Digital tools to increase productivity and simplify your workflow in your early learning service.
Does the phrase “digital tools” leave you feeling a little squirmy? Do you prefer to keep track of tasks on paper as a way of managing the many things you need to do? After all, you have been using the pen and paper method for years, and it has worked just fine so far, right?
The thing is, though, for early childhood educators, leaders, directors, and managers, there is an increasing expectation to record, file, review, share, and communicate online now. Online is where all of the action is happening, and it is increasingly difficult to manage all of these tasks without systems and workflows to help you cope!
So what if I told you that there are a range of digital tools that can simplify your work life, and increase your productivity?
If you were anything like me five years ago, I would have stopped you right there at the word “digital” and revealed my productivity tools… a stack of beautiful notebooks, post-it notes and notepads. Each new notebook or post-it note offered a fresh new beginning, a chance to start over and be more organised and productive. Well, this is what I told myself! But this couldn’t be further from the truth though.
With time (and a million things to remember to do), I have slowly adopted digital tools that have made my personal and work life much more streamlined. It can take a little bit of getting used to each tool, but there are a ton of articles and youtube videos that will help you become a pro in no time at all.
Let’s take a look at some of the tools used by early childhood education professionals, that offer efficient systems and workflows to increase your productivity, save you time, and simplify your life! Did I mention they will help clear your mind from all of the clutter (mental to-do lists)?
Educators can spend a lot of time downloading, cropping, sharing and using photos for displays or children’s online learning portfolios. Have you ever captured a child engaged in a learning experience, only to find when you open it on your computer, that it could do with a little brightening or sharpening up?
The truth is, even professional photographers need to use editing tools to zhoosh their photos up a little bit. And here’s a little secret, they are quite easy to use if you stick to the basics.
Snapseed is an Android and iOS app developed by Google. It is a fantastic free app that allows users to enhance photos and apply preset filters. A quick edit can take your photo from “hmm” to “WHOA” with just a few clicks.
It used to be the case that those in early childhood settings take one of two paths when needing to design posters or displays. You can either work with the children to create a beautifully decorative masterpiece or ask for people in your learning community with a design degree to help you with a project. Both of these are fantastic ideas, but sometimes you need to get the job done fast! There are free online tools that can help you whip up eye-catching posters, brochures, social media posts, song posters, information charts, and so much more! Creating marketing materials to distribute in your local area is also a great reason to find a tool that makes this a quick and painless task.
Canva is hands down my favourite tool to use for this purpose! It is so easy to use, and you can either create your own designs or use one of the 100s of free templates which allow you to switch up the colours, the wording or images used. There are templates for social media posts, menus, invitations, business cards, flyers, infographics, certificates, brochures, calendars and everything else in between. You can bet that if you need something designed, there will be a template for it. The free version is extensive, so there is no need to upgrade to a paying subscription.
Documenting Children’s learning and parent communication
Connecting, communicating and working closely with a child’s family is vital for early childhood educators. Parents are a child’s first teacher, so sharing children’s learning journeys is of utmost importance. But how do you best engage families in their child’s learning? The rise of digital documentation tools is increasing in the education sector, and it is quickly becoming apparent that it is a valuable way to work in true partnership with a child’s family. Particularly now, when we are all adjusting to new ways of connecting with others due to COVID-19, these connections are more important than ever.
Storypark – It takes a village to raise a child, and Storypark is a valuable tool that connects and empowers all of the important people in a child’s life. Providing an accessible eportfolio that travels with children from birth through to school and beyond, Storypark supports a continuous, cohesive learning journey for each child. The benefits for educators should not be forgotten either. Storypark proudly supports quality practice, encouraging reflective, intentional teaching. With families reporting that since using Storypark, they have a deeper understanding of their child’s learning and development, teachers say they are saving so much time. With a massive increase in family engagement, it is easy to see why Storypark is a smart choice for learning services who want to provide the best quality start in life to young children.
Organising, Collaborating and Productivity
If there is one thing that educators need to be skilled at, that would be having the memory of an elephant. You need to remember SO MANY things all day, every day. It is no wonder you are quite tired at the end of every day! I wish I had discovered just how powerful Google tools were, and that I had used them back when I was teaching. Do you know how your phone freezes when you have too many apps or images on it? Or you get the spinning rainbow wheel of death on your laptop when you have too many docs stored on it? Well, your brain is pretty much like that when you have too many “tabs” open. Using Google tools, you can close all of those tabs and save all of your mental energy for working with children. It organises all of the information and makes it easier to find what you need. As Google says “Tools you love, thoughtfully connected.”
My favourite tools from Google are as follows:
- Gmail – Everyone knows what Gmail is, I’m sure, but to use any of the Google tools, you must link them to a Google account.
- Google Drive – great for storing, sharing and collaborating with your team. Sharing all of your files in Drive means you can access them from any computer which is great for when somebody else is using a laptop on which you have saved your files.
- Google Docs/sheets/slides – These are the google equivalent of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
- Google Photos – It is often thought that Google photos are solely the domain of Android users; however, you can use it on Apple devices too.
- Google Keep – A fantastic note-taking tool that allows you to add notes, lists, photos, links. If you are busy and on the go, you can speak a voice memo. The best place to dump all of those ideas or tidbits of information that makes your brain go into buffering mode!
