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Virtual Open House - Back to School and Distance Learning



Hosting a Virtual Open House for Schools


As a middle school principal, Back to School season is one of my favorite times of year. During the 2020-21 school year, however, our campus was closed to families as we entered a season of Comprehensive Distance Learning for all.

Open House is a tradition every school year. It was important to me to keep the tradition in place, even if it needed to be adapted for the unique year. Therefore we hosted a Virtual Open House event for our students, staff, and families. Read on to learn how we planned and held the *best* Virtual Open House possible.

We planned an event that was smooth, simple, and easy for any family to follow – regardless of how “tech savvy” they were.



The Night’s Agenda


Hosting a Virtual Open House for schools was a new adventure this year (among many others). We did our best to keep Virtual Open House as close to our typical events as possible. Our event happens on the Thursday evening before Labor Day, with students starting classes exactly one week later. Even though we had so much to plan, we decided to stick with this date for a few key reasons.

First, families had so many questions as they prepared for this year of Distance Learning. Our hope was to relieve their stress and begin forming relationships with teachers early. Second, we considered our Virtual Open House as an opportunity to “onboard” for Distance Learning. By demonstrating to our community that we are “tech ready”, we hoped to build their confidence in our ability to navigate our new normal.



Finally, as you know, the highest-performing schools know how important relationships are to student success. My staff *love* our students! During Inservice Week we get so bogged down in the “how”…it was great to be reminded of our “why.” Students!

Here was our Night’s Outline: 5-6PM Principal’s Message ~ Bell Schedules ~ Student Safety ~ Getting Support (This Principal’s Message was pre-recorded using WeVideo. Also included were links to FAQ’s for families.)

6-7PM Meet Your Teachers ~ We have a 6 period day, so families attended Google Hangouts with each teacher for up to 8 minutes (2 minutes passing period). Classes started on the zeros.


The Open House Website How did families know where to go?

I am a HUGE fan of Google Sites. It’s a user-friendly “mini blog” way to push out big events to families. Last year I used it for Senior Awards Night. I find it’s much classier than just adding a link to our website – plus it gives families a place to “go” for an event.

For Virtual Open House, I created a Google Site that had our school’s photo and all the links they needed to attend our Virtual Open House.


In August, I put out a “Save the Date” along with a bitly.com web address for the event. This shortened URL led directly to the Google Site. On the Google Sites website, I wrote, “Details and links to our Virtual Open House will appear here on Friday, August 28th.” (That was about a week before the event.) I worked on an added Page in the background, so that when it was ready, I could just publish it for families to see.

The Schedule with Links

The most important element in planning our Virtual Open House was creating the link-filled schedule.


Here’s what I needed to create a Virtual Open House schedule:

  • Google Sheets (I hid the grid lines when I embedded it on my Google Site – it looked cleaner; less like a spreadsheet and more like an agenda)

  • Teachers needed to create and send me a link to a Google Hangout that they created.

  • Teachers needed to send me the link to their class syllabi (making sure they made it viewable to the public)

Security and Safety

The success of an event like this was dependent on having all the details in order. One detail that we worked out in advance was website security. I’ve heard more than one horror story of events like this going south – FAST. Here are some strategies we used:

Google Hangouts Live for our school-wide beginning presentation: We considered using this, but ultimately opted to use a pre-recorded video made with WeVideo. We tried to use a one-way Google Hangout Live but our district security/tech made this challenging. If you have the option, this is essentially one-way communication; it will help prevent the overwhelming tech issues, feedback, and “mute your mic” conversations that are inevitable with two-way meetings.


Override of Hangouts Login from our District – to keep students safe, the only people who can join a teacher-generated Google Hangout is someone from within our organization. This works well when we’re in instruction – not so well when you are encouraging parents and the community to attend an event! Therefore we’re working with our district tech team to create an exception for this night only. Be sure to check with your district tech team, too! That could be a headache for families.

FAQs and Q&A – Just like at a typical Open House, families have questions that deserve to be answered. Therefore we created a two documents – FAQ and Q&A and linked them to our Virtual Open House for schools schedule. We included a place for family names and contact information so we could be in touch.


Meet the Teacher Time

During Meet the Teacher time, families followed their students’ school schedule at 8 minute intervals (2 minute passing period). Teachers were encouraged to remind families about the links to their syllabi, so they could focus less on details and more on connecting. Each teacher designed their own plan ~ flexibility was highly encouraged! Since families were clicking from room to room, we encouraged teachers to keep that in mind (just like in a typical Open House, some stay longer than others).


BEST OF LUCK!

Here’s wishing you and your school family a safe, academically rich, and flexible school year! I hope this information helps inspire you to hold a great Open House for schools, since they’re very unique and special events.





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