Administrators and teachers have so many contacts with parents. Today’s guest, Meredith Akers, has gone paperless with her contact logs. She talks about how she did it, the time she’s saving, and her recommendations for building relationships with parents by becoming more organized with your contact logs.
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Easy Paperless Contact Logs
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e247
Date: February 6, 2018
Vicki: Today we’re talking to an assistant principal at an elementary school just outside Houston, Texas, Meredith Akers @meredithakers.
Now, Meredith, you have recently gone with paperless contact logs. You think that it’s a great thing for all of us to do.
First of all, what have you done?
Meredith: Well, if I go back a second, I think everybody who knows me at my school would say that I am such a binder queen, and I do love my binders. Every time I spoke to a parent — which as an assistant principal that’s a lot — I used to print out the student info that has the parent’s info and circle that and then turn it over and write the conversation on the back.
I like to take really good notes. That way if a parent calls me back, I can refer to those and also it helps me when I write something down to follow through. That write-down really helps my brain to remember what I’ve said I’m going to do., and to have that to reference.
But I’ve got all these binders! I’ve been an assistant principal now for seven years, so I’ve got seven years worth of binders, and that’s just silly.
Seven years of binders
Meredith: And I can’t “search” those!
My partner assistant principal, Julie Clements, and I thought, “What if we used Autocrat and Excel, and set things up a little bit differently so that we could search those notes?”
She actually jumped in first. She did it a different way than I did. Julie started by using Autocrat. We have about 1100 kids at our elementary school.
She ran a spreadsheet of all the kids and their contact info, and then used Autocrat to kind of help her create for each child a digital sheet. She was going to keep all her contact info for the whole year on that digital sheet for the kiddo.
I kind of did the opposite. I still look up the child’s information. We have an awesome automated system. I can just type in the child’s name, and it brings up everything for me.
So I still look up the child’s info, but I use a Google Form now to type in the number I called, who I spoke to, and our conversation. Then at the end of that Google Form, I have a second section that I can say if I need to follow up.
This is my favorite part that I never had with my paper contact system.
My favorite part that I never had before with my old system
When I hit that follow-up button, “Yes I need to follow up,” if I’ve told the parent, “Let me take care of that and call you back tomorrow,” or “Let me ask the teacher to follow up with you on that,” then I have a separate section in the form that I can type in that I need to follow up with the teacher or I need to call the parent back.
When I submit the form using Autocrat and the Excel that’s attached, Autocrat automatically emails me that follow up that I said I need to do.
So as soon as I finish that conversation with the parent and hit Submit, I get an email in my Inbox that tells me what I need to follow up on.
It becomes my To Do List
For me, that’s kind of my To Do List. If I need to forward that to a teacher, it’s right there, already types. I don’t have to retype it. I can just forward it to the teacher or it can sit in my Inbox, kind of as a To Do List for me until I finish it up and mark that off.
Vicki: So now Autocrat is an add-in for Google Sheets. Are you using Google Sheets, or are you using Excel?
Meredith: I’m sorry. I said Excel, but I did mean Sheets. Thank you for correcting me.
Vicki: OK. So you’re using the Autocrat merge tool that lets you do all the merge and also kind of gives you some automation features with it, right?
Meredith: Exactly! Exactly!
So setting up that form… Google Forms. Once you set that up, you can link it to Sheets (and I said Excel but I meant Sheets, thank you for correcting me) and then within Sheets I was able to set up an Autocrat function that is an add-on for Sheets. Then every time I fill out the form, that information automatically goes to the Sheets, and then Autocrats sees, “Oh, she has a follow up,” and emails me, “You need to follow up on this.”
Vicki: So you can look at a student and you can see all the conversations you’ve had with that parent?
Meredith: Exactly. So I love that feature, too, that I can go into Sheets and easily search for a student’s name and see every conversation we’ve had. Or I can search for a certain day, “Did I call them that day?”
Easily search for information
It makes it really easy to go back an find information, whereas a binder like I used to do or a notebook like some people like to do for their contact log, You just can’t search that.
It’s great to just use that Find feature too, to find “When did I say this?”
Vicki: So you’ve blogged about how you did this. So, the administrators and the teachers — we all have student contact — that are listening.
Is this hard to set up? Can they just follow some steps, or is this something that, you know, “Somebody’s going to have to help me do this.”
Can anyone do this?
Meredith: I absolutely think that people can do this. If you’ve never used Autocrat before, I would recommend heading over to my blog because I did do a step-by-step walk through.
It’s really a one time setup. I set it up back in August. I don’t have to do anything else. It just works the rest of the year for me, so it’s been great.
You can watch me walk through it with a screencast and just follow along and set yours up if you’ve never used Autocrat before. It’s that one time setup and you’ll be good to go.
Vicki: Wow. So this is transformed your workflow.
Meredith: It absolutely has transformed my workflow.
It has transformed my workflow
It’s so much easier for me to take those notes while I’m talking to a parent. For me, I can type a lot faster than I can write.
