service from the school, but a community of people who care for one another.
The practical reality is that you shouldn’t put additional expectations on teachers who are already working hard to support student learning and adjusting to new routines and expectations. So then what are some practical ways to connect with withdrawn families that do not place significant demands on your teaching staff? Communicate with your teachers on this question, as their creativity and their willingness to stay connected with their former students will help clarify what will work in your community.
Here are some of the ideas I’ve heard so far as I’ve been speaking with principals who have intentionally reached out to families who are choosing to homeschool this year and found ways to stay connected:
- Arrange opportunities for homeschooling students to share a project with their peers at school. For example, if grade 5 is building structures in science, perhaps the homeschooling grade 5 student could connect during a presentation time to share the structures they have built via Zoom.
- Invite homeschooling students to participate in school spirit days, sharing photos with their peer class and vice versa.
- Encourage homeschooling students to contribute to classroom prayer life by submitting their prayers of thanks and requests.
- Set up a pen pal correspondence between homeschooling students and a class peer.
- Invite homeschooling families to join online school chapels, and to receive the school newsletter and community communications.
Some schools have long standing programs that are designed to engage homeschooling families. For instance, Muskoka Christian School offers a “homeschool membership” option which provides homeschool families with an opportunity to engage in community activities and extracurricular events. Lauralynn Mercer, principal at Muskoka Christian School, shared that eventually many homeschooling families have started attending the school full-time.
Showing families that you want to stay connected will maintain and strengthen your school’s relationship and demonstrate the open, hospitable character of your school. I encourage you to share your ideas and successes in this area with your fellow school leaders via your cohort groups or on Slack!
Ian Timmerman is the Director of School Services at Edvance.