As a school administrator, I help manage over 100 employees in my school. We have roughly 750 students, well over 1,000 parents, an active PTA, many committees and a multitude of data that must be tracked and, even more importantly, managed.
Education is increasingly data driven. You are only as good as your latest data. In addition, just like all other employers, we principals and assistant principals must manage every employee in our buildings: teachers, custodians, cafeteria staff, teacher assistants and office personnel. Observations and evaluations must be completed and tracked throughout the year. Schedules are developed to keep every department and grade level running in sync with all the others. Our customers (i.e., our parents) constantly come to us with a plethora of concerns: how to help their child at home, concerns about a teacher, bullies, excessive absences and transportation concerns, to name a few. Managing all this is a balancing act, with every moment full of the possibility of everything cascading into chaos with the mismanagement or misfiling of even one important piece of information. Because of this, I moved to Evernote to assist our school in running smoothly.
Evernote, marketed as your external brain, can be considered a virtual filing cabinet at it's basic best, but I've found that it is so much more. It's feature set makes it invaluable in helping me run my school:
- It's free! However, due to my workload and how I use it, I purchase the premium edition. The only difference is the monthly upload size. I need the larger amount due to the amount of information I upload.
- It works across platforms with it's various clients. I use the Windows client on my home computer, the web version on my school computer (Our IT dept. does not allow unapproved software to be installed on their machines), and the portable version, which I put on a USB flash drive for my district-provided laptop, because I often use it where I do not have internet access and still need my files. In addition, I have the Android version installed on my Droid so that I have full access to my documents there as well. There are also clients for Mac, Blackberry, iPhone, Palm Pre, Palm Pixie, Windows Mobile, as well as a browser add-on for web clipping.
- Its search engine is lightning fast! As soon as I type in a search term the results are instantaneous.
- Words that appear in photos are searchable!
- Since I have the premium edition, my PDF's are more searchable.
- I can gather documents and information through normal uploading, screen captures (text selection as well as an area screen capture that saves the information as a photo), emailing (When you register for an account, you get a private email address. Anything emailed to that address becomes a saved document, the email itself as well as attachments.) All documents are synchronized among the various platforms so that I have the same updated information everywhere I am.
- Evernote allows you to create "notebooks in which you can organize information.
- Notebooks are shareable, allowing myself and any other staff member with an account to share information and collaborate on projects.
- It allows me to print my notes.
- It allows me to email my notes to those without an Evernote account.
- Tagging notes help me to organize my information at a deeper level.
Ways I Use Evernote
Using the features above, here are some of the ways that I use Evernote to run my school:
- As a Virtual Filing Cabinet - Using a Scansnap scanner, I scan hard copies of letters, reports, fire marshal inspections, sanitation inspections, etc. Instant searching gives me immediate access to my documents. Using the Microsoft Word add-on that allows me to create PDFs from Microsoft Word and Excel, any document I create as a part of my work gets saved into Evernote for future reference.
- As a Contact Log - Titling a note as an outgoing call, incoming call, or voicmail and then making the notes I take with the call the body of the Evernote note creates a comprehensive and searchable contact log. When my secretary announces an incoming call to me, I do a quick search for the caller's name in the "Contact Log" tag and I have a detailed contact record in front of me when I pick up the phone to speak to the caller. Parents are amazed that I can "remember" details from calls that occurred months earlier.
- As a Project To-Do List - Allowing me to add check boxes to actionable items within notes allows me to create a project list with pending action items. A search for items with unchecked action items brings up the list immediately.
- Minutes From Meetings - Using Evernote to create meeting minutes helps to track (once again) actionable items as well as who is responsible for them. It also allows me to email the notes to the staff when complete.
- Absence Tracker - We use an online service to track employee absences. Every morning, I do a screen capture of the daily absence report and tag it "Absences". To get a report on any specific employee, I choose the "Absences" tag and then search for the employee's name. The result is a list of every day the employee was absent. Adding a second search term indicating why the employee was absent (e.g., sick, personal day, professional leave) shows me the dates they were absent for any particular reason.
- Discipline Tracking - When I handle disciplinary issues, I use Evernote to take my notes, giving me the documentation that I need. In addition, I can upload the district's required disciplinary forms as part of that record so that I can have my notes and the forms in the same note. Later, I can search a student's name and find my note that will contain my notes, the forms that document the consequences that I assigned and even photographic evidence that I acquired as a result of my investigation.
- Evidence Tracking - I use the Android version of Evernote to photograph evidence in disciplinary cases. Photographs of confiscated weapons, damages caused by vandalism, etc. are taken on my phone and uploaded. Photographs of license plate numbers of cars illegally parked in our fire lanes help us deal with that issue.
- A Verbal To-Do List - Using the Android version, I can upload voice notes of things I want to remember.
- Data Storage - Teachers are required to post student performance data on spreadsheets. By placing these sheets in Evernote, I have current academic performance data with me at all times. I can search for any student's name in teacher conferences, parent conferences, grade level meetings, etc., and be able to pull it up immediately. The looks on parent faces when I can pull up their child's data faster than they or their teachers can is priceless.
- Portable Note-Taking - Using, again, the Android version, I can take quick text notes on my phone and upload them. They are waiting for me when I get back to my office.
- Tracking Maintenance Work Orders - I do a screen capture of each work order (it only takes a second) and add a check box to it. During my weekly meeting with my custodial staff, I do a search for unchecked boxes in my "Work Orders" tag and can bring up all unfinished work orders for follow up. Also, photos of damages to our playground equipment, bathroom fixtures, broken windows, again taken with the phone and uploaded to Evernote where they are attached to maintenance work orders seems to elevate our work order priorities and result in fast action in getting things repaired by the district maintenance personnel.
- Emergency/Crisis Document Availability - Our district provides us with a very comprehensive (175 pages) crisis manual, spelling out, in checklist form, steps to be followed in practically every crisis situation that a school can encounter. Normally sent to us in a large 175 page notebook, it is impossible to have that information with me at all times...until Evernote. Acquiring the PDF version from our district and uploading it into Evernote allows me to have my checklists with me at all times. In addition, I scan all our district emergency numbers into Evernote and can pull them up immediately if needed.
- Schedules, Schedules, Schedules - Lunch schedules, lunch schedules for early release days and inclement weather delay days, the school's master schedule, departmental schedules, individual teacher schedules, teacher assistant schedules, observation schedules, and any schedule that helps us run out program is in Evernote. If I need to know when any particular employee's planning time is so I can meet with her, I simply do a search for that person's daily schedule.
- Collaboration - If I am absent, all document in our school notebook is available to other members of our administrative team because our school notebook is shared. If a parent calls in with a concern and states that they began a conversation with me about it during a previous phone call, they can pull up my notes on that call and can be up-to-speed quickly.
Room for Improvement
For my particular needs, one improvement would be a more intuitive way to encrypt notes. Dealing with confidential data now requires me to select the confidential text and manually encrypt it. It would be nice to have a better encryption method that would remove the extra steps I have to take to do it.
A second improvement was noted on the release of the newest Windows client. Version 3.2 enabled me to create a portable version that I could put on a memory stick. I have not been able to find the same feature in version 3.5. I would like see it back.
A Great Tool For the School Administrator
Overall, despite the two improvements that I would like, Evernote is unquestioningly a tool that school administrators should be using. Every few days, I find a new use for Evernote that makes my job easier. I can wholeheartedly endorse Evernote as one of the best organization and productivity tools available today.