Moving from manual systems to automation in six weeks: How we are doing it!

This is familiar. When a blogger's site goes quiet, they are either gone on vacation or they are so busy they cannot breathe.

This week, I've been the latter. I've kept a pen and paper handy as I noted things I'd like to share with you.

In addition to installing my amazing new computer lab, we've also been training administration and staff on our new PowerSchool system.

Moving from manual systems to PowerSchool has gone relatively smoothly largely because of the amazing leadership from administration.

They told the teachers,

“Listen, I'm not very good with a computer and I'm learning. It's the right thing to do and certainly you're as good as all of those other teachers who are doing it now.”

No bellyaching, just professionals who know they need to do it! Boy, I work in a great school!

Then our administration did something really revolutionary! They attended one whole day of training and learned how to use it themselves!

The trainer was quite impressed and noted that she cannot recall a headmaster ever receiving training. What can I say? They lead by example.

It is amazing that this thing is up and going in less than six weeks (they set up our server the first week of July.) Our guidance counselor was implementation manager and I was technical support. I assisted with converting the data for import but she did the majority of the work. On top of that her baby is due next week!

We actually took attendance on the first day of school without a hitch!

Here are the tips I have for you that we've used to help speed our process and helped it go relatively smoothly:

1) Look at the PROCESSES of what you want to automate and establish phases.

You CANNOT do everything at once. Our process planning (which remains in flux) looks something like this:

Aug 11 – Attendance
Aug 20 – All gradebooks setup and first week of grades entered
Aug 21 – Administration reviews gradebooks to ensure entry is occurring.

We will be implementing lunchroom automation in several months because the automation of attendance and gradebooks is such a big part of what we do.

For web access, we plan on having a test group of parents (probably our Board of Directors) in November/ December. In January we plan on starting with the senior class and moving down as we allow parent and student access to the system. We add in small chunks so we can troubleshoot in small chunks.

In everything we've had:

Administrator Testing–> Small Group Testing –> Phased roll out to end users.

2) Communicate clearly WHAT will happen:

We have procedure flowcharts for everything that has been communicated to all of the teachers.
Administrators presented it (not me, the technical person) and opened up for questions and input from the teachers.

This flow chart includes manual processes that will be used until all auditing is completed for a process and teacher comfort levels are high. (see dotted line)

The chart to the left is an example of what we used for attendance. We had similar flow charts for excused attendance, grading, and report cards.

3) Communicate clearly HOW future changes will happen:

We will reconvene the technology committee that spent all of last year selecting the gradebook after our guidance counselor has her baby. At that time, we will discuss reports the teachers want and changes that they would like to see.

We will also discuss future capabilities of the system and plan for when we think each part can happen with feedback from the teachers.

We invited anyone not already on the committee who was interested to add their name to the list. People don't like feeling left out. Include people.

4) Communicate clearly HOW to get
help and Establish a first line of defense.

We trained most of our “power users” on the day of training with the PowerSchool trainer.

Then, the next day we brought in ALL teachers with me providing the training. Each person from day 1 was given a person and they were designated as “Power Pals.” They sat at the computer together with the newbie driving the mouse.

We took two hours to cover school procedures and basic PowerGrade setup. Then, the last hour of training, we dismissed all teachers to go with their PowerPal to make sure they were set up by noon. The goal was to have every teacher set up in PowerGrade and logged in to verify that they were ready to take attendance the next day. I spent my time going from room to room and troubleshooting. I verified that everyone had set a password and had properly secured their system.

First, when a person needs help, they go to their PowerPal to ask a question. We then have a designated person in each building, that is the second line of defense. Finally, they can e-mail or see the two administrative tech support designees, myself and the guidance counselor as their final recourse. We act immediately.

I firmly believe in the importance of partnering power users with users who may be a little less comfortable. This gives the beginners the hand holding and comfort of someone standing over their shoulder without putting an undue burden on one person. The Power Users have a way of filtering the “small” problems and putting only the larger problems on the plate of the system administrators.

