All Of It

Achieving a whole school connected environment.

GUEST COLUMN | by Travis Warren

CREDIT BlackbaudSchools live to serve the needs of those that walk through their doors. Whether students, parents, volunteers or faculty, education is a customer service business. At private schools, this is perhaps even truer than at their public school counterparts. Private schools live and die by the experience they provide to their customers; their paying families. And with the rise of school choice programs and charter schools (better public school options) the competitive pressure to provide a top-notch experience has never been greater. To stay competitive, private schools rely on unique user experiences to uphold their positive reputation, maintain their existing families, and differentiate their school when engaging with prospective students.

It should be no surprise that technology is at the center of this experience. Away from school, students, parents, teachers, and administrators are on sites like Amazon.com, Zappos, FedEx, and others; customer-centric sites built to optimize a user’s experience with intuitive design and seamless experiences from first visit to checkout. When engaging with the school, user expectations are already set by these external consumer brands.

For years schools have relied on multiple technology platforms to help with the day-to-day operations, but this can bring more challenges than expected; including multiple passwords, inaccurate data, and disjointed experiences. Ideally, schools want a solution that manages all of their challenges in one neat, easy-to-manage package that offers a user experience analogous to what they use in their everyday lives. The problem, until recently, is this “whole school” solution didn’t exist. Many technology vendors focus on a specific niche while others claim a whole solution but are missing key pieces in addressing the needs of the six core school offices: admissions, academics, registrar, business office, alumni/development (sometimes called Advancement) and communications/IT.

Comprehensive solutions that manage the entire educational lifecycle for parents, students, teachers and administrators are hard to come by, but when implemented effectively, can become a complete game changer for school communities. Parents are trying to stay up-to-date with their child’s education and day-to-day lives. Teachers are managing classrooms, grades, dorm life, afterschool activities and more. Administrators keep the school running smoothly, from fundraising and billing, to admissions and scheduling. Becoming a whole school connected means giving parents, students, teachers and administrators the ability to share information across one system; a single experience, using one login, to complete any task, or find any information they need.

However, this connectivity also needs to evolve beyond the school. Parents, students, teachers and administrators are mobile. They need resources they can access on the go, whenever, wherever. This means accessing grades, homework assignments, practice or game schedules, and other vital school information in the palm of their hand from smartphones and tablets as well and laptop and desktop computers.

How does this work? A teacher enters student information, whether its attendance, assignments, grades or comments about a student, into the system. The grades then sync with the students report card and transcript. This sends a message to the student’s parents, coaches and advisors to let them know about how well he or she is doing in class. Parents can log in to see notes from teacher, get notifications that practice changed, and see that the student’s recommendations for his online application have been submitted. The development office makes a note about the student’s success to use in future campaigns to his or her parents.

Administrators can also manage virtually every aspect of a school from the back-office, fundraising, financial management, information technology, to the front-office, admissions and classroom management. They are the face of the school, and often the ones that need to respond to issues regarding how the school operates. Having a school that utilizes a single system to provide all the information its families and employees need, can help ease frustrations and deliver a positive user experience.

Technology and education go hand in hand. As each evolves, leaders in educational technology recognize the need to grow and develop new and innovative ways to help school communities connect and excel within the changing needs of our world. Effective technology is a critical tool in connecting a whole campus between parents, students and educators. By doing this, schools can easily manage and convey information on a variety of platforms, and create online interactions that are easy, effective, convenient and fun.

Travis Warren is the founder of WhippleHill, and Vice President and General Manager of Blackbaud’s K-12 Private Schools Group, a company dedicated to providing whole school connected solutions for administrators, teachers, students and parents.

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