Part of my role at ParentPaperwork is supporting our existing customers to experience the best value possible from the ParentPaperwork platform. Often schools will purchase ParentPaperwork with a particular goal in mind, but then overtime they come to appreciate that the platform can assist the school in so many more ways.
My experience includes 25 years in leadership roles, including Deputy Principal in a leading Melbourne independent school, and now as part of the ParentPaperwork team this has placed me in a unique position to understand how schools can maximise the benefits across the whole school’s operations using ParentPaperwork.
With many of our schools now having used ParentPaperwork for over 12 months and mastered their basic needs, the major questions that we are now fielding from everyone one … “Is this the best way to do what I need to be doing?”, “so what else can I do with the program?” and “what are all these new features I can see in the program?”
Schools are busy places and we understand fully that keeping up to date with improvement and new features is not easy. Time to explore is precious. This means that many of us, me included, cling onto the ways that we learnt to do things the first time.
With the assistance of many of our partner schools we have been adding new modules and features to the suite of ParentPaperwork fairly consistently. All the new feature give you GREATER ABILITY/FACILITY, and SHORT CUTS to help you work more effectively.
We are introducing a weekly webinar starting in May, each will run for 45 minutes and cover a particular topic. We’ll be publishing dates and times soon so please look for our newsletter in your inbox or follow us on Twitter – @parentpaperwork.
The webinars will focus on:
Maximising the use and therefore the benefits of using ParentPaperwork
Increasing your staff time savings, even more
Teaching you about more features in ParentPaperwork
Reconfirming that your current process for sending a Slip is the best way to do it.
We will cover information for expert users, but mostly the sessions will be for everyday users and administrators who want to reaffirm their processes, or knowledge of the ParentPaperwork program.
Paper has served an important role in education for hundreds of years. It’s been an enabler and a multiplier. It’s been a bedrock for schools to inform and improving student outcomes – their core mission.
But paper has been a victim of its own success as an instrument of information gathering.
As it has piled up with our need to communicate, collect, analyse and store more and more data, school workloads have exponentially increased.
Our data suggests that a single child will receive at least 30 forms per year and staff complete at least 20 forms.
So what does it really cost to send home paper forms or use an ill-fitting technology solution?
When schools think of paper costs they usually only consider the costs that they can easily quantify. The truth is that’s only the beginning. These numbers mask the real problem – that educators are taking on the role of full-time administrators.
The human cost
We don’t like to admit it, but every extra piece of paper means more time away from students.
In a recent survey of our school partners, we collected a list of the most used paper forms. These are the ones that involved staff in preparing , distributing, reminding, following up, collecting, collating and in some cases entering, information. Excursion forms, sporting forms, medical forms, record updates, training forms, fundraising forms, parent meetings and more. They were plentiful and often duplicative.
Teaching staff in all schools are involved in the paper forms process in one form or another.
Preparing the form
Preparing the information for the form
Distributing the form
Managing the follow up and reminder process to have the forms returned
Collecting the form
Ensuring that the form is fully/correctly completed
Collating the information
Storing of the original forms
Current paper practices or administration systems that have permission form capabilities are so convoluted staff understandably are turned off them. This adds to stress and workload fatigue.
Roberts acknowledges: “School Management Information Systems (MIS) have glacially evolved since their early beginnings,” to become the source of crippling frustration and burnout.
“Their development focus on breadth has meant that a focus on the needs of the actual user has been left behind.”
Schools want to be seen working on the challenge of staff workload. But technology innovations tend to sit classroom side (where they can attract new students, funding and attention) while applying technology that reduces behind the scenes workload is lower down the agenda.
It’s understandable, given the competitive education market. But it leaves educators, administrators, parents and ultimately, students themselves, worse off.
The financial cost
Paper, printers, photocopying, scanning, labor… and in some cases, faxing!
The pipeline adds up quickly when we count the cost of paper forms. Based on conservative assumptions, modelling suggests that adding basic costs, including labor and storage, tallies up to $16.70 per student.