Remember this, never tell the teachers your strategy and remember, you can “guess” who the power users might be, but you never know. A “newbie” in your mind will surpass all of the “power users.” It will happen, so don't label publicly.

5) Empathize openly with the feelings associated with a conversion.

Feelings are feelings. Empathy must accompany everything you do because change is difficult. People need to know that they will not be crucified if they enter one blank wrong and that someone is there to help. Never take away hope in fact, give hope, empathy and encouragement.

Authoritarian, dogmatic, implementations without understanding the human side are doomed to fail amidst myth and floundering newbies who have nowhere to turn.

At our school, we often say (and truly feel) that we are a family. We all have strengths and weaknesses and those who have a skillset that compliment my weaknesses help me on many things. They do not make me feel bad when I have trouble decorating my room. They help me! Likewise, I help them set up their printer without criticism.

Remember that there is a very vital emotional counterpart of this process. In order to dispel myths and have an open line of communication (see how many bullets above have the word communication in them) you must have a relationship of trust with those you are working with.

6) Remember that this is an administrative decision, not a technological one.

When this decision was made, it was made by administration NOT technical people like me. The teachers recommended. I put my technological stamp of approval on it. The guidance counselor put her “stamp” on it. But administration made the call.

These are administrative processes and administrative support staff will most likely have to perform many of the tasks. Without administrative support, you are doomed to fail. If there is an intense amount of distrust of administration, you will have difficulty implementing unless you as an implementer are trusted by the teachers.

Your desire to automate the process should drive what you do as a school. Otherwise, you just end up with just another system to put stuff into!

7) Clearly communicate expectations.

There will be struggles. There will be set up issues. There will be misunderstandings! Clearly communicate who does what.

For us: Administration sets all permissions. The front office enrolls and de-enrolls students. The guidance counselor schedules and supports the PowerSchool aspects for administration. I, the technical support person, assist in writing reports, ODBC connection to the database (to pull data out into spreadsheets, etc.) and support the teachers on PowerGrade because I am a teacher and am using it.

8) Take ownership

Remember that you are purchasing a piece of software, or in our case we purchased an ASP system (which means they maintain and support our server.) But ultimately, the system is only as good as the data WE enter and the configuration WE set up.

The process of implementation is a PROCESS and often a laborious, mind blowing, exhausting one! You will have to call tech support. You will have misunderstandings that will have to be corrected after things “go live.” It is easy to sit back and pass the buck.

Ultimately if you have an implementation that “goes bad” it falls squarely on the shoulders of administration and teachers. They are the ones who look bad when report cards fail to print on time. If you don't have ownership, you will not be pleased with the end result.

In conclusion

It has been a tough process and has taken me away from my blogging and book authoring. Although it has required a great sacrifice on my part, the part of our guidance counselor, administration, and even our teachers who had to give up 5-6 hours of valuable preplanning time, it is going to pay great dividends in making life easier.

When the teachers opened up the gradebook and already had rosters with parent names and phone numbers, squeals of delight filled the classroom! When teachers realized that this would keep running averages, they started to get excited. When elementary teachers realized they could model their grading methodologies after the teachers their children would inherit the next year, they began to really discuss grading methodologies, fairness, and our authentic assessment strategies.

I believe that all of this will free our teachers from the calculators that enslave them and will free them to spend more time teaching. With increased communication with parents and students, the research shows that achievement goes up, so I believe we will see this too. (Although we are extremely high now, we'll get even better.)

I am extremely grateful to our visionary PTO leadership that decided to completely fund this project. This has truly been an example thus far of what hard work, ownership, vision, and leadership can accomplish in a very short time.

I am truly blessed to work in a school that does not put artificial fences around my mind and the mind of the other teachers. Everything we strive to do is “research based” and we look at the predominance of research, not faddish things that come and go. We've been phonics based since the school started and all of our kids read by the end of K5. I could go on.

