ParentPaperwork makes an impression at BETT

The BETT Show, held in London each year, is one of the largest education technology tradeshows in the world. It’s big and it’s exhausting.

Originally known as the British Educational Training and Technology Show, BETT has been running for more than 30 years, and attracts more than 35,000 visitors and hundreds of exhibitors. It’s held in the Excel, a vast exhibition hall on the banks of the Thames in the east end of London.

Nothing can completely prepare you for the sheer size of the event – walking from one end of the exhibition floor to the other takes 15 minutes, or longer, as you squeeze past hundreds of people packed along the aisles or hanging around exhibitor stands. Education and technology are rapidly colliding and sparking.

Anyone who is anyone in the EdTech universe is there, including Microsoft, Apple and Google, who each have large elaborate stands carefully designed to reflect their corporate image and brand.

Microsoft is all right angles, pale timber and slick video screens. Google is less formal and incorporates their ‘Google’ colours even into the benches. Apple has dozens of bright young things roaming around in trademark T-Shirts, jeans and runners.

Parent Paperwork at BETT

We spent the four days of BETT working with our UK partner Groupcall and meeting some terrific EdTech firms from all over the world.

Some countries, including Singapore and Israel, had stands showcasing groups of local EdTech firms. The United Arab Emirates had a stand devoted to recruiting British teachers to move to the UAE.

Special credit to Melbourne business Caremonkey who also made the trip. It was lovely to catch up with their founder Troy Westley and I’m hoping he found BETT as productive as ParentPaperwork did.

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The Groupcall stand at BETT was spectacular

Groupcall’s stand was fantastic, one of the largest at BETT, and definitely with the largest video screen, a 9m LED video wall across the back (and yes we played the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer a few times late one afternoon!).

The set up was perfect, with multiple seating areas with large computers where you could sit down with a group of school representatives and demonstrate products, as well as free standing touch screens also running the demos.

We even had a visit from Sir Bob Geldof. You may know him as a musician, but he’s also an original investor in Groupcall, and regularly attends to BETT to spend time connecting with Groupcall users and edutech innovators at large.

It was fun watching visitors walk past the stand and do a double take when they saw Sir Bob! (And of course immediately pull out their phone for a selfie).

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Sir Bob dropped by and was mobbed.

For us, it was our first major opportunity to showcase ParentPaperwork’s new integration with Groupcall’s Messenger school/parent communication platform.

We’re proud of this partnership – we’ve baked ParentPaperwork’s Parent Slips module deeply into Messenger, giving schools a seamless experience and all the benefits of replacing the paper forms they exchange with their parents.

I should also mention a fellow partner in Messenger, PEBS (Parent Evening Booking System).

Like us they have deeply integrated their parent teacher interview booking platform into Messenger, and their founder Will Mackenzie came down from Scotland to share time with us. He’s a fabulous guy, and already has hundreds of UK schools using PEBS.

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BETT is a remarkable experience.

I must confess, by the end of the last day my voice was almost gone, and my feet were killing me – I laughed I needed a foot spa to recover!

But this was a brilliant opportunity to talk to hundreds of people about ParentPaperwork, gauge their reaction, and solicit their feedback. We left BETT with a long list of interested school staffers.

Not one that I spoke with (and that was a great many) didn’t see the value of ParentPaperwork.

Once they had their ‘light bulb’ moment and connected in their mind the paper form problem with our solution, their enthusiasm was palpable. We can’t wait to see what happens next!

Innovation: Are you ready for it?

Sign on wall saying I am making the future

The Australian federal government’s National Innovation and Science agenda is aiming to restructure and refocus the Australian economy.

As a society we’re being told to value innovation after decades of (at best) a rather laid back, dismissive attitude to it.

What does this have to do with education?

Isn’t innovation something that huge companies do, something otherwise known as R & D?

The federal government is set to spend $28 million in a marketing campaign that seeks to change the Australian community’s mind on innovation and dispel that notion.

Schools and the education system as a whole are going to be affected by this revaluing of innovation. If communities start to engage with innovation as something important – something that creates new value – it won’t be long before the communities of interest that connect with schools start to ask schools – what are you doing to make your school function better, to be more innovative?

Schools and the education system are going to be affected by this revaluing of innovation.

Male teacher with laptop and students

Teachers have been at the forefront of innovation in the classroom, embracing flipped learning and finding unique ways to use 3D printers to teach lesson points and equip students for the future.

But the classroom isn’t the only opportunity for innovation in a school, and educators are increasingly expected to own the innovation they are championing for students.

This is a new and exciting landscape for schools and their leaders. The stakes will be high – those who can’t or won’t innovate, particularly around internal functions that waste staff time or unnecessary resource, are in danger of becoming the ‘also-rans’.