- Google Meet – we all got used to using zoom during COVID-19 lockdown. Google Meet is Google’s video calling platform. It is simpler to use than Zoom in my opinion, but the best part is, that it syncs to your Google calendar – see below.
- Google Calendar – I’ve saved the best for last. If I had to choose only one Google tool to live with for the rest of my life, it would be the calendar. This calendar can sync with other people’s calendars, so you can check when anyone is free for a meeting, you can send invites, set reminders and so much more. Syncing your calendar with your other google tools makes it so convenient. An excellent tool for educational leaders to fill out at the start of the year with all meetings, public holidays, conferences, family events or much more! One way that I use it is to organise my entire day using colour coded blocks. It spills onto my home life too; I add rubbish collection day, recycling day, family sports etc.
Otter is a hidden gem that I have only recently discovered. Essentially, it records audio and transcribes the audio into written form. It is an absolute game-changer when taking meeting notes, and for recording audio observations of children using a running record style. You can also use it to record conversations you have with children when working with them. Of course, we strongly suggest gaining consent from the children first. It is a useful tool to help you stay focused on working with the children or participating in meetings rather than note-taking. It is like having a digital secretary at your fingertips! As it records entire discussions, you will need to go back and edit them later, but you can easily copy and paste any meeting notes into the planning feature afterwards.
Social Media Scheduling Tools
An increasing number of early learning services use Social Media as a marketing tool to promote to their local community. This job often comes down to one person who can find their way around social media easily. It does, however, usually mean that posts are sporadic, there is either a feast or a famine of posts. We don’t suggest sharing images of children or their families on social media. However, you can post links to online articles that may be of interest to your followers, quotes and tips about the importance of play-based learning, news that is of interest to your local community (are you having a gala?) etc.
An easy way to ensure that you are sharing content often is to spend a few minutes each week scheduling your posts. You can do this directly on Facebook using the tools provided with a business page, or you can use a scheduling platform such as Contentcal, Buffer, or for Instagram use Planoly or Later.
Writing learning stories, newsletters, or informative blurbs for your centre displays and posters are crucial tasks that educators need to do regularly. Some people find this easy, they can spell correctly, and their grammar is flawless. Other people, however, may need to use tools to help. Two tools that may help educators who speak English as a second language, educators with Dyslexia, or just educators who have other strengths are Thesaurus and Grammarly.
An online thesaurus is a great way to make your learning stories come to life, and for others to find them interesting to read. I like to use it when I feel like I have overused a word, or want to describe something in more detail.
Grammarly is a digital writing assistance tool which can even predict your sentence structure and make suggestions before you have finished typing your sentences! It is different from spell check, in that it also checks your grammar. Simply add the plugin to your browser, and it will work on any tab you have open. Magical!
Professional Development and Learning
It is a well-known fact that educators are perpetual learners. Working with children means you are also a lifelong learner, as you explore new theories and teaching strategies. You are busy learning about and extending not only the children’s interests but you are also consistently growing in your professional knowledge and skills. This can be easier said than done, as accessing the funds and time to attend workshops and conferences can be a barrier to you participating. You cannot beat an in-person event to learn, engage and discuss the current topic. You can, however, engage in your learning using some online resources.
- Podcasts – great to listen to while you are driving or commuting! My favourite podcast streaming service is, of course, Google Podcasts!
- Pinterest – I’m pretty sure Pinterest is an educator’s best friend and needs no introduction.
- Feedly – Feedly is a tool that collects information from various sources to which you have subscribed to. It is like a newspaper that only delivers the news that you WANT to see. Logging onto Feedly can save you visiting 101 different blogs when you want to research a topic or find some inspiration. It is fantastic, you open Feedly and staring right at you is a feed of excellent articles that are relevant, and recent!
An essential part of professional development is not only partaking in online or in-person learning but to then reflect on it! Having a system or framework that allows you to gather information and notes, and to then reflect on and put into action your learnings makes this process a lot easier. It is also a great way to see your professional growth over a period of time and to share your learnings with your educational leader.
Educational leaders, directors and managers would agree that they spend a lot of their work hours doing administrative tasks. Working on rosters and ratios, creating and sending invoices, payroll, attendance rolls, billing and invoicing, updating child records, waitlist and enrolments, marketing… There are never enough hours in the day to tend to all of the tasks that are necessary when managing a quality early learning service or organisation! Using childcare management software can make a huge difference to the time you spend on administrative tasks, it is almost like having your very own personal assistant!
For Australian educators, using the most advanced CCMS software will save you time, increase your revenue and occupancy, and help you run a “smooth sailing ship”. Storypark Manage makes it easier and faster to manage your centre so that you can spend less time on the day to day running of your business and more time growing it. With smart tools to help you grow your occupancy and revenue, you can save up to 1.5 hours per day! That is almost one full working day PER WEEK! With over 60 smart automations that do away with manual tasks, you can spend more time increasing your occupancy and revenue and working with your staff and children.
If you feel overwhelmed looking at this list of digital tools, the best way to start is to choose one tool, implement it, and focus just on that one tool for a while. Once you have played around with it and discovered all of its handy features, you might want to share it with your teaching team as well. When you are confidently using one tool, it could be time to look into another one! Before you know it, you will be a digital whiz and will wonder how you ever coped without using these tools! Got any other tools or apps that have helped you work more efficiently? We would love to hear about them so drop them in the comments below.