TMT30: Paperless Processes

10 Min Tips To Teach Music Podcast: Episode #30

What are they and how can they help?

All teachers struggle with the dreaded “paper processes”. We have so many processes in our day to day life that trying to streamline can be quite scary. What if you miss something in the change over? That could prove to be catastrophic. So where does one start to become “paperless”. 

Well first of all, I truly don’t think you will ever be paperless but you can definitely reduce your reliance on some things to make life a little more streamlined. I am, and will always be, that teacher who has lists, but I don’t have to have heaps of post it notes around the place. So where did I start? 

Well I began by getting rid of the “daily diary” or “teacher diary”. Now I know, you are thinking to yourself, but how am I going to know what to teach when? Well, let’s dissect the “teacher diary”. So what do we use it for:

  • recording who we are teaching, when we are teaching, and what we are teaching them
  • interviews with parents
  • roll marking (ours is electronic now)
  • possible planning of units
  • overall calendar entries

Now a lot of this stuff can be moved elsewhere but the important thing is knowing “what you are teaching when” and knowing “what is due when” like reports etc. 

For me, it all started with the calendar. I stopped using the diary and started using the electronic calendar attached to my work email which syncs to my phone and ipad. At the end of each year, I put in all the important dates like when reports are due, events, concerts, rehearsals etc.  With reports, I back log when to start writing them so that it pops up on a particular day to remind me. I used to put in my classes and actually log what I was going to do with them but I found that I struggled to see the “plan for each class” so I moved away from that. 

I started using Year Level Workflow Books and this was a game changer.  I have a note book for each year that I teach. In that notebook, I put the program, term by term outline, and any notes or items I give the students. I also put in interviews with parents, notes about classes and student behaviour, conversations with students and copies of any important emails. When I started doing this, I found it to be quite liberating. I didn’t need a diary to lug around, I just picked up the year book for that grade and walked into class. I had all my notes and lesson plans included. This was great for students also. If we had a discussion about their composition, I would make notes, they would take a picture and if they needed to see it again, they could. I also use these books to leave work for classes. If I am away, instead of leaving an instruction sheet, I just write the instructions in the book and leave that for the casual teachers. I also ask them to leave me a notes about how the class went. This is a really good system because I have never lost a book, therefore I never lose the work. It also keeps a nice record of what happened. Planning and registers for the classes was so easy as it was all contained in their year book. 

In my efforts to go paperless, I can’t see myself stopping the use of these books. As a teacher, I am always going to love books and writing in them. I find this so useful, I wouldn’t want to get rid of it. 

As part of my schools move to technology, all teachers received an iPad. By the time this came in, I had already been using my own iPad to navigate through my day so I was already quite comfortable with some of the apps I am going to mention next. 

When you think about your day, it’s all about dealing with things on the fly. For example, I would be in class and a student would say to me, “Miss can you remember to bring in that Beethoven score” or “Miss can I see you in period 4”.  In the past, I would have written the note in my diary or on a scrap of paper or post-it note. When I moved away from that, I wrote it in their year level workflow book. But of course, unless I took that book home or referred to it after class, I would not remember it. Then I started emailing myself at home to remind me to do it. However, I get 100’s of emails a day and some days I wouldn’t look at my email because I got home too late. So how was I going to deal with this? 

Well for appointments, I would put them straight into the calendar. But for the other things…“Reminders”!!!  Not the ones attached to the calendar but the ones on your iPad. There is an app on your iPad called “Reminders”. Anything I needed to remember, I would put in that app on the day it was due. I then got into the habit of checking those reminders when I got home from work, a bit like “homework”. It wasn’t like checking emails where you see all these things to deal with and you get stressed so it made it easier. 

Speaking of email… is the biggest killer in a technology world and dealing with the overload can be quite daunting. Whilst this is a lovely paperless method of communication, it can be quite stressful. There is nothing worse that opening up the emails to see 100’s not dealt with. You just feel like you have so much more work to do. So you need a proactive method of Email Triage. I have read all sorts of blogs about this and it has taken me some time to develop the process that works for me. This one just might work for you. 

Step 1:  Start thinking about your inbox as simply an inbox…. not an action box. Emails come in and they go somewhere else for action or a solution, just like triage in an emergency room. 

Step 2: Work out how many different “action folders” you need and add labels. For example, at work, the emails I get can be categorised – 

  • printing – things that simply need to be printed
  • calls – obviously to parents, event organisers or businesses
  • excursions – messages relating to these events
  • instrument hire – emails from parents that require me to do something about this area
  • facebook – emails that contain information that needs to go onto the facebook page. 
  • feedback – emails that require me to offer students feedback. 
  • Waiting for – this is where I put all the emails that need someone else to respond before I can move on them. This is the most important folder for clearing your inbox. 

There are others but these are the main ones. Now, these are “action” folders. Not location folders. At the start of the day, I spend 10 minutes sorting all the emails that have come in over night into these folders. Anything that takes a 10 sec response, I will action immediately, but generally, everything will end up in one of these boxes. 

At some point on my calendar, I will schedule when to deal with these boxes. For example, at the start of the day I clear the email and then I print the things in the printing folder. Once they are printed, then get moved or deleted. 

In a free period, I schedule the calls folder. Again, once they have been dealt with, they get moved or deleted. Any email that I send that requires a response from someone else before I can move forward goes into “waiting for”. I check this folder every 2 days to make sure I don’t miss any followups. 

This system works quite well for me and I get 100’s of email at work and here at the business. So give it a go. 

Well, that’s just a couple of ideas on how to go paperless in a couple of the areas I have talked about today. 


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