For Melissa Binder, student information system coordinator at School District of Lancaster, the answer to the question, “Is there room for innovation in today’s jam-packed school day?” is a resounding, “Absolutely!”
“With so much work and not enough time, money, or personnel, it doesn’t surprise me that districts take the once-and-done approach to developing their processes. The problem with that is that technology, processes, and people change,” she says. “I am always pushing efficiency. With overflowing workloads and high stress levels, it doesn’t make sense to not be as efficient as possible. In order to do that, you have to reevaluate processes and systems and make changes as needed. For me, this normally happens when I hear or see that a process isn’t going smoothly or seems to be wasting time for my team or end users. I could easily ignore these signs and keep moving forward on all the other projects on my plate. But, in the end, it’s always worth it to improve.”
Binder offers these four keys to process innovation:
- Listen to end users
- Periodically evaluate processes
- Be open to change
- Don’t take it personally when a process isn’t working, even if it once did
For Binder, dedicated time for collaboration in the school day is important. To make the most of these limited opportunities, preparation is important. “If I’m leading a meeting, I go in knowing what I need answered and what the final outcome should be. It doesn’t always happen that way, but I’m not one to just walk into a room and wait for answers to come to me,” she says. “Everyone’s time is valuable, and I want to make the most of the time that I have. I typically have an agenda in my mind or a list of items I need to go over.”
In these meetings, Binder makes strides to engage everyone in the room and allow their ideas, input, concerns, and goals to set the tone for the meeting. “If I notice someone is being quiet, I typically ask them specific questions until I feel like they are comfortable speaking up,” she explains. “Listening and some encouragement goes a long way. People want to feel like their ideas matter, and sometimes it’s just pulling them into the group that allows them to realize that their input is valuable.”
While most of her work focuses on data analysis, Binder believes that there’s more to determining the course of action at school districts. “I do believe that analyzing data can show trends and help us reach our goals. However, data can’t be the only driving force when it comes to planning out how a goal will be achieved,” she says. “I can analyze anything but there are always factors that can’t be reflected in data. Our dedicated administrators, teachers, and staff provide the insight, along with the data, to help make improvements so we can reach our goals.”
Binder loves her work with the School District of Lancaster. “My passion in life is to help others and make an impact. I get to do that almost every single day. Every day is different and challenging and that’s what keeps me going,” she says. “It’s not only balancing the needs of others around me but also knowing that I’m helping them and maybe, just maybe, making their job a little easier.”
In July 2015, Binder was recognized as an Information Technology Innovator in SunGard K-12 Education’s Lead without Limits Awards Program. From nominations from educators and school administrators from across the country, she was selected as the individual who best leverages technology to innovate operations.
The Lead without Limits Awards Program recognizes school districts, schools, departments, administrators, and educators that leverage technology to help improve student achievement and/or school or district efficiency. Information Technology Innovators, one of the Lead without Limits Award categories, enhance the educational process with technology. Nominees’ information technology efforts support student achievement and/or improve school/district efficiency.
Nominations for the Lead without Limits Awards are accepted through an application form available on SunGard K-12 Education’s website. For guidelines and selection process, please see the Lead without Limits Awards Program information online.