COVID has encouraged — and, in some cases, forced — most everyone to come up with new ways of working. At SHP, these changes have included transforming our educational visioning process into a virtual experience, something we did during the pandemic for Yellow Springs Exempted Village School District and the Shawnee Local School District. This transition to a virtual approach was challenging because our proprietary visioning process is so hands-on and collaborative. As it turned out, however, we not only found a way to get it done without losing anything significant, but we also came to appreciate that the virtual approach has its advantages. Based on our observations, here are three key advantages of virtual visioning sessions:
Going virtual can make it easier to recruit participants, including those who may not otherwise be able to engage with the traditional in-person process.
Sparing participants the time and inconveniences involved with traveling to a school or another community gathering place for the visioning sessions can make it easier to recruit busy parents and community leaders. For example, in the case of Shawnee Local, they were able to entice a dean from a local college to participate.
Going virtual can break down barriers and create a more democratic process in which more voices are heard.
Successful educational visioning requires the input of multiple stakeholders — students, teachers, parents, administrators, community and business leaders, etc. But just having representatives of these various stakeholder groups isn’t enough. They must be active participants. In addition, it’s not just about this group’s voice or that group’s voice, but the interesting things that happens when different stakeholders react to and build upon each other’s ideas.
This is particularly true as it relates to ensuring that the student voice is heard loud and clear in the visioning process. Sometimes, when sessions happen “IRL,” (that’s “in real life” for the texting novices), students can feel intimidated by the adults in the room and not speak up as much, or as passionately, as they otherwise might. Students are sometimes more apt to engage in a virtual environment. We attribute this in part to the fact that today’s students are digital natives and because virtual schooling has made them quite comfortable with seeing lots of faces on their computer screens and still contributing to the conversation.
Speaking of the student voice, some people tend to think that, say, 12-year-olds go through the education process with blinders on. But at SHP we learned long ago through our visioning process that students are way more thoughtful about their educational environment and experiences than many would otherwise assume. And the COVID experience has forced them to think even more about learning styles and approaches, just as it has with teachers.
Going virtual can mean more than just presentations.
Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts are splendid tools that not only not only facilitate one-to-many presentations but also breakout sessions, brainstorming and even polling. These activities make the visioning experience more energetic, engaging and fruitful.
We adjusted our typical visioning process to accommodate the virtual-only approach. For instance, we kept all lecture-based sessions to just 15 minutes and then followed those up with some sort of group exercise. This kept the pacing snappy and helped keep the participants’ brains engaged and nimble.
Hybrid: The Best of Both Worlds
As effective as the virtual visioning sessions can be, we find that, overall, they aren’t quite as productive as when they’re held in person. Therefore, moving forward, we anticipate that we will take a hybrid approach to our visioning process, offering both in-person and virtual sessions. Incorporating virtual sessions will help widen participation and increase the number of different voices heard, while incorporating in-person sessions for the more hands-on, collaborative exercises will add a little extra “spark” that can be hard to quantify but that is definitely felt.
If your school or district would like to paint a clear picture of its future, SHP’s visioning process can help. Whether a virtual, in-person or hybrid approach is best for you, we’ll figure that out together — and then set about creating a vision of your future that all your stakeholders can rally around.