Competition for students, funds, staff and profile will be reorganised. It’s a wonderful opportunity for schools ready and willing to innovate their processes at every level to take the slingshot to the slow-moving Goliaths of the sector.

If there wasn’t already enough pressure on Heads of ICT and IT managers in Australian schools, the Australian government’s new Innovation and Science agenda, will amplify this tenfold.

If innovation is the new buzzword, it’s worth unpacking what that is likely to mean specifically in the schools context.

Disruption is already here

The education technology space in Australia is enjoying new vibrancy, with innovative start-ups jumping out of the gates.

Some recent successes include: Literatu – a formative assessment and learning platform making great strides into SE Asia and the US; Class Cover – the CRT booking app taking the headache out of booking casual and relief teachers across SE Australia and New Zealand; Reach – automation of the contemporary boarding school; ourselves, Parent Paperwork – a born global platform that automates paper forms in schools everywhere, already in seven countries.

There are many more, with plenty of new Edtech companies in the curriculum space and we think, a number likely to move into the schools administration space. When schools start to embrace innovation, we will see  new, highly adaptive, customisable, specific solution technology companies enter this space.

These new products will be best of breed, often times replacing an older, dated and clunky system with a solution critically designed to how the user will use the system.

A number of the new applications currently available or about to be are set to challenge the current notion of how technology can best serve the specific needs of your school.

Many new technology entrants into the education sector will be drawn by the opportunities to be involved in curriculum, pedagogical practice, administrative and communication improvements.

With close to two million schools in the world, with many of the processes inside a school being universal wherever you are in the world, the opportunities for scale are obvious.

How these new products are implemented and embedded in school practices will be a major challenge and a measure of success. For many schools a new mindset needs to be adopted.

How these new products are implemented and embedded in school practices will be a major challenge and a measure of success.

If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself- education technology is just a byproduct of what a school is all about, it’s on the periphery, it’s not the main game, then consider this… Edutech which takes place annually in Brisbane, is the largest education event in the southern hemisphere attracting over 8,000 participants each year and growing.

This is not a fringe development.

Innovation will be moving centre stage in the near future. The question is – are Australian schools up to the challenge?

This is the first of a series of blog posts intended to provoke discussion and opinion about how the community of educators worldwide take up the challenge of using innovation to better our schools.

Photos: Duncan Hallpeteselfchoose

How working outside the box pays off

girl playing hopsotch

Learn how one Australian school makes innovation a habit.

Jenny Whelan is the Administration Director at Albert Park Kinder, one of Melbourne’s most respected schools.

Jenny hails from the private sector in sports management, and has always been driven by the power and the potential of team building. She explains why she moved to education when many might head in the opposite direction:

“On close inspection the sectors are very much aligned!

“In both realms the focus is on supporting each individual’s full potential and ongoing quality improvement.  These core values underline my career from the beginning and will do until the end – supporting others to realise their full potential is my purpose.”

This passion for unlocking potential and continuous improvement is a passion shared by those in the technology space,  and it’s what drove Jenny to hunt for digitally powered solutions to help save her school time and money.

“We needed a partner that could manage the nuances of different classes,” she explains.”Not a faceless tech giant we could never develop a relationship with.”

The Kinder started using Parent Paperwork in June 2015 after a parent recommended it.  Here’s a few of the clever ways Jenny has created positive changes using the tool as a spring board, with all sorts of impactful ripples.

Fundraising

Most schools fundraise to help make ends meet, and most administrators get it done using paper order forms.

Jenny had the bright idea of using Parent Paperwork to manage both orders and fulfilment. Bingo – Albert Park Kinder increased fundraising orders by 50%.

No more endless reinvention of the wheel.

Template storage

“No more endless reinvention of the wheel! You create the form or template you need, then clone it when you need another version.” Jenny has developed templates for key documents in school life, which can live securely and be accessed when needed. She’s saved teachers a world of duplication of effort, and built a shared knowledge base.

Recruiting

Recruiting for school committees takes time, persuasion and shoulder tapping. Jenny found a better way. “Using Parent Paperwork we were able to confidentially request expressions of interest for specific positions. Parents replied easily and privately, identifying their specific skills or interests. We had more people put their hand up and had a committee it in no time at all.”

Jenny says she plans to use ParentPaperwork to strengthen for teacher recruitment too.

“Orientating a new staff member can be challenging. We create a ParentPaperwork log-in on appointment so new staff members can immediately see the history of our communications with families. That’s a great shortcut and they can hit the ground running.”

Enrolments & fees

Jenny has streamlined enrolments using the system, and the Kinder is saving time on fee collection using reminders and safe storage. “Even the stragglers are now in the habit!” she says.

