3 Ways I’ve Used Google Apps to Help my School Run a Bit Smoother

Googly Docs and Cloud Computers Over the past few years, much has been said about how Google Apps for Education (GAFEs) have improved student learning and also how students demonstrate their learning. They can now collaborate online on the same Google Document or Presentation, create surveys that can be taken by students from halfway around the world, and teachers can annotate and embed feedback during the creative process in real-time to help guide students along. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to the functionality that Google Apps offer for students and their teachers. However, these tools are also useful for supporting teachers with some of the behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done in order for a school to function. Here’s just three modest ways that I’ve used Google Apps to support teachers:

1. Using Google Docs to create a sign-up sheet for a computer lab

Before: Prior to using a Google Doc, teachers would reserve a computer lab by going to the main office and writing their name in a calendar beside the period in the day they wanted the lab. Simple enough. However, there were clear drawbacks to this system: (1) the main office closes at 4pm, so if a teacher wanted to reserve the lab after 4pm, they were out of luck; (2) if a teacher is at home and suddenly has a great idea for a computer activity the night before they want to try it, they’d have no way of knowing whether or not the computer lab was available the next day; (3) personally, the main office was at the opposite end of the school, which made going there a bit inconvenient (I hate wasting time walking all the way there – sue me).

After: Today, we use a Google Document that, well, actually looks just like the paper sign-up sheet that was in the main office, but now it’s accessible anytime, anywhere:

Room 300 Signup Sheet Screenshot

You may wonder why I didn’t just use some online scheduling program or Google Calendar. To make a long story short, they weren’t customizable enough to meet the often-changing schedule of my school (the period times on Thursdays are different than other days, and not all Wednesdays are the same). Also, the Google Doc looked just like the original piece of paper that people were used to, so it created a sense of familiarity and continuity. So far, I’ve had nothing but thumbs up from teachers about this migration to a digital sign-up, so I’m chalking it up as a success.

2. Using Google Spreadsheet to create a school-wide parent/guardian contact log

Before: Teachers are expected to call students’ parents/guardians regarding their concerns, but particularly with regards to attendance issues. However, there was no central record of these conversations. Perhaps these conversations weren’t even happening. Also, it may be good to know if other teachers were calling home to the same student about similar issues. So…

After: Based on the original idea from Saraya Elwin, a colleague at Westview, we created a Google Spreadsheet that has student names and contact information, along with fields to log the phone conversation. Here’s what it looks like (without real student information):

Parent-Guardian Contact Log Screenshot

Not only does this log provide some valuable information for teachers with respect to coordinating parent contact, but it also provides a level of accountability for teachers to actually make the calls that are needed to ensure our students get to class and learn.

3. Using Google Forms to coordinate the school’s Oscar pool

Okay, so maybe this doesn’t exactly fit the category of making the school run smoother, but running an Oscar pool creates a sense of community and makes for a positive work environment:

Oscar Pool Screenshot

It’s also a fun and non-threatening way to show my colleagues what’s possible with Google Forms. In addition, because the picks are organized into a convenient Google Spreadsheet, scoring the results after the Academy Awards are over will be a breeze, so the winner gets their prize on the Monday.

What’s next? I’ve got a few other ideas brewing:

  • Supporting staff timetabling using Google Sheets. My school luckily allows input from department heads regarding the timetabling of teachers. We can suggest moving teachers here and there, changing their original teaching assignments to subjects that they would prefer to teach. However, many teachers are in multiple departments, so coordination between department heads is key. Last year, everyone had separate chart papers, logging changes with drawn-in arrows, and different versions of edits were floating around everywhere, leading to quite a bit of confusion. Next time around, I’m hoping that we all use a Google Sheet so that everyone’s working on one document and writing comments to log conversations so confusion is kept to a minimum.
  • Schedule meetings on Google Calendar. Many schools do this already, I’m sure. At my school, lots of things are going on, and planning meetings so that they don’t conflict with one another would be a big bonus. My hope is that next year, meetings are logged on the school’s Google Calendar so everyone knows what’s happening and that meetings are coordinated.

How has your school used Google Apps to make administrative tasks easier? Are there other tools to do what I’ve been doing even easier? I’ve love to hear other ideas.