Tech Leadership

Personal Productivity in Your Own Hands

by DOUG JOHNSON

It seems contradictory. While the amount of information we deal with in our jobs grows daily, the number of secretaries, who answer phones, send letters, type reports, keep our schedules and file and retrieve information, has shrunk a whopping 30 percent during the 1990s, according to USA Today. Who is supposedly doing the work of the disappearing secretary?

Probably you.

Efficient administrators directly handle more communication through voice and e-mail; compose, file and retrieve letters and reports using word processors; track budgets through spreadsheets and online accounting systems; and access specific school data using student information systems.

Added Duties
School administrators are assuming increasing responsibility for their own calendars, address books and to-do lists. Most electronic organizers such as Microsoft Outlook have four main functions:

• Calendar. An electronic calendar can schedule single appointments and day-long events, schedule repeating appointments and give a visual or auditory alert prior to scheduled meetings. A shared calendaring system eases scheduling meetings because an open block of time for all attendees can be located quickly.

• Address book. Like its paper cousin, the electronic address book keeps names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, e-mail addresses and other helpful information, but it is easily updated and can be used in conjunction with an e-mail program to automate the addressing of messages.

• To-do list. The electronic to-do list can prioritize tasks, store completed tasks for later reference and track additional information such as due dates.

• Portable information. Electronic organizers provide a way to tap into information that is needed when one is away from the workplace computer. Good organizers can format and print selected data on sheets that fit in paper organizers and synchronize with handheld portable digital assistants such as the Palm Pilot (allowing a student’s schedule or performance data to be checked outside the office). These devices also store the organized data on a web server that can be accessed through the Internet.

Better Communicating
Administrators increasingly use technology to become more effective communicators, improving the flow of information both to and from staff, students, parents and community.

Modern telephone systems that extend into the classroom are vital for two-way communication with our students’ homes. Voice mail with informative introductions (“Today is Jan. 12. I will be in meetings this morning, but will be in my office during the afternoon”) helps end frustrating rounds of telephone tag. The best telephone systems automatically route calls to voice mail during instructional times and allow those outside the building to call specific extensions without going through a receptionist.

E-mail has become the communication method of choice for many teachers and parents. Quick, thoughtful e-mail responses to questions or concerns can take less time than telephone conversations. E-mail distributed through electronic mailing lists is an efficient way to send information to groups of people. This can be done by setting up either a group nickname in one’s e-mail program for smaller mailings or using an electronic mailing list (listserv) for larger groups.

Our school district has separate electronic mailing lists specifically created for all staff, all administrators, all teachers, all staff in certain buildings, all district parents and all parents of students in individual buildings.

Face-to-face communication also can be enhanced with technology. Electronic slideshows like those created with PowerPoint help both inform and persuade. Judiciously chosen text allows the listener to keep organized and recognize key points of the presentation. Charts, graphs and diagrams illustrate concepts that may be difficult to comprehend with words alone. Digital photographs of students and staff can convince audiences by showing how programs affect individuals and can appeal to the emotions of viewers. Well-directed and edited video is becoming increasingly easier to create since digital video cameras and computerized editing programs no longer require a high degree of expertise.

Web Tools
District and community cable television networks can be a great public relations tool. Informative programs and bulletin boards of activities keep the entire community aware of good things happening in schools. Videostreaming—the process of broadcasting video over the Internet—is becoming more common. Anyone can view the programming by simply going to a webpage.

A school district website with information that can be kept current and usable is expected by most communities. Basic contact information, calendars of events, staff directories, hot lunch menus, policies, curriculum guides and links to departments and buildings in the district are useful to parents. Student work can be shared with the public using a school website. Schools need good webpage guidelines and administrators need to be familiar with them.

Doug Johnson is director of media and technology of the Mankato Public Schools, P.O. Box 8713, Mankato, MN 56002. E-mail: djohns1@isd77.k12.mn.us. He is the author of The Indispensable Teacher’s Guide to Computer Skills.