How do you keep track of the many kinds of data that you deal with? You probably have a variety of reports and spreadsheets, but you may also want to consider a database.
This morning I was consulting with a principal who was very organized, but was reaching the limits of her system for keeping track of student information. In order to keep track of different student data, she was using an excellent system of spreadsheets and forms, but they were proving too much to keep track of in a growing school.
Being organized is great, but every system reaches its limits periodically. A system should be only as complex as it needs to be, but when that complexity makes it harder and harder to use, you may need to switch to new tools.
In our work as school leaders, this often means switching from spreadsheets to databases. (You may also need to switch from loose records to a spreadsheet, but that’s a topic for another post).
In most cases, your district, region, or state will provide a database for student information, but if not, or if you have other data-tracking needs, it’s important to know when and how to switch to a database.
Signs You Need a Database
- You regularly receive information that requires you to update more than one record, e.g. a student file and two spreadsheets
- You need to share the task of entering and/or accessing data
- Your spreadsheets require you to re-enter information each time a new record is added (e.g. contact info for a student each time a discipline incident is logged)
- It’s hard to tell what action to take based on the status of all of your records
- You’re having to sub-divide your spreadsheet into different sections for different people, e.g. to record multiple payments for each student
If any of these apply to the data you use in your work as a school leader, you may need a database. Feel free to leave a comment if you’re not sure – spreadsheets are powerful, but they can’t do everything.
You need a database if you have multiple records that need to be associated with a given person or issue. For example, if you have five emergency contacts for some students and only one for other students, a database is better than a spreadsheet, because you can have a set of emergency contact records, and a set of student records, and connect the correct contacts to the correct students. You’ll only have to ever update a record one time, since the information is linked rather than duplicated when it’s related to several people (such as contact info for siblings).
Making a Simple Database
It used to be that databases were beyond the reach of ordinary professionals, but new tools like Zoho Creator make it easy to drag and drop form fields together to make a simple database. If you’re willing to invest a bit of time in learning the system, or if you have a technically minded staff member who is, you can even make a powerful custom application that can generate reports.
This means all of your data can go in one place, multiple staff can access and update it, and you won’t have to worry about updating several records when there are changes to make.
If all you need is a one-page form for entering data, you may not need a database; take a look at Google Forms and see if that will do what you need. Google forms are simple, web-based forms that allow people to enter information, which is then saved into a spreadsheet.
But if you need to link multiple kinds of records, or if you find yourself juggling several spreadsheets and getting lost in the mess, a database may be the way to go.
Again, feel free to leave a comment on this post if you have questions.