6 simple reasons to invest in digital data management

tower of playing cards falling

Non-educational businesses commonly have larger swathes of staff dedicated to the disciplined management of records and data. It’s rarely an option for overtaxed schools with other priorities. But it’s becoming too important to put off.

Schools are in a position to lead in this area. Student data represents a uniquely sensitive batch of data-sets. Protecting and defending this information, not to mention using it to optimally enhance student experience, is central to the modern educational mission.

Here are some simple, but critical, benefits of modernising your data management:

1) Security

While digital systems aren’t immune from risk, they’re considerably more reliable than physical document distribution, where human error is given and risk of information going rogue is high. The security provided through a fit-for-purpose data management system protects personal and organisational liabilities. That trust translates into better relationships with staff and parents.

2) Lower overheads

A modest initial investment pays for itself quickly when you add up the staff and production time involved in paper-based data management. Reduce duplication of effort and output, collect and distribute more information in less time, and no don’t pay for paper, photocopying or other unnecessary costs.

Read more: How much does paper cost your school?

3) Redundancies & fail safes

If your system for capturing, holding and retrieving data is robust with distributed access, you’ll have built in buffer if something goes awry. No single individual becomes a single point of failure if they’re not available, and electronic triggers can protect you against a range of likely (or unlikely) scenarios.

4) Productivity

Quicker and more trustworthy access to information boosts workflow productivity. Productivity has a flow on effect, opening up more opportunities to improve other common processes. Getting to the end goal speedily gets notices – staff and parents both will appreciate not waiting around to complete a task or validate that a task has been completed.

shoe slipping on banana peel

5) Permissions

Getting a smart, digital information management system in place means you can create different layers and levels of access to suit your organisational needs. This means more can get done, work can scale while still minimising risk, and you can empower your people without compromising standards or safeguards.

6) Piece of mind

At any given moment, can you isolate a piece of key information about a student, and guarantee that information is timely and accurate?  You can’t afford to answer no.

For businesses, good digital record maintenance is an opportunity. For schools, it’s that and more. It’s a chance to work smarter and get more out of information on hand. But it’s also a chance to put distance between educators and overly manual processes, and return to human-to-human conversations.

New technologies can save teaching, if we let them

Students at school using computer

Several recent reports have cast a spotlight on the workload crisis facing educators and administrators in schools.

The Australian Education Union’s (AEU) 2016 State Of Our Schools Survey polled over 9,000 respondents around the country. Released in March, the findings reveal a vast and rising administrative burden on teachers and school staff, including work previously done by education departments.

AEU deputy federal president Maurie Mulhero told the media: “We’re hearing from principals that they’re doing too much of the administrational, clerical, business side of things, which is taking them away from the important teaching and learning.”

Principals are also finding it harder to fill vacancies. Mounting expectations on educators to fulfil more administrative duties, and the overall increase in paperwork for both teachers and administrators is a driving factor in the struggle to attract and retain talent.

Teacher working with student

The picture is all too similar in the UK, where Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called for less pressure on teachers to spend precious time completing administrative tasks.

Meanwhile a recent survey by The Guardian suggests teachers across England are at “crisis point”, with nearly half planning to leave the profession unless things change. The survey found 98% of teachers are under increasing pressure, with 82% describing their workload as “unmanageable”.

More than three-quarters find themselves working between 49 and 65 hours a week. Unsurprisingly 73% reported that their workload is impacting their physical health and 75% say their mental health is taking a hit.

“I just want to do what I love without all the red tape and stress,” one educator told The Guardian.

Technology needs to step up and educators with vision need to meet innovators at the table.

Read more: Technology can bring wellness to schools

Earlier this year John Roberts, Chief Executive of Edapt and ed-tech entrepreneur, authored a timely report on the role of technology in reducing teacher workload and improving the education ecosystem overall.

He questions why education has been left on the sidelines of the data, technology and innovation revolution, leaving “many teachers still being required to duplicate manual data entry.”

Roberts points out that while decision makers are genuinely concerned with investing in technology, that investment is often surface level rather than truly innovative or transformative.

Critically, it rarely addresses the most acute issues facing teachers and administrators.

