5 Best practices for selecting a school management system
1. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
If your goal is to reduce disorganization and chaos, the solution is centralization. Staff — along with parents and students — get stressed out and overwhelmed if asked to use a bunch of different systems for different purposes. A unified solution tying together class communications, grades, attendance, lesson plans, parent communications, calendars and reporting means a single place for parents, students and staff to check. That’s simply good sense.
2. Differentiate public from private
Your enrolled students and families want very different information than prospects or visitors to your school. Help them by providing what they need:
Design your website specifically for prospects and visitors. Share with the whole world the story of who you are and what makes your school special; explain why students thrive at your school, and how they can apply and learn more. Don’t clutter your public website with content for staff or currently enrolled families; such information should remain private, and not distract from the public message you’ve crafted.
Provide students, staff & parents with a password-protected tool that brings together everything they need. Requiring passwords allows personalized views that present student-specific calendars, homework and grades to exactly the right people. Your secured space can go even further, connecting everyone for extracurricular activities, parent and staff committees, and sharing news and announcements for the school that may not be relevant to those prospects who are trying to learn who you are.
3. Accountability matters
Social media has changed our world, and countless tools are available to individual consumers or teachers for personal use. However, using consumer tools for school business is problematic. Specifically:
If staff are talking to parents or students on private email accounts, or setting up Facebook groups, or sharing updates via Twitter, school leadership has no recourse when problems arise. There is simply no way to even be aware of what is being said if unofficial channels are being used. So be sure your policy requires use of school systems for school business, and choose systems that are so good your staff will want to use them!
To hold people accountable we need to be sure they receive what we send. Unfortunately, systems like Facebook don’t present every update to all your followers. Even email is no longer reliable, as aggressive anti-spam filters frequently block messages sent to mail lists. Instead, use a system that guarantees delivery, and provides multiple ways to notify users when there’s something important waiting for them.
4. Know what to expect
When you engage with a provider, be sure you understand how they will commit to your success. Some important questions to ask include:
Will there be a single point of contact to guide us through the setup & training for your product? We believe this is critical to ensuring that Twine is configured exactly as you need it, while reducing staff time & effort for getting started.
What training is provided for our staff and teachers? We’ve developed a great sequence of online, instructor-led training, and offer unlimited sessions for schools to ensure they are comfortable and confident.
What resources are available for support, and how quickly should we expect responses? Our approach includes a combination of extensive online videos and documentation for self-paced learning, with a built-in Support function accessible from everywhere. Responses are always fast to ensure staff are never hung up with technical questions.
Are any of your products or services supported by advertising, or by collecting or selling user data? Nope. Not us. Not ever!
5. Usage is your measure of success
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many features something has, or even how much or how little you spend — if people don’t like it or it is complicated or difficult to use, it is worth nothing at all. So what drives use?
Look at user experience above all else. Is the system easy to understand, or is it complicated and hard to navigate? Does it look familiar, or will people need a lot of hand-holding to get started with it?
Is the system easily accessed from anywhere, on any device? We know from experience that 2/3 of all parents connect using only our free mobile app, while students and teachers tend to use a mix of mobile and desktop access. Does the solution you’re looking at have a great app that can be used by parents, students & staff?
How the system is introduced has a strong effect on adoption. Will your provider include user roll-out in your planning process, ensuring that everyone is excited to get connected and start using the system you’ve set up for them?