Essential iPad Apps for Principals

iPad Guide imageI recently described my iPad workflow, and thought I should describe my favorite apps and how they support my work as a school leader. I would appreciate any comments or feedback you have on iPad apps.

I’ve made an effort to describe each major app that I use, with special attention to its usefulness in my work as a school leader. I hope you find my comments helpful in considering how the iPad can support your work.

iPad MailEmail is increasingly how work is done – especially the work of leadership. I use my iPad to stay abreast of email as it comes in throughout the day, and to respond to email when I’m away from my computer but have my Bluetooth keyboard (see this post).

The iPad’s built-in email app is excellent, and it will probably work with your school or district email system. Check your desktop computer to see the server addresses and account settings, or check with your district tech staff to find out if there are any special settings to use. iPad does not have any special requirements – if you can access your email from your home computer, you can access it on the iPad.

A note about webmail – if you can access your email through a web browser, it might be tempting not to bother setting up the Mail app. However, webmail often lacks important features such as your district address book and the “mark as unread” button. It’s worth the effort to set up Mail to have access to its great features. In addition, other iPad apps need an email account to send files from (as described above), so you’ll want to have the Mail app configured.

iCal for iPadPlanning my time and keeping appointments are essential parts of my work as a school leader, so I need a reliable calendar. Paper or a desktop-based calendar will work, but I’ve found it enormously helpful to have a powerful electronic calendar with me at all times.

The iPad’s built-in calendar app is a dream to use. Add new appointments, accept or reject meeting invitations, set reminders (which will turn on your iPad when they pop up), and modify your schedule all from the slick interface. You’ll never go back to a paper calendar again after using iCal.

My secretary can add appointments directly to my calendar through Microsoft Outlook’s designee feature, and they’ll show up automatically in iCal. You can also subscribe to web-based .ical feeds, such as those generated by Google Calendar.

OmniFocus for iPadI need to keep track of countless projects, tasks, ideas, and plans in my work as a principal. I found that if I keep only simple paper-based lists, they get out of control quickly. OmniFocus is my hub for to-do items.

This $40 app is pricey but amazing. If you’ve found that your paper or simple electronic to-do lists get unwieldy after a while, OmniFocus is the solution. Check out this video introduction to this complex but powerful app.

OmniFocus screenshot

OmniFocus is one of the best-designed iPad apps on the market, and is a joy to use. However, if you’re looking for a simpler (and cheaper) solution, try Things. I haven’t used Things, but I’ve heard good things (ahem) about it.

Whichever to-do app you use, the key is to write ALL of your tasks in it, instead of leaving them scattered across multiple apps.

EvernoteAs a principal, I receive a large amount of information that I may need to reference in the future. I have a good paper filing system, but I don’t want to print and manually file anything if I can avoid it.

Evernote is my file cabinet. It will accept text (emailed, pasted, or typed in), photos, and file attachments, and make all of them searchable. For example, if I’m at another school and see a playground rules poster I like, I can take a picture with my phone and email it to Evernote. Searching for “playground” will bring up the photo, because Evernote can actually read text (including handwriting) inside photographs.

Best of all, your data lives on Evernote’s servers, and is instantly synched between your iPad, iPhone, desktop or laptop computer (Windows or Mac), and the web interface. In other words, your reference information is always on hand. If you’re feeling ambitious and have a sheet-fed duplexing scanner, you can even scan your paper files into Evernote and get rid of your file cabinet. There’s also a bookmarklet to clip items you find on the web.

iPad Reading Apps
A note about reading apps: if you need to read something by a specific date (e.g. for a meeting), put it on your calendar or to-do list. Otherwise, you can use the following apps to read material of interest whenever you get a chance.

InstapaperI believe that leadership is creative work, and creative work requires inspiration and new ideas. Reading is therefore an essential part of the work of leadership, yet we don’t read as much as we should. If you have a pile of unread leadership magazines in your office or home, you know what I mean. When you want to read something (eventually) but don’t have time right now, save it to Instapaper.

InstapaperInstapaper works best for those moments when you find yourself wanting to read an article, but you realize you aren’t going to have time to finish it without interruption. Instead of printing the article and using the resulting clutter as a reminder to read the article, save the article to Instapaper and read it at your convenience. The typography is the best I’ve ever seen – I’d rather read an article in Instapaper than any other way.

It helps to install the Safari bookmarklet to easily save articles you find online. This will take a minute but it’s worth it.

Most education publications such as EdWeek, Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan, etc. offer their content free online to print subscribers. Since I don’t want a pile of EdWeek papers filling my office or home, I flip through the paper, search for the articles I want to read online, and save them to Instapaper.*

*Instapaper saves public web articles and anything you email to it. For reading material that isn’t already on the public web (e.g. EdWeek articles, which require that you be a logged-in subscriber), you can copy and paste into Evernote, then email the Evernote document to a special Instapaper email address. While this is a bit of a pain, it has the added benefit of giving you a searchable backup copy in Evernote.

iAnnotate PDF Reader
iAnnotateSometimes you need to read an article more carefully and take notes for later reference. If you’re taking graduate or advanced certification classes, you probably receive plenty of PDFs. While Safari, Mail, and Evernote can all open PDF files, a specialized reader app such as iAnnotate will save your place and let you mark up the article.

iAnnotate’s interface is very easy to learn, and it’s easy to save PDF files to the app. It’s easily worth the $10 price tag.

Again, if you need to read a document by a certain date, I don’t recommend simply saving it to iAnnotate – put it on your calendar or to-do list as well.

Kindle & iBooks
Kindle app iBooks appAn increasing number of popular and education-related titles are available for Amazon’s Kindle app or the iBooks reading app. Last Spring, I bought a paperback copy of Kim Marshall’s Rethinking Teacher Supervision & Evaluation, but I also clicked the “I want to read this book on Kindle” link on Amazon’s website. A few months later, a Kindle edition was released. It works, and reading on the iPad is much more convenient than reading a paper book.

A little-known feature of the Kindle app is that you can highlight important passages and view a list of all the passages you’ve highlighted, either on the iPad or on Amazon’s website. This is a great way to review what you’ve learned from a book. iBooks has a similar feature.

The above apps are those I find indispensable and use daily, but I have dozens of other apps that I downloaded just to try or for fun. Don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars trying new apps.

The key, as I said in my iPad workflow article, is to limit the number of apps holding actionable information; otherwise, each new app is simply another place to lose something important.

What apps do you use on the iPad? Are you considering getting an iPad? Let me know what you think.

Image credit: Brandi Sims

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About Justin Baeder

Justin Baeder helps school administrators increase their productivity through the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. Learn More »