A Tool for Advising

Our school is nearing the end of a search for a new student information system (SIS). As the person responsible for coordinating this search, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how a SIS can help teachers do their job. Student information systems are not as exciting as flipped classrooms, blogging, smartboards, gamification, and the other hot pedagogical tools and techniques of our time. Nonetheless, a good SIS can actually make a big difference to teachers, especially in the area of student advising.

At a boarding school like ours (and I’m sure at many day schools as well), the teacher’s role extends far beyond the classroom. Not only do our teachers help students realize their potential as scholars, athletes, members of our community, and citizens of the world. Teachers must also act “in loco parentis” and look out for students’ physical and emotional well-being. Our students are in grades 9 through 12, and while they are wonderfully self-reliant and independent, they still need someone to pay attention to the sorts of things a parent worries about: Are they getting enough sleep? Have they racked up too many demerits this term? Do they seem depressed? Are they performing up to expectations in their classes?

The information stored in a SIS is not a replacement for face time, but it can fill in important details such as grades, attendance records, course schedule, health issues, and roommate information. With all of this data easily accessible, an adviser can get a fuller picture of an advisee’s situation and better detect when help or intervention is needed. Some systems can even be configured to send an automatic email to the adviser if a student starts slipping in attendance or grades, or accrues too many demerits. The best systems also facilitate communication among the adults directly involved with a particular student: the teachers, coach, adviser, dorm head, dean, school nurse, and the family. This communication history can be stored in the student’s record for future reference.

While I’m under no illusion that the transition to our new system will be easy, I’m sure our teachers will ultimately be glad we did it. All of the information they need to know about their students will now be at their fingertips, accessed through a convenient and intuitive web portal. Custom reports and automatic emailed updates will help them track their advisees’ performance and enable them to be more informed and engaged as advisers.

One last comment: Part of our search process involved polling teachers and technology people at other schools. I feel fortunate to be working in a field in which busy people are so generous with their time and knowledge. My heartfelt thanks go to all who contributed their feedback and advice.

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