Digitising and automating these processes could save thousands. Here’s another conservative estimate. A school of 500 students could save up to $8000 a year through smart digitisation. For 2000 that number jumps to $30,000.
The environmental cost
The human cost adds up quickly, in taxing time, energy and patience of educators (and parents). So does the hit to the bottom line.
Consider the impact on the environment.
While some schools are turning to recycled products or techniques to help reduce consumption, the impact on their eco-footprint is usually minimal.
And the heat is on, in the form of externally mandated ‘green’ goals in different educational jurisdictions around the world (and the reporting on those goals… on paper?)
The below figures show the cumulative impact of a school sending an average of 30 forms a year to a single student, at an average of two pages per form.
The tide is turning
A Principal recently told me: “I now only buy products and solutions that my staff will use. I am trying to build a culture of innovation and I need the staff to believe that what I promise the technology can deliver”.
While the pressures on the sector are vast and confronting, there’s never been a better time to innovate and take the leap. To survive, schools must be smart about scaling solutions, and letting technology shoulder critical, but crunching tasks that have become fundamentally obstructive within teaching environments.
What is the most important element in your school’s administration? Apart from your wonderful administrator and reception team.
Many principals refer to their Student administration system or database as the ‘source of truth’. And key to the value of the ‘source of truth’ is its accuracy.
Students come and go. But they also they also stay and move house, their parents get new mobile phone numbers, and living arrangements change.
Across a school year individual students will have at least one key piece of information recorded about them change.
It’s a massive task to update the student record of every single student in your school. Our experience as parents is that many schools print out the entire student record for each student in their school, which can run to seven or eight pages, or more. Then they send it home for parents to note and fill in any changes.
In this era of the keyboard and touch screens, many of us have handwriting less legible than that of generations past, making transcription errors more common than we’d care to admit.
If the student record is the ‘source of truth’ in a school, it’s accuracy ensures the school runs efficiently. It is vital that the families contact details, children’s medical details and a record of the ever increasing permissions given by parents are up-to-date and accurate.
For many schools this annual logistical behemoth looks something like this:
A school administrator decides which fields the school would like the parent(s) to review and update. They also have to decide if possible – database ability, staff technical ability – whether they send out a completely empty form or is it pre-filled with the current data held by the school.
Print out the form, which is on average 2 – 4 pages in length.
Post to postal address on current record (hoping it’s accurate) OR give to the child to take home.
Marshall homeroom/tutor/mentor/year level/ house personnel to remind students and depending the school manage the collection process.
Once the due date arrives my experience is that, due to the size of the task, up to 30% of the forms have not been returned.The administrator needs to now consider their next move based on assumptions:
Send a reminder – families are just running late
Parents did not return because they have no changes required to the data
Form may not have arrived due to an incorrect postal address or the child did not take it home or give it to their parent.
Forms need to be collected by the schools preferred collection method. Again, options based on assumptions, introducing more variables:
Reply paid envelope supplied by the school
Parents return with their own email
Student returns the form to their school, teacher, homeroom, front office other personnel/area
Parents drop off at the front office
Staff need to collect the forms and cross check with class lists to ensure all forms are accounted for. These forms need to be stored for 7 years.
Data and administration staff need to make a call:
Are all forms accounted for?
Are all forms completed fully?
Are all forms legible for the data entry staff?
Data and administration staff
Forms that are missing or not complete need to be dealt with case by case and may need one or more of the following:
Sending home again
Contacting parents to follow up
A staff member must enter all changes directly into the database or on a spreadsheet that will be uploaded at a later time. One staff member can commonly check and enter approximately 50 – 70 forms per day.
2 Data entry staff for around 2 weeks for an average sized school
Process can take up to 4 -5 weeks
All forms must be stored and be accessible for 7 years. Some parents realise that they did not keep a copy of the form and ask the school to photocopy and send it to them. Enter another round of printing costs, administrative costs and follow ups.
