Envisioning the Schools of the Future

April 24, 2020 Colby Morgan

Last week, I wrote a piece for boards of trustees explaining why they should not be asking crystal ball questions of their heads and leadership teams. Why? Because our industry amidst COVID-19 is in a state of chaos, and nobody can predict the future. 

However, this week is a new week! 

This week, we are taking out our crystal balls and imagining the schools of the future. Let’s call this “visioning work.” In a recent poll of EMA members, we found that 52% of schools are creating contingency plans for the fall. I am happy about the 52% and worried about the remaining 48%. Every school leader in our industry should be prioritizing visioning work today. It is not just about the day-to-day anymore—it is about the future.

Across the country, schools are shifting their business models, bringing programs to a virtual space, and problem-solving the new challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. Many of these changes, fortunately, will stick, allowing the schools that are most successful in visioning work to emerge as the schools of the future.

To be a school of the future means being able to answer substantial questions, such as: 

  • How do we drop our price but retain our quality? 
  • How do we continue to deliver the best kind of learning in a virtual environment? 
  • How do we fully pivot our teachers to focus on best practices in virtual learning? 
  • How do we keep our kids happy and safe online?

Big questions.

Let’s do some visioning work ourselves to unlock answers for you. My prediction: A majority of independent schools, come 2021, will follow a blended learning model. This refers to having both online and in-person offerings, combined into a business model supporting both modalities. 

Here is why:

Schools must build a powerful virtual learning platform in order to be successful now, responding to the pressures of COVID-19, but also supporting the future. This kind of new business model allows for growth and scale, creating infrastructure and programming for more families. Imagine opening your doors to 30% more students by going online. That is a huge win.

How do you make this work, as a traditional campus-based school? 

Let’s break down the strategy here.

The biggest asset schools have is their brand. Harvard University has one of the largest endowments worldwide, but its brand is stronger. Its brand tells the story of the history, the campus, and the people, combined. Its brand is what will keep Harvard’s doors open forever.

The special sauce, or major unlock? First, find a connection between your robust virtual offering or blended learning program and the traditional brick-and-mortar, community-centered program on your campus. Create an online hub, a campus community platform, etc. Second, within your virtual learning platform, leverage your technology and marketing teams to expand and promote the school brand. Make it the epicenter of your online marketing strategy. Families, both prospective and current, should see the strength of your school brand everywhere they look.

Now, this exact approach isn’t for everyone, but I believe the mindset is. Entrepreneurship and visioning work will lead schools through this challenging time and allow them the opportunity to emerge stronger, more sustainable, and as the schools of the future.

About the Author

Colby Morgan

Associate Director of Business Development and Membership for CT, DE, IL, MA, ON, QC and TN. Prior to joining EMA, Colby served as the dean of students at The Derryfield School (NH) as well as the assistant director of admission. While at Derryfield, Colby taught 7th, 8th, and 9th grade history, served as an advisor, and coached the varsity baseball and middle school soccer teams. Beyond his time in schools, he worked as a professional actor throughout the Northeast, appearing on stage and in films and commercials nationwide. Colby holds a BA in theater and English from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.

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