Containing infection

Measles, head lice, or something even more serious – when infections strike it can have a big impact on kids’ learning (and parents’ scheduling). Schools have a legal responsibility to inform and quarantine, “usually by a note in the foyer or an email that gets buried,” admits Jenny.

Jenny now manages health communications with mobile alerts to keep her kids safer and the adults compliant. “If it comes from Parent Paperwork people know it’s important,” she says.

We can be confident that our message got through.

Emergency alerts

If school access is restricted because of weather or police operations in the local area, administrators need to contact parents quickly and reliably.

“We don’t have to buy an SMS system that costs us a fortune to reach everyone, because we’ve got Parent Paperwork.

“The authorities stress how important it is that parents confirm receipt of emergency messages. Parent Paperwork lets parents acknowledge they’ve read our message and we can be confident that our message got through.

Parent contact details

Another godsend? “Parents maintain and update their own contact details,” says Jenny. “It’s critical we have accurate contact information. The reminder we would have once been sent out in a paper newsletter. Parent Paperwork provides parents the opportunity to review and update their contact details with each message received.”

Optimised newsletters

How many of us can say we read the school newsletter cover to cover, especially when they’re weekly? Because Jenny uses Parent Paperwork for the reminders, alerts and announcements that used to line its pages, Jenny’s been able to ween Albert Park Kinder from a weekly barrage of information to a deeper, more reflective and meaningful newsletter each term that’s curated with care and fully absorbed by parents.

Making time for what matters

Albert Park Kinder team

Albert Park Kinder educators (L to R) Isha, Jacinta and Camille and student Dad, Garzy

“It may be a technology solution but the benefits have been human,” says Jenny of the success she’s had integrating Parent Paperwork into daily school life. “The system gives back to you immediately. Our families picked it up on day one and it’s given our teachers agency and independence.”

Educators are under tremendous burden. They want to embrace new standards and richer objectives. Jenny knows it’s about working smarter not harder.

“Parents are overwhelmed too,” she points out. “Technology can fuel that, but can help change it too. Now we work smarter. And it’s given us latitude to find other smarter solutions.”

I hadn’t factored in how appreciative the families would be of our efforts.

And the biggest lesson? Gratitude.

“I hadn’t factored in how appreciative the families would be of our efforts,” she confesses. “We were always looking for a better way to connect with the working parent, and this journey we’ve been on has really bridged that gap.

“Parents now share their sense of relief rather than frayed nerves about what they need to follow up on, or might have overlooked.”

Here’s Jenny’s top takeaways for parents and teachers who want to make life easier, and create change in their environments:

  • Do your homework

Research the right solution for your needs, and ask plentiful questions. Experiment with different scenarios and make sure the idea or the solution is flexible and agile. Know what you want to improve and why.

  • Create relevant examples

We start to trust when we see things in action, making a meaningful difference. When you’re advocating for technological change, show how the tool can be applied to a real problem facing fellow educators and parents. Let the solution speak for itself.

  • Utilise networks

Find others within your working environment who are also passionate about creating constructive change and making lives easier. Support each other with shared strategies, resources and examples. Reach out beyond your own institution to connect with like minds and do the same.

  • Don’t give up

Stay resilient if you don’t succeed immediately. Keep creating proof points, building networks and cultivating curiosity.

As we left Jenny she was off to enjoy a costumed concert at the kinder. She used Parent Paperwork to give parents a “friendly tap on the shoulder” that ensured every child had a costume and arrived on time.

“No tears, no one missing out,” she says happily. “Now we just need to make sure we don’t mess up the words to the Frozen soundtrack.”

Photo: Pink Sherbert/Creative Commons

Helping Australian Schools with Back to School 2016

Welcome back to school for 2016 for our Australian customers of ParentPaperwork!

We hope everything is going well preparing for the return of students at the end of the month. If you are a ParentPaperwork customer we want to offer our assistance to have everything organised for 2016.

Setting up for 2016

  • Common activities in ParentPaperwork at the beginning of the school year are:
  • Move students who left at the end of 2015 to a new Student List;
  • Remove Students from Year Level and Class Student Lists;
  • Re-import your students and parents to ensure existing students are allocated to the correct Student Lists; and new students and parents records are created;
  • Archive Slips from last year so whilst they are easily accessible, they are not displayed by default when you are viewing your Parent Slips list;
  • Disable Staff who have left school; add new Staff Users.

Back to School Forms

Of course ParentPaperwork is perfect for all those back to school blanket permission forms, like photo permissions, policy consents, head lice checks and any other forms you ask parents to complete and return at the start of Term 1.

Once all your students and parents are organised in ParentPaperwork, it’s easy to set up these forms and send them out.

We’d be delighted to help you prepare for Term 1 to ensure everything is ready.

If you’d like assistance with setting up your students/parents, and/or sending out back to school forms, please email support@parentpaperwork.com.