Five Takeaways from a Conversation About Shadow Days

June 15, 2022 Hans Mundahl

Image of students and teacher in hallway

“What are we doing for shadow days next year?”

If you’ve been asked this question (or you’ve asked it of your team) you’re not alone. Whether your shadow days come in the fall to help families fall in love with your school, or in the spring as a deal closer, these customized, in-person opportunities to experience the day-to-day life of the school can be an important part of the family journey to enroll. They can also be a logistical burden on the enrollment team, a distraction for teachers, and (if they’re too long) trying for visiting and host students alike.

So, what are you doing for shadow days next year?

This topic recently became very popular in EMA’s Member Community. So popular in fact, we decided to hold an online meetup to share ideas, plans, and best practices. With more than eighty members registering for the event it was a lively conversation! Here are a few takeaways from that dialog.

Setting Goals

As we return to in-person admission practices from online tools adopted during the pandemic, it’s wise to not immediately go back to the way things were. As you plan for next year, consider why you value shadow days as a part of your enrollment process in the first place. Is it to learn more about the candidate? Is it for the family to fall in love with the school? Or is it for the family to be able to more easily make decisions about which school to enroll in? To meet students? To meet faculty?

Examining your goals for a shadow day can help you make better decisions about how to potentially change them.

Consider the Length

Kids and teachers are tired out and that’s not likely to change a whole lot by the fall. Do you really need a full day to achieve the goals you considered in the previous step? A shorter shadow day means everyone in your community is less likely to burn out and visitors are more likely to have a positive experience. A shorter day also means more transitions as you need to welcome families, get kids to class, and get them back from class in a shorter amount of time.

Consider how long a shadow day should be to balance both the visitor experience and your logistical burden.

Maybe It’s Not a Normal Class Day

Do you host shadow days during regular school days? If so you might worry about a teacher giving a test while a student is visiting. Rather than hosting students on any old day, consider creating special showcase days. These days might include a welcome from the admission office, several special classes taught by key educators (who you’ve selected and who have had time to prepare), as well as an opportunity to meet after-school program leaders. Another idea might be to encourage visitors to come to campus for an athletic or artistic event. Creating a visitor section in the theatre and hosting a reception for families after the play might be a low-impact way to have thespians experience the art department!

Consider existing events or special events that can augment or replace shadow days.

Training & Support Are Key

You can’t host successful shadow events all by yourself. Training of host students and support from teachers will be critical for everyone to feel like they’ve done a good job. Find some time at opening faculty meetings to talk about why it’s important for everyone to help and position your efforts in the context of making school better for everyone. Rather than saying "you’re all a part of admission" consider a different message such as "the more great students we have the more selective our school will become."

Positioning your efforts as a support to teachers is a great way to generate buy in

Online Tools Are Here to Stay

We’ve all learned a great deal over the last few years about how online tools can help make our jobs easier. Consider using scheduling tools, online forms, creative videos, and yes, even Zoom, to help you scale your efforts.

Don’t abandon all the tools and knowledge you’ve gained over the last few years!

What are you thinking about for your shadow days this fall? Let us know in the Member Community! Who knows, maybe we’ll even host another meetup to talk about your ideas!

About the Author

Hans Mundahl

Hans Mundahl is the Director of Professional Development at EMA. He has been an educator since 1995 when he first stepped into the classroom as a Fulbright exchange teacher in the former East Germany. Since then Hans has done just about every job possible at an independent school from teacher to administrator. Most recently Hans was the head of school at a K-8 day school in central New Hampshire. Hans’s spare time is usually spent with his family but he is also passionate about the outdoors and protecting the environment.

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