By Jessica Zaleski
When it comes to managing instructional materials, it takes a team of people to keep everything running smoothly. As you start to plan for next year, one way to improve instructional material management efficiency is clearly defining and communicating policies and procedures through a manual you distribute to your staff.
We’ve enlisted Cherie Crews, the District Instructional Resources Specialist at Keller ISD for the past 11 years, to give her insight into how districts can develop a policy and procedure manual to reveal important information to district staff. Read on as Cherie shares the top six tips she’s learned while creating and updating Keller ISD’s manual for the past three years.
I’ve been creating Keller ISD’s instructional materials manual for the past three years, and now I can’t imagine not having this resource for my staff. But I didn’t always think this way.
Three years ago, a colleague at another district asked me to give a presentation with her at a local conference about the importance of policy and procedure manuals. I agreed to help, but simultaneously realized that my district didn’t have a formal manual. I had a couple of documents with a few procedures outlined, but they were outdated. I knew that if I was going to instruct others on how to produce a manual at their districts, I needed to develop my own first.
I created ours from scratch that year and have truly seen how it has improved the management of materials in our district. It has created consistency when it comes to our processes, so everyone at the district is performing outlined tasks the same way. Here are some of the most important tips I’ve learned along the way.
1. Research, Research, Research
The first thing I would recommend is to reach out to your neighboring school districts and ask for a copy of their manuals. Read over what your peers have included, and then extract pieces that apply to what you need at your district. I’ve been creating Keller’s manual for three years, and I still ask other districts for their copies because I don’t have all the answers. We all need to feed off one another so we continue to learn.
You’ll also need to research current local, state, and federal policies that pertain to instructional materials. The manual is a perfect communication tool for staff to stay compliant and follow your outlined procedures.
2. Keep It Simple
I’ve never been a natural writer. When I compose an email, I write it about 10 times before I feel comfortable clicking send. So when it came time for me to write an entire manual, I had to stick to a few rules to keep from getting overwhelmed. The main one was to keep it simple.
The entire time I was writing, I tried to think about how someone without my knowledge would understand the instructions. Then, once I was done, I gave the manual to a colleague in a department that has no interaction with instructional materials to see if they could understand the policies and procedures outlined. If they could, then I felt confident my current and future staff wouldn’t have an issue.
For the sake of consistency, also make sure you’re using the same terminology through your manual. Refer to items as instructional materials or as textbooks and stick with whichever term you choose. Your manual has the potential to get confusing if you frequently change your wording, so remember to stay consistent.
3. Update Regularly
Because local, state, and federal requirements frequently change, you’ll need to update your policy and procedure manual often. Check current district rules and policies to see if they have changed since the last time you updated your manual. I like to update mine in January or February when my workflow slows down. Also ask your campuses for feedback because ultimately the guide should directly match their day-to-day roles and responsibilities for instructional material management. Is there a part of the manual that is hard to understand or incomplete? Is there a section they would like to see added?
4. Don’t Forget the Design
If information in your manual is easy to locate, staff will be able to quickly find answers to their questions and will be more likely to follow procedures outlined. I put every manual in a bright, lime green binder, so it stands out on a shelf of regular white binders. I also use tabs and dividers for each procedure so my team can easily flip to the section they need. For example, when it’s time to conduct audits, staff can quickly turn to the “Inventories and Audits” section in the manual. I also recommend putting a digital copy on your district’s website, so staff can access it from anywhere.
5. What to Include
If you’re just starting to create a manual, there are a few sections you’ll definitely need, starting with a section that outlines the role and duties associated with each position. I like to put a campus calendar in the manual that details what is expected each month from my staff. I also like to include copies of board policies, sample forms, and our adoption cycle.
This is also where other districts’ manuals are so important because they might have something in theirs that you wouldn’t think of. This year, I was looking at Corpus Christi ISD’s manual and noticed that they have a “large print and braille” section. Keller ISD has students that need both books, but until I saw my colleague’s manual, I didn’t think to address it with a formal procedure.
6. Make it Mandatory
I have made yearly training mandatory for my entire campus textbook team. I distribute the manuals at this meeting and review them tab by tab. We have so many changes to our policies and procedures that I want to make sure my staff feels confident in their role and has the skillset to succeed. Having this meeting offers the advantage of everyone being in the same room at the same time, so if someone has a question, the entire group gets to hear the answer.
If you’re not sure where to get started when it comes to creating policies and procedures at your district, or if you don’t have the time or resources, we can help. With our 25 years of experience, the Hayes Software Systems services team can get you off the ground and develop custom policy and procedure documentation for you and your staff. Contact us here.
Do you have a policy and procedure manual at your district? What tips do you have for creating one? Let us know in the comments!