It’s a little staggering a process this complicated, with so much room for error, still exists.
There is a smarter and more efficient way.
Your school can use Parent Paperwork to achieve the equivalent of all of the above in just two steps from the school.
This workflow and costs would look like this:
School hands ParentPaperwork data set for update.
Parent Paperwork sends forms electronically to parents, pre-filled with data.
Parent update information that needs updating
School staff review data and can then update your database.
Here’s what the differences translate to.
Costs – paper, postage, envelope, staff to type in responses, storage costs. These are substantial.
Hidden costs – Teaching staff time, parent reaction, unintended errors, database time tied up, length of time when the database is not verified.
Electronic – quick, no teaching staff deployment, cost effective, no transcription errors, ease of use for parents, no admin staff are tied up; parents already respond quickly to our permission forms, the Student Record update could be achieved in record time using Parent Paperwork, meaning you can get on with the business of running your school knowing your student database is as accurate as is possible.
You can now do your student record update in-house using the Parent Paperwork slips module, however if you’d like to truly get this large job off your administrative staff’s plate, consider using our new Concierge Service.
We’ll handle the update for you and hand you back the complete updated student record. If you’d like a cost proposal for the Concierge Service for your school, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll prepare a compelling offer for you.
Relegate the paper route to history and buy back time, while dramatically reducing risks.
In a recent discussion with an innovative educational leader I admire, our conversation turned to the issue of constant change and signs of change fatigue in her staff. She noted that the fatigue she saw with her educators wasn’t evident in her parent community.
When you consider that the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and federal government continue to remind us the nation needs to be agile – we need to embrace innovation, that we’re going to be part of an ‘ideas boom’ – then it’s likely change will become more pronounced, not less.
So how do we manage that fatigue?
Change in education comes from a variety of directions, some technological, some cultural. There are new standard frameworks, the Australian Curriculum, new databases and administration systems, online reporting and portfolio development, new email systems, new learning management platforms, content management and marketing initiatives.
If your school experience has been anything like mine, most of these ‘innovations’ have been seen by staff as disruptions conceived by education bureaucracies, committees, or members of the school’s executive. They’ve been received as changes imposed from the outside, by a group of others who don’t understand or appreciate the realities of staff working conditions and the intricacies of their roles.
The real challenge is internalising innovation thinking. Transforming it from an outside-in mandate or an internal ‘testing bed’ into the school culture at large.
With our current approach, I can understand why we isolate innovation to a specific development group to pilot its launch. If not, fledgling ideas would be very likely sucked up into the vacuum of existing school policies, where they get lost forever in a haze of bureaucratic negativity, if they aren’t nurtured and protected in the early phases. We all appreciate there is one sure fire way to kill innovation – just keep saying no!
But what if there was a different approach?
Every day, a leader with a good idea fails at change management. Most fail because they can’t get beyond the vision. Most employ the tried and true method of “Freeze, Move, Refreeze”, then backfill the move with staff training. This process reinforces the notion for everyone that innovation is an event, associated with a seismic shift.
Innovation has milestones, but it is continuous. We have to give ourselves room to experiment, and work on practices that free, rather than shackle us.
In the past, best practices for implementing new technology in schools have at least included the following elements:
An ICT strategy that is part of the school’s strategic plan;
A change management strategy that reflects the culture of the organisation, including policies, procedures, and practices;
A roll out plan that includes stakeholder engagement, a communication plan and technical resources.
A well-resourced training plan.
Until recently we’ve been focused on replacing multiple non-integrating pieces of technology with a master curriculum and administration/finance systems program. A one size fits all approach.
These practices provide order and security for managers, but the question is, will they continue to be effective in a supercharged innovation environment?
If new products, initiatives and ideas are continuously arriving at an ever increasing pace, will schools miss out because their frameworks simply aren’t accommodating the possibilities?
