Sunday, August 26, 2007

Maintenance requests go "Web 2.0"

Maintenance requests have been a source of frustration in my school for as long as I have been there (going on 11 years now). The paper form is completed and forwarded to the maintenance department. What happens after that is sometimes anyone's guess. Ours was a system beyond "tweaking."

What we needed was something totally different. What would a better system look like? First and foremost, it would let all involved in the process see the "big picture." The superintendent would be able to see the totality of requests--what had been completed, and what was outstanding. Those who schedule the work should be able to see all outstanding work at a glance so they could make the the best choices in making assignments. Principals and teachers would be able to see progress on the items which impacted them.

GoogleDocs has proved to be the answer for us. All maintenance requests are housed on one spreadsheet. Every principal has the ability to add requests to the spreadsheet. The maintenance department activates a request by assigning a date and an maintenance employee to it. Requests are marked complete by filling in a completion date.

The beauty of the system is that everyone can see everything. On our employee blog, TeachTalladega, we have a link to the maintenance requests. I think all of our eyes have been opened as to the sheer number of requests and can perhaps be a bit more patient as a limited staff works its way through the list. By the same token, that same limited staff can make better choices about how the day is planned now that all of the cards are on the table.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Smooth sailing or overwhelming frustration? School has begun! - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
School has begun! The beginning of this school year, like any school year, includes gathering data. How many students do we have? What classes are overloaded? Who is authorized to check Tommy out of school? What's my locker combination?

Technology is our friend in these areas, just to name a few. For those who have figured this out, the beginning of school tends to go smoothly. For those who don't, the works "overwhelmed," "disorganized," and "frantic" typify those first days and weeks as random pieces of paper fly between the classroom and school office, generally ending in a big pile on the desk of some poor sole in the school office. Life does not have to be hard!

Why do the leaders in some schools "get it," and use technology to simplify the process while others continue to operate as if LBJ still occupied the White House? I will go out on a limb and propose that the answer lies in a mindset. Some people look at a problem, and immediate the wheels in their heads begin to turn as they think of how their school administrative software or an Excel spreadsheet can make a molehill out of their mountain. Others retreat to that which is more time consuming, yet more familiar.

I have little sympathy for principals or office personnel who ignore better ways of doing things and wind up making their own jobs harder. They get what they deserve. For me, the travesty is the unnecessary paperwork that is invariably passed to their teachers. Perhaps the day will come when teachers will no longer double as stenographers or accountants and can concentrate their full attention on the craft of teaching. We are not there yet, but I am delighted to be associated with some wonderful leaders in my school system who are getting pretty close.

Ironically, the school leaders who really seem to "get it" the best are also the ones who are hungry for the next trick, the next morsel that will make lives just a little easier for their teachers. The ones who need it the most, however, rock along 20 years in the past.

Earlier this year, my article on Saving Time and Paper With Basic Technology appeared in Principal magazine. It deals with using the tools schools already have at their disposal to save time, save paper, and save our sanity.

For my friends who are in the school business, I wish you a great year and hope you find a few words of wisdom in these posts that will impact you and the students you teach.