I want to say that leadership is so very important. I and the guidance counselor could be at another school with the same project and the same teachers and fail miserably if we had weak administration. Strong administrators have great people skills, a vision, and character. I am truly blessed.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Alfred Thompson August 12, 2006 - 4:16 pm

That sure sounds like the right way to do things. I tried to help a school move in that direction some years ago but the administration was not yet ready for it so there was no point in pushing too hard. They eventually did move along but it took a change in administration and some initial smaller steps along the way. A lot of teachers were afraid of the technology at first.

Dee August 12, 2006 - 5:49 pm

I am still laughing at the cat picture. we are already “automated” and I just finished posting a short description of my day yesterday and I think I probably looked exactly like that cat at the end of the day. I may look like that cat on Monday and Tuesday as well. I have a lot of support and everyone is very patient but there just is not enough time in a day! I wish you all the best in the changeover!

Andrew Pass Educational Services, LLC August 12, 2006 - 6:35 pm

Like your other posts that I’ve read, I found this post very insightful. Here’s a thought to think about, however: You talk about this being an administrative decision, and I’m sure it was. If your school is anything like most schools in America, however, the administration often has a difficult time implementing its objectives. In order for these objectives to be fully implemented they require supportive teachers like yourself, who know what they are doing and, as you write, engaged. The administration won’t succeed without you. With your excitement, it certainly sounds like you are going to succeed. Congratulations!!

By the way, when you write of trying new things, I tried something new of my own today. I put up a podcast that has a link on my blog. I couldn’t believe how easy it is to do this. It’s so empowering.

Andrew Pass

Stephen Rahn August 12, 2006 - 3:10 pm

Outstanding work as usual! I was in a school a few years ago that went through a similar process. I only wish the other educators had the same kind of attitude that yours seem to have.

JenW August 12, 2006 - 3:34 pm

You are very blessed — and if you ever have openings at your school, please let me know. (grins)

I just left a school that was exactly 100% opposite of what you said — but it was a hard move, because they were family.

I 100% agree with your comments about administration having to take the lead. One of the reasons that I failed with technology at my school was that I was spearheading it but my admin didn’t care. Should I have sat back and let things fail because they didn’t care — NO, I wouldn’t do that to the kids. But did I fail in other ways — I think I did. And now they have hired a company to take my place.

Things won’t be different though – they will expect the company to make decisions now — so the admin is still not on board.

How I wish I could be at a school that did care.

Thanks for your post today. It totally cleared up some issues for me and also gave me the assurance that I was right to move on.

Take care

Vicki A. Davis August 13, 2006 - 12:24 am

Stephen –
The educators didn’t have that opinion at first, but came around because of the leadership!

JenW –
I’ll let you know if I leave! Actually, we only have one opening every other year or so. Many teachers have been there for years. I’m still praying for a job for you here in Georgia!

We’re all afraid at first. I’ve had some fearful moments too. And you’re right, if administration isn’t for it, you might as well forget it!

I looked like the cat at the end of yesterday too! Except I was snoozing by 4:30 on the couch!

You are so right, it is a team effort. Without everyone working together it doesn’t happen. Of course, we pray a lot over our decisions and I’ve got to think that that greases the machinery a little!

Thank you everyone who commented. I’m grateful that you didn’t forget me!

Mr. Poling August 15, 2006 - 4:04 am

Thank you for your kind words about me on your last post:)
It was heartening to read your praises of administrators and teachers working so well together. Good for you all! The kids are the ones who benefit the most from that type of good leadership and close collaboration.
Could you answer a question for me: how did you get the ‘Recent Comments’ on your blog? I got my comments to show on my blog through coComment but couldn’t figure out the other part. Thanks!

Diane in California August 18, 2006 - 4:03 am

We are entering our seventh year using PowerSchool, and no one can remember what life was like before it! We love it, and I’m sure you will too.

jeanne August 21, 2006 - 5:10 pm

Just wanted to let you know that we linked to this entry on Blogboard at Teacher Magazine. And you already have one question over there! Nice work.

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