I continue to learn and be inspired from others that have bridged the digital divide and constructively equipped themselves to navigate for continuous change.
Got 10 minutes? Watch this great presentation by U.S. entrepreneur Diana Kander about a better way to approach innovation. Kander entered America as an eight-year old refugee of the Soviet Union. She’s become a hugely successful businessperson and educator, and understands from experience that innovation is less about planning and more about people.
Here she uses the world of business and products as a frame of reference, to explain where so many of us are going when we’re trying to innovate.
In a little under one week more than 30 schools in Australia, and schools in the UK, France, Japan, Hawaii and Guam, have experienced the threat of serious emergencies and undergone lock-downs. This is a global issue, and can hit acutely local.
Bomb hoaxes have highlighted the need for schools to have active crisis management plans in place and well-rehearsed. An event like this impacts on students, staff, parents, emergency services, local residences, neighbouring schools, transport services and the media.
Once the safety and security of all the students and staff of a school has been organised, communicating with parents is essential. It’s equally important to communicate with the family of staff. If you do not, they will.
The immediate, emotional effects of a school emergency exacerbate the challenge. And those effects are often driven by a lack of clear information and instruction.
1. A broadcast/communication system that gives the school the ability to send a one-way notification to any number of parents – this could be a whole parent body notification as per an emergency lockdown situation, or to a specific group.
There are often emergencies when different messages need to be delivered to different groups of people at particular times during the incident. It’s also critical to have the ability to know who has read the message that you have sent and who has not. Any system chosen must have this feature, whether it be by text and/or email.
2. A critical incident team, which includes an experienced communication person.
This team needs to rehearse its role and responses and undertake drills for staff and students. Dusting off the manuals during the emergency adds to the stress and confusion that can otherwise be avoided.
The initial first few minutes are vital in ensuring the physical and emotional safety of everyone. Every opportunity to appear calm and in control helps lessen fear and regulate heightened emotional states of all involved.
3. A clear set of procedures for:
What is communicated – remember you have different audiences;
What group is being communicate to;
Who authorises the message(s);
In your planning you need to consider that some/all your students and staff have mobile phones and therefore will be communicating with family and friends. Depending on your school cohort, you cannot stop this, so how can you minimise the problems that this might cause and possibly use it to you advantage.
4. A clear, actionable message indicating what you want people to do.
It’s not useful for a parent to receive notification of an emergency without instructions telling them what they can or need to do. This means someone has to create that clear and succinct message, who can work calmly in an emotionally charged situation.
5. An assembly area away from the incident where, parents, families, local residents can gather and be briefed and kept informed of what is occurring, in real time.
Clear and precise information will not remove all fear, but will certainly lessen the anxiety. They can also be considered victims in an incident that need to be assisted.
6. A media plan. When the media becomes involved it is important to be clear who is speaking officially for the school. This is often in coordination with the emergency services on the scene.
7. A review process. Like all emergency plans, a review of how communication worked during the incident is vital. This should include all participant. By continuing to learn about our community and their preference we improve our effectiveness.
An online survey is an easy and effective way to collect this information, sort out meaningful trends and improve.
The media will seek out anyone willing to make a comment. Unfortunately the more emotional the person, the more likely they are to be approached.
We have seen just this week, along with the Principal of a school, distraught and concerned parent(s) comments sought to add ‘human interest’ to the story. Often parents arriving at the scene do not have all the facts and are highly emotional, so they are speaking out of fear, confusion and anxiety.
There are solutions
ParentPaperwork’s Broadcast feature provides the ability to schools to initiate an email and/or SMS text message to any group (or all) of parents at any time to support schools in their emergency management communication strategies.
Our Slips module enables schools to send a notification to parents via email and/or SMS text and require parents to complete an online form acknowledging receipt of the message.
We track delivery of the notifications, and display reporting to schools to indicate which parents have opened their emails or tapped on the texts even if they have not actually returned their online forms.
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.
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.
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?