Many years ago, back when I was teaching in London, I had an idea that I could never quite shake. I couldn’t get over the belief that the way schools were reporting to families was fundamentally broken. This led me down a rather unexpected path and helped me to develop some unexpected skills along the way. In short, I became a coder.
As a deputy head in the UK and later a principal here in New Zealand, I started a journey with our staff and community to improve the way that we reported on student progress. I felt that we could do better, much better. Reporting as it stood was late in the year, very text-heavy, prone to being overly generic and nearly always out of date. Teachers spent huge amounts of time writing these reports and the students suffered. Time that teachers could have been spending on planning and facilitating learning with their students was instead being spent on writing reports. All this was in the context of a world in which digital tools were exploding, the world at large was embracing new ways to communicate and to work more efficiently but school reporting remained firmly rooted in the past. I was convinced therefore that we should be leveraging digital technologies to fix reporting. Sounds simple right? It turns out that nothing was available commercially to even come close to providing a solution that would meet our needs. So if I really wanted to change this, it appeared that my only option was to do it myself.
So I set about working on re-visioning the why for reporting. I came up with a list of essentials for reporting effectively to parents. Chief amongst these was that reporting should be authentic, genuine and timely. I felt that clear next steps were important and that comments should also celebrate learning and successes. Spreading the load of reporting through the year also came out as a highly desirable goal. From my perspective, I really believed that we should be aiming for a reporting system which was more about a conversation in which teachers, students and parents all had a voice. Traditional reporting is very much information being sent out from the school.
Before moving into the digital realm I decided to see if we could create a paper-based solution that could follow the students in the form of a portfolio of work. These portfolios were updated regularly with goal setting sheets, photo pages, teacher and student comments, all stored in clear file folders. This first attempt certainly met some of the goals however I had created a monster! A paper war began and the photocopier was never busier. I may have spread the load for teachers but I had created an even more time-consuming process. Once again I turned to modern technology for a solution. Could I create a digital reporting system that gave us all the benefits of the portfolios but without the logistical headaches.
Well, 2 years later the answer was yes. After many long weekends and evenings spent typing code I launched our online reporting system to our community in early 2013. The system gave teachers quick access to all their students so that they could quickly share learning comments at the time they are teaching them. Teachers could quickly and easily set goals for students providing next steps in their learning. Rich media options allowed teachers to share photos, documents and video to bring the learning stories to life. All this without the need to printout and file the reports. Parents all received a log on where they could see all the learning information for the children in their family, all in one place. Historic data remained in place and so parents could revisit the learning.
So have I succeeded? Have I fixed reporting? The simple answer is Yes I believe that I have. However, I still believe that we can do better. Immediacy is the next challenge. Currently, we still publish our reports at set times of the year which means that comments still suffer from being out of date and the immediacy, that is possible with online reporting, is lost. This year we are going to move to ‘timely’ reporting instead of ’timed’ reporting. Teachers have been given the option to publish and notify the parents whenever they choose. This means that teachers can write comments about learning when it is fresh in their minds and publish it straight away. The parents will then receive an emailed copy of the comment as well as being able to read it online.
In planning this latest innovation I asked teachers to list the benefits, concerns and requirements to make this happen. The chief concern was about consistency, what if one teacher publishes much more than their colleagues? This has led to the introduction of some new tools for teachers and leaders. Tracking tools for checking off that enough comments have been made have been around for a while but we have moved this into more prominent view so that teachers can, at a glance, see the children who they have yet to report on. From a leadership perspective, we have added tools to allow the commenting of individual teachers to be tracked.
As 2013 progressed, the system was noticed by other principals who also wanted to make some big changes to how they shared learning. Out of this demand, LINC-ED (Learn – Inform – Connect) was born. We launched the software so that other schools could benefit from the sharing tools that were proving so effective in one school. More and more schools have steadily joined us and are enjoying the benefits of the system. Thousands of families in New Zealand now read their children’s school report online and we have a fully integrate a Student Management System, with data sharing approval from the Ministry of Education so that schools no longer need to run a separate system for managing student information and reports.
We are extremely proud of what we have produced and feel that it will revolutionise reporting and communication for schools and families across New Zealand.