Download Roberts’ full report

Reducing the need for data input, and creating ways of managing administrative tasks efficiently at scale are central to the holistic reform Roberts advocates.

The graph below from his report shows the percentage of educators investing time into unproductive data related tasks.

datatasksgraph

Respondents of the UK Department for Education’s Workload Challenge survey (which tapped over 43,000 teachers) ranked ‘recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing data’ the single biggest pain point for workload (56%). Additional administrative and support tasks were a problem for 37% of educators surveyed.

Educators, school administrators and parents recognise that much of this work has value or importance for themselves and students. But the ways the work happens are lacklustre at best, archaic at worst. Old, incompatible and labor intensive systems are still being used to capture data, and systems that don’t integrate or talk to one another mean that duplication is rife. Automation is a rarity and systems that leverage the power of teacher and parent insights rarer still.

Time for change

Across countries, governments and different social landscapes, the vice of administrative workload is a unifying thread for educators, obstructing the potential of the sector in an era that should be freeing them like none before.

The data is stacking up and it seems the tide may finally be starting to turn. Technology can dramatically lighten the load for teachers and administrators under pressure, and can transform morale across the sector. But the problem needs to be tackled holistically.

Training staff in social media, buying a round of iPads, or investing in an occasional platform upgrade won’t suffice. Apply innovation to help relieve systemic problems, and you’ll build for the ages.

Images: neccorp, Wonderland/Creative Commons. ‘Can technology reduce workload in schools’, John Roberts.

Technology can enable wellness in schools

backpackgirl

Schools have long been a place for kids to get physical.

Teachers and administrators help them get there, through coordinated sports activities, health classes, and a watchful eye on playground antics. Health professionals also play a role, offering medical expertise and intervention if needed.

But the relationship between physicality and schools isn’t always smooth sailing.

Educators want kids to be healthy, but face enormous pressure to deploy volumes of curriculum amidst competing distractions. Time spent ‘running around’ may feel like time lost. Meanwhile, time spent managing administrative commitments for those physical activities creates further distance between staff, students and desired outcomes.

The rising tide of paperwork drowning schools is like a tension headache for educators, passed onto staff, families and students. The stressors administrative burdens place on schools ripple outwards and impact everyone. Technology has often been a culprit – tools with limited or negligible pedagogical context, that end up costing time and increasing strain.

While exploring the benefits of mindfulness in schools, UK Professor Katherine Weare found that “the perception and reality of stress in teaching gives rise to poor job performance, difficulties in recruitment, and to high and expensive rates of attrition in trainee and practising teachers.” (Weare, 2014)

benches

Can automation save us?

The good news is that programs and initiatives teaching and promoting wellbeing are proliferating across sectors, including education.

At the heart of this drive is the recognition that we need to build a culture of sustainability that encompasses both our people and our environment. We’re becoming more aware of how student wellbeing is connected with staff wellbeing – how energy, creativity and focus need reconstituting. Saving paper and saving ourselves are part of the same journey.

Administrators and teachers in leadership positions can find it particularly challenging to achieve the space for movement or mindfulness in their days. Parent Paperwork users have reported that an unexpected benefit of automating their administrative workload has been time to reinvest in wellbeing activities.

When teachers and staff are more healthy, relaxed and engaged, students respond in kind. We have all worked with someone tired, anxious and distracted. We’ve been that person ourselves. Our hardworking schools can easily tip into a kind of stasis – an endless loop of ticking boxes in a weary haze. This oppresses innovation and degrades the wellness of educational practitioners.

  • Is wellness expressed in your school values and goals?
  • Does your school have a wellness program distinct from any physical education or exercise program?
  • If you have a wellness program, is it focused on students or inclusive of all staff?
  • Which tools or processes in your working life ‘get in the way’ of wellbeing by adding stress or complexity?
  • Do you feel more or less relaxed when you use certain technologies?

Systems in schools, whether human or technological, have the power and responsibility to build healthy habits. Tools like Parent Paperwork aren’t just about operational efficiencies. They mean fewer hours tethered to the computer and more time talking and walking with students and families. Time and paper saved means energy applied more meaningfully and productively.

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