10 Ways the Smartphone Has Changed the Principal’s Life

Smartphone 10 years


This year we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Apple’s iPhone debut, arguably the most innovative and productive device our world has seen to date. This gadget has led to a variety of smartphones with Android, Google, and Windows operating systems, and it is rare to find an adult without one in his or her pocket.

For School Administrators, the smartphone may be the single most important portable tool we have on a day to day basis. While I rely on my laptop to do the heavy lifting, my “hallway tool” is clearly my iPhone 7+, big enough so that my older eyes can read the screen and small enough that it fits in my pants.

Given the 10 years the iPhone has been on the earth, I’ll reflect on the top 10 ways the Smartphone has revolutionized our work and share some iOS app recommendations as well.

1.    Notetaking

While I still use my laptop or Chromebook for most hour long meetings, apps such as Evernote, Drafts, or Notability are essential for documenting the conversation with a parent in the office or a teacher in the hallway. What’s more, most of these apps are cloud based so that the text is sitting on my laptop before I can even get back to my office at school or home. 

2.    Calendar

Google has revolutionized many things about school (The New York Times recently sounded some alarms on this) but in addition to Google Docs, perhaps their best invention for school administrators is Google Calendar. It just simply works, whether we use their native app, or iOS apps such as Fantastical or Calendars 5 that import the Google Calendar data. Many of my appointments are made on my phone away from my laptop and most calendar apps utilize natural language to set meetings, e.g. Meeting with Jake, 5 p.m. on Thursday, in room 301.

3.    Email

If I need to write a sensitive email to a parent, I’m going to take my time on a Mac program such as Ulysses or Scrivener to make sure the wording is right. However, many emails are quick shots that I can answer on my iPhone while waiting for the car to be serviced. There are many strong iOS email apps such as Dispatch which can powerfully move emails to Evernote or your To-Do program. Smartphones are great for trashing Spam and unwanted emails too. Spark is particularly good for this.

4.    Phone Calls/Texting

In some ways, the Smartphone has become a secondary walkie talkie for me. I am Principal of two schools and my faithful Assistant Principal is usually in the “other” building. As a result, we usually communicate using our cell phones since our business is carried out in the hallways, classrooms, cafeterias and playgrounds, not in our offices with landlines. In the same way, less urgent information is passed along via text daily and with the advent of the Google Keyboard for iOS, iPhones now have the fast swipe method of text input with GBoard. Of course, voice recognition has improved tremendously as well and that speeds up texting.

5.    Access to Docs

Between Google Drive, Evernote, and Dropbox, every document that exists on my laptop can also be accessed on my iPhone, and quickly. In fact, the latest version of the iPhone’s operating system, iOS 11, will have a “Finder” in it which will allow users to access any document that exists on their phone, much like a laptop or desktop computer. Instead of going into a specific app, it’ll be a one-stop location for all docs.

6.    Media

What is everyone’s primary still and video camera now? The Smartphone…and for good reason. It is always there when unexpected wonderfulness occurs in a classroom or at a professional development workshop with teachers. For close up shots, which is primarily what we would utilize in a school, there is negligible difference between a full SLR camera and a smartphone. It is also a straightforward process to upload the picture or video to a site such as Flickr or YouTube.

7.    Social Media

I have written often about the professional learning power of social media. The potential of “couch learning” at home, while the Red Sox are playing or the news is blaring, is ready made for the smartphone. I use Tweetbot daily to catch up on specific Tweeters in my PLN and I utilize RSS readers such as Reeder and Feedly to read blog posts from my favorite writers. Likewise, would I be enjoying podcasts from my favorite app Overcast, if I didn’t have a Smartphone?

8.    Alarms and Notifications

On a typical day I might have 5-10 meetings, and as hard as I try, I get distracted. The combination of the Apple Watch and iPhone have kept me on track this year as my calendar app pushes out notifications just before a meeting to make sure I’m present. In addition, I use Due when something, absolutely, positively has to get done such as a phone call to a parent before I head home for the day.

9.    Weather

Above all else, building Principals are responsible for the safety of the children and staff in their care. Part of that mission is keeping an eye on weather, be it deciding to go out for recess or keeping kids inside because of severe weather. My journalist son prefers Weather Underground as his app/site of choice.

10. Getting Things Done

If you haven’t adopted a workflow that includes one of the excellent to-do programs, then you need to think about it this summer. The most intricate program, and my main program for many years, is the expensive and powerful Omnifocus. I recently went back to Things with the release of it’s third iteration. Other well known options include Todoist, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, and 2Do. The advantage of these programs is that they are more than simple lists. They all allow the user to create projects and then to-dos with due dates. As part of the GTD philosophy, these programs allow tags or contexts that separate your to-do items into specific actions, such as phone calls, or even tasks that are best done when you have high energy (writing a teacher evaluation) or low energy (approving a personal day or budget request).

What apps help you get work done? Email me or make a comment on the blog. 

What will the next 10 years bring?

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