Working Smarter Through Google

By Lytania Mackey Knowles  @mackeylytania

Administrator for Digital Learning, Swampscott Public Schools


Google has improved my life- could it improve yours? When I reflect on how I used to do business as an administrator, I cannot believe how much time I wasted. Here are 5 ways that I use Google as a school & district administrator to increase my productivity & efficiency. That extra time can be spent doing the important work in education: building relationships with students, staff, and families. Note: If you see a highlighted link it might be a video tutorial, typically less than 3 minutes, so you can try out the features. Please contact me if you have questions or need assistance.

1. Google Calendar

  • Sharing calendars with your admin assistant is a given- but what about having the ability to share your calendars with your staff or your family? You can look at all of your events in one day and they are color coded based on the calendar or other preferences. I share my calendar with my husband and vice versa. Now, when I have a work event at night or if he is coaching or has a golf match after school, we both know, and we do not plan conflicting events. As for staff, they can see if I am free or busy or book appointment
  • My favorite option is the appointment slot feature. With appointment slots, I can open my calendar to staff members so they can book meetings about anything they need. This is really useful during goal setting time with 40 teachers on your evaluation caseload, or anytime you need to meet with a large amount of staff members individually.  I choose the days and time, they then use a link to book themselves a slot, and their name appears on my calendar. The important thing to note is that you will not see the appointment feature unless you are in the calendar week or day view and go to quick add an event.
  • In settings–>calendars –>notifications, you can have each calendar you manage send you an email at 5AM each day. I get a glimpse of my day when I wake up so I can determine if I need to leave earlier, if I have to dress up or it’s a theme day, if I need to bring bagels, or if I have a lot going on at night after work and need to pack a change of clothing. These are items I may know the day before when I look at my calendar, but the peace of mind I get from having items scheduled means that if I am too busy the day before and forget to preview, I am notified of my events as I sip my coffee.

2. Google Docs & Slides

  • Google is king for collaboration and feedback. Before GSuite, we would email the program of studies, presentations for open house nights, and more, back and forth between the people that were contributing. I struggled to keep track of which version we were on- or I wasted my admin assistants time and had her compile all of the changes from five different copies! Now, we open a copy from last year, edit the date, and share out with department chairs. I can see each person’s changes in different colors and I can restore a version if necessary. In the end, we have ONE copy, and it is always up to date. We can also easily look back at the year before as it is in the shared folders. No more hunting through dusty file cabinets looking for the faculty handbook from 2015.
  • Turn agendas into notes and have everyone see it and add to it before, during, and after your meetings. Agendas can also be added to calendar events. I save time by copying the agenda from the week before, changing date, and then I delete out the stuff we covered, leave in the items to follow up on, add in new things,  and then I upload the agenda to the next meeting & share it out with the people in the meeting so they can add agenda items. During the meeting, people can add notes under each item.  As the agenda is attached to the calendar, it is never lost in a file, and everyone knows where to find it.

3. Google Drive

The master filing cabinet for all of your materials. A few years ago, I may have sent upwards of 15 emails a week to staff. We had to send out schedules, answer questions, forward memos, etc. I was frustrated when staff did not have time to read all of my emails. When we decided to use Google Drive to get organized as an office, we created one shared staff folder that would have some other embedded folders inside. We titled our folders things like early release days, late starts, snow day schedules, calendars, monthly newsletters, MCAS, program of studies, etc. Think of all the things you share with your staff.

Now, we do not email, they know that if there is an early release day next week, the schedule is in the folder. We spend time in the summer creating all the schedules for the year for each day and then it is in one spot. No more emails, or at least we are down to one email a week saying – check the folder! The beautiful part of this is we can have staff with view only access, and turn on editing or commenting for dept chairs, or for anyone that is authorized to make changes.

The staff feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. They love knowing where things are for when they have time to look at the schedule or update their planning books. They never hunt through the inbox nor do they ask colleagues. They also love that they can weigh in on decisions, faculty meeting agendas, or comment on a presentation, all during their presentation, from their desk or room, and not have to send an email and wait for responses.

Team Drive is something that needs a post of it’s own, but if you are curious, read up on it here. This is a great option if you have a lot of changes in your staff from year to year. No one owns the files, the team owns the files.

4. Google Forms & Sheets

Administrators love data. We also have a habit of asking the admin assistants to count up things. From daily lunch counts to teacher updates to add to your blog, to determining data for NEAS&C, Google Forms can do it for you. Gone are the days of paper surveys in homeroom or faculty meetings, and the tedious counting and sorting results. The beauty of the Google Form is that it can automatically push the data into a spreadsheet called Sheets and it is really easy to use. This year we used Google Forms for teachers to sign off on their mandatory training, the technology responsible use policy, and reading 504’s & IEPs. These sheets saved the office hours of time! We are looking at making all of our forms through Google next year. Our elementary schools are going to launch a form for student dismissals via chromebook at the main office instead of paper. Does your school save time with forms or any Google product? Let me know how! This data will be shared out in another post this year.

Also, click on the Explore button. A WHOLE NEW WORLD has opened up. When you have your data in sheets, it will automatically suggest several graphs to choose from that showcase your data. You can pop those into a slide and look like a rockstar at your next School Committee presentation. Edwin Analytics is a blast, of course, but Google Sheets is better. Upload those excel files into sheets and watch the magic happen.

5. Google Chrome

  • As a technology administrator, I am moving between devices all day. I have a PC desktop, a Macbook Air, and a Chromebook. I work at home, I work at school, at conferences, etc. As I use Google so much and on multiple devices, I log into Google Chrome, it remembers my favorites, my windows that were open, everything. It is always syncing.  And the best part is that I only need to remember one password for so many applications (including my Gmail). With Chrome as my favorites, never do I wonder- hey, which website do I use to order MCAS? Which site do I use for teacher evaluation? I have those favorites saved and if I was working in one of those applications, when I log into another device and open chrome and sign it, those windows pop back up! This is great for when I get home and think- oh, I forgot to____ and then I have my school favorites ready to go.
  • Extensions- they are small applications that add more functionality to the Chrome browser. I routinely use Screencastify to make videos to help staff members, like the ones in this post. I use Nimbus for great screen shots. Check out this article from PC Magazine for the best Google Chrome Extensions.
  • Pin tabs- another administrator showed me this helpful hint. If you Ctrl + click on the tab, you get a menu that allows you to pin or mute a tab. Pinning tabs keeps them open so you do not accidentally close them.

There are so many more things that Google can do for you as a school administrator. I found that most trainings were about using the GSuite applications in the classroom, so I have focused my energy on helping fellow administrators use Google to enhance their productivity and efficiency. Please fill out this form if you wish to suggest other ways that Gsuite helps you as an administrator, and I will include in another blog post this year.

LytaniaLytania Mackey Knowles is energized by her work with students, teachers, and administration K-12 in a field that she is passionate about- technology & education. She enjoys supporting educators by planning and delivering meaningful and relevant professional development and training. In her spare time, she can be found in a sunny spot reading her Kindle or cooking, traveling and golfing with her husband (a golf coach and elementary teacher). 

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