Learn how one Australian school makes innovation a habit.
Jenny Whelan is the Administration Director at Albert Park Kinder, one of Melbourne’s most respected schools.
Jenny hails from the private sector in sports management, and has always been driven by the power and the potential of team building. She explains why she moved to education when many might head in the opposite direction:
"On close inspection the sectors are very much aligned!
"In both realms the focus is on supporting each individual's full potential and ongoing quality improvement. These core values underline my career from the beginning and will do until the end - supporting others to realise their full potential is my purpose."
This passion for unlocking potential and continuous improvement is a passion shared by those in the technology space, and it's what drove Jenny to hunt for digitally powered solutions to help save her school time and money.
“We needed a partner that could manage the nuances of different classes,” she explains.”Not a faceless tech giant we could never develop a relationship with.”
The Kinder started using Parent Paperwork in June 2015 after a parent recommended it. Here’s a few of the clever ways Jenny has created positive changes using the tool as a spring board, with all sorts of impactful ripples.
Most schools fundraise to help make ends meet, and most administrators get it done using paper order forms.
Jenny had the bright idea of using Parent Paperwork to manage both orders and fulfilment. Bingo - Albert Park Kinder increased fundraising orders by 50%.
No more endless reinvention of the wheel.
“No more endless reinvention of the wheel! You create the form or template you need, then clone it when you need another version.” Jenny has developed templates for key documents in school life, which can live securely and be accessed when needed. She’s saved teachers a world of duplication of effort, and built a shared knowledge base.
Recruiting for school committees takes time, persuasion and shoulder tapping. Jenny found a better way. “Using Parent Paperwork we were able to confidentially request expressions of interest for specific positions. Parents replied easily and privately, identifying their specific skills or interests. We had more people put their hand up and had a committee it in no time at all.”
Jenny says she plans to use ParentPaperwork to strengthen for teacher recruitment too.
“Orientating a new staff member can be challenging. We create a ParentPaperwork log-in on appointment so new staff members can immediately see the history of our communications with families. That’s a great shortcut and they can hit the ground running.”
Enrolments & fees
Jenny has streamlined enrolments using the system, and the Kinder is saving time on fee collection using reminders and safe storage. “Even the stragglers are now in the habit!” she says.
Measles, head lice, or something even more serious - when infections strike it can have a big impact on kids’ learning (and parents’ scheduling). Schools have a legal responsibility to inform and quarantine, “usually by a note in the foyer or an email that gets buried,” admits Jenny.
Jenny now manages health communications with mobile alerts to keep her kids safer and the adults compliant. “If it comes from Parent Paperwork people know it’s important,” she says.
We can be confident that our message got through.
If school access is restricted because of weather or police operations in the local area,administrators need to contact parents quickly and reliably.
“We don’t have to buy an SMS system that costs us a fortune to reach everyone, because we’ve got Parent Paperwork.
“The authorities stress how important it is that parents confirm receipt of emergency messages. Parent Paperwork lets parents acknowledge they’ve read our message and we can be confident that our message got through."
Parent contact details
Another godsend? “Parents maintain and update their own contact details,” says Jenny. “It’s critical we have accurate contact information. The reminder we would have once been sent out in a paper newsletter. Parent Paperwork provides parents the opportunity to review and update their contact details with each message received.”
How many of us can say we read the school newsletter cover to cover, especially when they’re weekly? Because Jenny uses Parent Paperwork for the reminders, alerts and announcements that used to line its pages, Jenny’s been able to ween Albert Park Kinder from a weekly barrage of information to a deeper, more reflective and meaningful newsletter each term that’s curated with care and fully absorbed by parents.
Making time for what matters
Albert Park Kinder educators (L to R) Isha, Jacinta and Camille and student Dad, Garzy
“It may be a technology solution but the benefits have been human,” says Jenny of the success she’s had integrating Parent Paperwork into daily school life. “The system gives back to you immediately. Our families picked it up on day one and it’s given our teachers agency and independence.”
Educators are under tremendous burden. They want to embrace new standards and richer objectives. Jenny knows it’s about working smarter not harder.
“Parents are overwhelmed too,” she points out. “Technology can fuel that, but can help change it too. Now we work smarter. And it’s given us latitude to find other smarter solutions.”
I hadn’t factored in how appreciative the families would be of our efforts.
And the biggest lesson? Gratitude.
“I hadn’t factored in how appreciative the families would be of our efforts,” she confesses. “We were always looking for a better way to connect with the working parent, and this journey we’ve been on has really bridged that gap.
“Parents now share their sense of relief rather than frayed nerves about what they need to follow up on, or might have overlooked."
Here’s Jenny’s top takeaways for parents and teachers who want to make life easier, and create change in their environments:
Do your homework
Research the right solution for your needs, and ask plentiful questions. Experiment with different scenarios and make sure the idea or the solution is flexible and agile. Know what you want to improve and why.
Create relevant examples
We start to trust when we see things in action, making a meaningful difference. When you’re advocating for technological change, show how the tool can be applied to a real problem facing fellow educators and parents. Let the solution speak for itself.
Find others within your working environment who are also passionate about creating constructive change and making lives easier. Support each other with shared strategies, resources and examples. Reach out beyond your own institution to connect with like minds and do the same.
Don’t give up
Stay resilient if you don’t succeed immediately. Keep creating proof points, building networks and cultivating curiosity.
As we left Jenny she was off to enjoy a costumed concert at the kinder. She used Parent Paperwork to give parents a “friendly tap on the shoulder” that ensured every child had a costume and arrived on time.
“No tears, no one missing out,” she says happily. “Now we just need to make sure we don’t mess up the words to the Frozen soundtrack.”
"Our parents love the immediacy of EdSmart and we now average between 95% and 97% response rate within a week of sending out a notice. Lost paperwork is almost unheard of now, but if a parent has accidentally deleted a slip it is very simple to resend it." Burnside Primary, South Australia