By Caroline Gilchrist
“The office of the future.”
That’s what the paperless office was dubbed in 1975, the first time it was predicted—long before computers sat on every desktop and lessons in keyboard skills eclipsed lessons in cursive. Yet while some schools have shifted to executing processes electronically, others continue printing off stacks of papers like it’s going out of style. (Spoiler alert: It is.)
Why the reluctance to modernize? Likely it’s because schools fear overhauling a tried-and-true method will be stressful, or even impossible. But it doesn’t have to be! The truth is that your “school of the future” doesn’t have to be entirely paperless. It can simply use paper less.
Traditionally, perks of going digital have included saved time, money, and trees, but, now, a new reason to cut back on paper has been shuffled into the mix. Schools need to view, use, and share information without having people physically touch it—a juggling kind of like The Floor Is Lava, except with papers and higher stakes and way less fun.
Whether you crave the usual benefits of reducing paper or this new normal has thrust innovation upon you, don’t let the pressure of “going paperless” get to you. Here are a few simple ways to get started!
Keeping parents and guardians engaged in their children’s education has never been more important, especially for schools teaching remotely. Your parent portal is one of your most valuable assets.
Often, we think of parent portals in terms of transparency; grown-ups have online access to information like attendance, grades, and missing assignments. But that’s only the beginning. You can also use your parent portal to have guardians fill out forms, pay fees, even register for the new year.
Aside from eliminating paper and speeding up processes, this is a much more reliable—and secure—way of accomplishing these tasks than sending kids to school with a form or check in hand. It also eliminates the need for grown-ups to stop in the office, which is key in our current environment.
We just suggested putting forms online—but what does that look like, exactly?
Well, it can look like just about anything if your SIS allows for customization. On the student side of things, these forms could include field trip waivers, free and reduced lunch applications, or parent/guardian custodial forms.
On the business side, it might be health records, employees’ direct deposit and emergency contact information, contracts for review, or assignment and/or documentation of required trainings. These are just a few examples—the sky is the limit!
E-signatures are just as legal as the ones scribbled onto paper, so there should be no legal restrictions on what you can move online. Even documentation, like proof of residency, can be scanned and included on these forms.
This one would have looked odd on a list a year ago, but as it is, daily wellness checks have become a necessity for schools meeting in person.
Some software providers have created short health surveys for students or their grown-ups to fill out before coming to school each morning to help ensure individuals entering school buildings are healthy. Administrators can then run survey reports, including to identify individuals who have not completed the survey, those who did not pass, or to look for hotspots within their schools.
Taking advantage of this online process can be a faster, easier, and more informative alternative to tracking symptoms on paper.
Learning Management Systems (LMS)
For some schools this year, passing papers around a classroom just isn’t an option. A learning management system, or LMS, allows you to move class notes, video lectures, assignments, quizzes, tests, and pretty much anything else online.
If your SIS can integrate with your LMS, even better! This will save teachers from having to manually enter data into their gradebooks and ensure grades are always accurate and up to date.
From paying vendors to reimbursing employees, most payment processes can be done quickly and securely online.
In this age, most vendors should give you the option to pay electronically. Bills can be emailed to your school office, and payments can be made online. If you have the right software, expense reimbursements within your district can go digital, too.
The process would look something like this: First, employees submit their requests online. Then, administrators review and approve the expenses. Finally, those reimbursements are directly deposited into the employees’ designated accounts.
If you’ve yet to store your data in that billowy blanket of the sky, there’s never been a better time. Not only does cloud storage zap warehouses of filing cabinets into redundance, but it’s also secure, takes up no space, and allows you to access data from anywhere (ideal in a remote or semi-remote environment).
Plus, regular backups ensure your data will always be safe if disaster strikes. This is especially important right now. Cyberattacks, particularly ransomware attacks, have skyrocketed over the past several months.
Is going 100% paperless possible? Perhaps—but if it doesn’t feel realistic for your school, don’t throw in the (paper) towel. Steps to reduce paper usage, whether big or small, are all steps in the right direction.
Caroline Gilchrist is the copywriter for Skyward, an administrative software provider committed to a better experience for every user, www.skyward.com.