Speed It Up—Carefully: Old and New Technology to Serve Your School

by Austin Shenk

Isn’t technology great?

Possibly. Technology can speed up whatever we’re doing. But if we’re not sure about our goals for technology, it will likely get in our way, says Austin. He describes new technologies his school is embracing, and suggests that we take another look at some highly effective technologies that have been with us for centuries.

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Technology. We think that it’s our friend, but in reality, the thing about technology is, it accelerates. I was inspired by the book Good to Great when it talked about [how] technology is an accelerator to make you great, but it’s also an accelerator to make you bad. If you have a bad thing going, it’s going to make it worse. I love technology when it helps, but I hate it when it gets in the way.

The other thing about technology is that we as Anabaptists have been very good, I think in history at least, at being skeptical of it and making sure that we don’t abuse it or overuse it, and so I think that’s good and I think we need to continue doing that. Because if we don’t know why we want our technology, it will definitely rule us and we don’t want that to happen. And so we want to use our technology well.

Paper is tech. The one thing that I like about paper is it’s a lot less distracting. We get our technology, our Bluetooth, our computers, our cell phones, everything distracting us and when we have paper it’s not as distracting. For multiple reasons, there are times when less distraction is better. I also love, love, love binders and so I just have a whole row of binders. One of the reasons that I love them is because they give you some semi-organization without necessarily needing it to be perfectly organized.

So I have an archives binder, just love to fill it with anything that is floating around and I need to… I want at some but I don’t know when I want it so I throw it in there. For that reason I developed a staff binder for our school, and in this binder I created sections for each teacher to have a one on classroom, schedules, weekly meetings, events, debriefing, orientation, our staff manual and our Other section.

For our weekly meetings, I just love to have our meetings all on paper. It helps us to stay on track and helps us stay prepared. When we used to do our meetings agendas on our computers, everyone brought a laptop to the meeting and we got distracted and we got not done as soon and we got on bunny trails and all the rest of that. A document that is required to have items on it before we come to the meeting—everything’s printed. Everybody can follow along. They can write with a pen. Love that.

The other thing that I love paper for is a planner. This is the Full Focus Planner by Michael Hyatt and he would love if you would buy it. One thing that I think is excellent use of paper is planning. I’ve heard from Howard Hendricks that you should spend 15 minutes a day, a one hour a week, one day a month, and one week a year in planning and the time that I spend when I get 15 minutes a day to plan is really, really helpful. It just gives me such clarity. I feel like I accomplish a lot more in my day.

Another reason to use paper is journaling. It’s a great way to be aware of how I act and react and what I’m thankful for. When I can do that just with a paper and pen, it’s a great use of that technology. And then a notebook. It can be any type of notebook, but just something that I know, when I’m taking notes, where to go when I want to go refer to them again. It’s great to have one notebook for meetings that don’t have printed agendas. I have a place to go for that.

Now paper’s not the only technology, and we’re very aware of that. One thing that I was advised about is in order to use digital technology well, you have to know why you want it and what the goal of it is. For 24 years now that our school’s been running, although I haven’t been in our school all those 24 years, I have watched as we’ve improved on our procedures and our policies and different things. I feel that I’m blessed that we didn’t go to digital technology right away. We’re still using paper for our attendance. And I think that that’s good for the purpose of helping us to learn what it is that we want technology, how we want technology to serve us.

Using Sycamore School Management is a great tool for us. There’s 354 features on it and we don’t plan to utilize them all right away. But because we’ve learned without it for so long how to run a school, we now can appreciate the features that they offer and we can utilize them well. The other thing I mentioned with Sycamore, and we’re very excited to be using it, is the barcodes that they offer, namely for library management—that’s an excellent service—but also attendance can be taken through barcodes. Inventory can be done through barcodes. A lot of amazing uses of barcodes. For about $20 we were able to get very simple and very useful piece of technology.

We’ve also used Google Drive for awhile and the reason that that is very helpful for us is collaboration. We can work on documents and share them among ourselves. And we are just in the process of migrating over to Synology. It is a local network. It has the speed of local network. The security of local network. And also has the option when you’re not on the local network to access it anywhere in the world. And so we are very excited about moving to that direction because we already are aware of why we want it.

There are a few other technologies that I want to talk about and one of those, low tech once again, is a timer that you can hand turn. The psychology is that if you want to stay focused on a task, you turn that timer to the desired time and you can work diligently. They have said that an adult’s attention span is between 20 to 35 minutes. I love to use this timer just to set it to time, work diligently for that 25, 35 minutes, and then go take a break. And that helps my productivity a lot.

So in review, the idea that technology is an accelerator and if you have something going bad, you’ll make it worse a lot faster. If you have something going good, you can make it great with technology.

As our school has grown, so has our need for space. And so once we needed it, we moved some classrooms into our church building, and we also realized we need more office space. And so as I looked around for an office, I found this old closet that wasn’t being used in one of our Sunday school rooms. And so I tried, decided to re-purpose it. I got an old sneeze guard that was laying around and I used it as my desktop, and I added two computer screens, threw in a little computer here, and the shelves that were already in the closet were great use for storage space. I love to be able to sit here and do my work. I just love utilizing a space that would otherwise be neglected and it serves me incredibly well.

And also I love the stress relief that it gives me at the end of the day when I get to lock all my work behind me.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Austin Shenk

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