I’ve also found that my notes from conversations are much more detailed, and when I reference back to them, that’s when it’s great for me to have details from our conversation.
Vicki: Wow. Has this freed up any time for you?
I mean were you spending more time on paperwork, and maybe now you’re spending more time on building relationships, or what?
Meredith: I believe it has saved me time, especially when I’m hunting back for a piece of information in that conversation. I don’t have to search through a binder of flip through a notebook.
It has saved me time
I can just go to Find, type in what I need, and find that student’s name and that conversation.
It’s absolutely a timesaver. Yes.
Vicki: You know, when you’re dealing with difficult situations, there’s always this thing… You know, people can have false memories. (laughs)
Vicki: I mean, that’s a very real thing.
That’s why police — when there’s an accident — really listen to those 911 tapes and when people tell them right then, because it is literally possible for us humans to wish something was so, to the point that we can plant false memories in our own minds, particularly when it’s emotionally charged.
That’s one of the things that I’ve found with taking good notes, is important for me.
Also, sometimes parents don’t take those kinds of notes, do they?
Meredith: Right. Parents don’t. And parents don’t remember, so it’s good to reference back.
I often tell parents, “Would you hang on just a second? I want to write that down.”
I feel like sometimes it diffuses — when a parent’s upset — that they know I’m not just listening. I’m writing this down. It’s important to me.
I’ll find that they calm down because I’m slowing down our pace a little. “I’m sorry, could you hang on a second? I want to write this down because I want to make sure I have your wording right.” I do find that it diffuses those tough situations.
It diffuses emotions in those tough situations
Vicki: Yeah. It’s all about relationships, isn’t it?
Meredith: It really is.
Vicki: And when technology can help us have better relationships and really focus… because you know, we’re dealing with kids. We’re dealing with children. We’re dealing with human beings. Not every interaction is going to be easy, is it?
Meredith: Absolutely not. There are definitely going to be tough conversations, and so any tool that can help us as educators to slow our own minds down… because we don’t want to be reactive.
If a parent’s upset, we don’t want to elevate that. Because if we get upset, it’s just going to amp it up and everybody's going to be upset.
So if something like taking good notes — which definitely helps me, and I would recommend to others — helps me to stay focused on, “OK, I’m just going to start my listening.”
That’s great for building relationships, always, to start by listening, letting that person know that you value what they say, and that you’re writing it down. (It) makes an impact.
Then writing down how you’re going to follow up, too.
When I’m face to face with a parent, I take handwritten notes. I think that speaks also, that I’m writing down what I’m going to do to follow up.
Face to face meetings versus phone calls
I let parents know, when we’re on the phone, when I’m typing it, “You know, I’m going to type this in. I’m going to make sure I follow up with you tomorrow.”
They know there’s a plan, and I’m writing that down. I’m going to follow through.
Vicki: And so they don’t hear you typing and just think that you’re doing something else.
Meredith: (laughs) Absolutely, I don’t want them to think that! Yes.
Vicki: You know, I was curious about the face to face. There’s nothing more disconcerting than when somebody’s on a computer — especially those who can’t type and look at you at the same time — because it just builds a barrier.
I think that’s smart.
So what do you do with those handwritten notes when you’re done with the meeting?
Meredith: You know, sometimes I ask my secretary — because I am an assistant principal — to type them in for me if they’re very long.
But if they’re short, I type them in myself because I can usually remember more details to add, and I do like to have it all in one place in that Sheets.
Vicki: OK. So teachers and administrators, we can use Google Sheets and a free add in called Autocrat to have paperless contact logs.
Some of us have this inside our school information system, like Power School that I have at school to kind of track my contacts.
I think this whole idea of going paperless is an important one for all of us.
Please do remember that even when we use technology to keep up with these things, it’s still all about people. It’s still all about relationships, and listening is one of the most important things we can do so that our parents know that we are working to help their student learn and have a world-class education.
Contact us about the show: https://www.coolcatteacher.com/contact/
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]
Bio as submitted
Meredith Akers is a wife, mom, Christ-follower and elementary school administrator who believes that the best way to help others grow is to model expectations through relationship building, staff developments, meetings, hallway interactions, reflection, technology integration and application, and instructional practices. Her daily aspiration is to make a positive impact and to leave those she serves better off for having interacted with her.
Meredith currently serves as Assistant Principal at Ault Elementary in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD outside of Houston, TX. She is a Google Certified Educator Level 1 and 2 and a FlipGrid Certified Educator.
Meredith is passionate about providing quality professional development and helping educators connect and grow. Meredith has led numerous professional development sessions on her campus, for her district, at conferences, and as a consultant including book studies, Google apps workshops, and training for school leaders to better utilize tech tools. She is a co-founder and co-moderator of #CFISDAPchat (every other Thursday at 8:00pm CST) and co-moderator of #TXed (each and every Wednesday night at 8:30pm CST). Join the conversation!
Meredith blogs at meredithakers.com about educational leadership, ed tech tools and applications, and great instructional practices. You can connect with Meredith on Twitter by following @meredithakers.
|Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.|
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