Devs: Process Automation Can Smooth School Disruptions

The pandemic has presented schools with opportunities to automate legacy processes, decreasing workloads for teachers, administrators and parents alike. 

When I was a child, I was always days late turning in my field trip forms, which sat crumpled at the bottom of my bookbag until my parents found them and signed them. Decades later, I find myself searching my own children’s backpacks for crumpled permission slips. It’s hard to believe that all these years later, schools are still using the same inefficient process they always have.

Imagine instead a digitized and automated system that would send permission slips (and other paperwork) directly to parents on a device, where they could sign and return the forms with a few clicks. Sound familiar? Most of us use digital automated processes at work and in our business dealings. So why are so many schools lagging behind?

The pandemic forced schools across the country to pivot from live learning and paper-based processes to virtual (or hybrid) learning and remote communication. The shift exposed process inefficiencies that currently exist in many school systems, but it also presented school administrators with opportunities to automate those same processes, thus decreasing workloads for teachers, administrators and parents alike.

The Time Is Now

In a 2020 National Education Association poll, nearly a third of teachers said they are more likely to resign or retire early due to COVID-19, and 20% of these teachers have been in the industry for 10 years or less. This attrition means teachers who stay will be stretched even thinner while the teachers brought in to fill the void will likely be younger and newer to the profession.

Both of these changes make process automation even more imperative — even while budgets are being slashed and school administrators worry about uncertainty. The reason is twofold: Younger generations are accustomed to automated processes in every facet of their lives and expect no less at work. Second, process automation will remove roadblocks like unnecessary manual paperwork, and free up teachers and administrators to focus on what’s most important: our children.

Internal and External Process Automation

There are a number of common workflows at schools that can benefit from process automation.

When schools moved to virtual learning, they had to reimagine how to take attendance, putting digital processes in place to record student attendance in their new online learning environments. This type of process can also be beneficial for in-person learning environments, replacing the traditional roll call that happens in the first few minutes of class — while teachers are juggling multiple tasks to get the class settled. A digital roll call could also automatically alert a school counselor if a student has an unexplained or repeated absence, so the counselor could follow up with a phone call home.

Unexplained or habitual absences are just two types of incidents that need to be tracked and reported. Others include bullying, an injury or accident, and a student exhibiting signs of abuse. When the process for reporting these incidents is too cumbersome or too mired in paperwork, it hinders proper documentation, and problems can fall through the cracks. Not only are teachers left to determine when an incident is “worth the paperwork” but they may not even have clear guidance on the next steps. An automated workflow would streamline the process so a teacher or administrator could launch the process by filling out a simple online form, which would then guide the user to the next steps while simultaneously alerting the appropriate person to take action.

And what happens when teachers get sick? Securing a substitute and sharing lesson plans with them can be so overwhelming that some teachers go to the classroom sick instead — an alarming fact in the midst of a global pandemic. Digitizing and automating this process could allow lesson plans to be shared with the substitute in just a few clicks, enabling teachers to take their sick time and subs to quickly get up to speed.

Processes are just as important outside the classroom. For example, facilities and construction departments at schools often have a convoluted process for getting building permits, leading to long timelines for upgrades. With an automated process that can be deployed quickly, teams can complete building permit approvals in half the time, with a significant reduction in costs and in employee document handling.

The pandemic accelerated digitization in many aspects of our lives, from contactless payments to online delivery. As parents become accustomed to these conveniences, they’ll expect them from schools as well. And everyone can benefit if they’re implemented. For example, if my child is falling behind or I want to connect with a teacher, a digital process would allow me to request time with that teacher, share my availability and get in a queue to talk to them. Making the process efficient for both of us allows us to spend less time on missed connections and more time on addressing my child’s education.

So how can schools start overhauling and automating their processes while on a budget?

  • Take stock of where productivity is being lost. What are the biggest pain points for staff? What projects never seem to get done? Have an open discussion with staff and parents to understand the biggest inefficiencies and what would lighten their workload.
  • Make a top 10 list of processes that can be standardized and automated. Consider the low-hanging fruit: Which processes will have the greatest impact with the lowest lift? These optimizations will bring exponential value.
  • Find a partner that has ad hoc, no-code solutions that anyone can implement. Your principal, assistant principal, staff, admin and teachers can build their own forms or workflows without having to engage IT.

Teachers, administrators and families face so many unnecessary distractions that take away from the focus on children’s education. Process efficiency and automation are key to removing that noise and paving the way for our children to succeed.

And parents can say goodbye to crumpled, forgotten permission slips.


Terry Simpson is Senior Solutions Engineer for Nintex, a providers of process management and automation solutions. Today more than 10,000 public and private sector organizations across 90 countries turn to the Nintex Platform to accelerate progress on their digital transformation journeys by quickly and easily managing, automating and optimizing business processes.