By Darlene Wilgus | April 26, 2021, 11:49 PT
Influencers are part of our daily lives in ways we can’t even comprehend. They tell us about the latest gadgets we need, what colors we should wear this spring, and who we should listen to on our playlists. They communicate more informally than formally, unless you are subscribed to their feeds (Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Who are the influencers in your district and why should you identify them as you are developing a digital learning program?
Key #1: Identify Staff that Meet Parents by Phone, Email, or Face-to-Face
Do those employees that answer the phone, respond to email inquiries, or meet the public have a working understanding of what your digital learning program can offer? These frontline workers are the most natural communication you can leverage with a small amount of time and a tailored FAQ about remote options that their district provides. I recall the “aha” moment when I realized that our district front office support staff had no knowledge or information that we even had digital learning programs in the district – and this was in year four of our program. These influencers, when brought into the information circle, can be powerful in directing parents to the right place to receive in-depth information, and setting up enrollment appointments.
Key #2: Counselors Need “How To” Information
No matter the scope of your program (9-12, 6-12, K-5, or K-12) these hard working professionals want learning options for students and often are the ones creating student schedules. They also are concerned about meeting graduation requirements or in the case of middle school students, prerequisites. If your digital learning program has continuous enrollment and students are not in six courses at the same time, they need to understand this new thinking.
What is the enrollment protocol for their students? How will they see progress for their students who have digital learning courses? Can a student take more than one online course in a semester? What problems do they anticipate?
Spending regular time with counselors at the respective grade bands will pay dividends. They influence students and families, other staff, and the administrators in their buildings daily.
Key #3: Building Leaders and Teaching a Learning Team
These busy professionals have been in the traditional education model until the recent disruptive year when the education business took many uncharted paths. There is likely an openness to the idea of a long-term digital learning program or the expansion of an existing plan. A short, bulleted overview and periodic updates will help them speak confidently about what the district has to offer. During the school year, as life happens, students may need to learn at home. Though the school guidance counselor may ultimately be the one that helps set this up for the student and family, leaders like to know they have options that can keep students involved in the learning community, rather than sending them out of district to virtual school.
Take the baton to be an influencer!
Influencers are with us daily. We bump into people we know in the parking lot, at soccer practice, and at the grocery store. Using the natural levers we have daily with people is smart business and will allow your digital learning program to both maintain FTE and potentially expand. Marketing dollars can also be used in creating digital graphics and collateral to tell your stakeholders about your program’s unique service models.
These 3 key influencers outlined here are a starting point for creating greater influence in your community and meeting students’ learning option needs. If I am not influencing or communicating with my key influencers, then there is a void that will potentially be filled with misinformation and lost opportunity.
Meet the Writer
Darlene has 35+ years of experience in education spanning teaching and leading private and public schools K-12. She has also served as an adjunct professor in both education and university administrative programs for George Fox, Seattle Pacific, and Heritage. Her passions lie in student-centered practices, program development, and best practices approaches for teachers to employ. Her undergrad work was at Northwest Nazarene University, MED in School Administration from Central Washington University, and her Superintendent’s license was earned through the Executive Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University.
During her tenure in alternative learning the past 14 years, she became an NBCT, led a 10 member cohort with 80% certification in year one, and facilitated two district-level program cohorts. Her focus for the past seven years became a lightning rod for today’s educational paradigm: developing and implementing a successful district online learning program.