Imagine the scene (it won’t be hard; we’ve all been there): it’s a staff meeting and you’re finally down to AOB when the head says, “Okay, who wants to be Student Planner Coordinator for next year?”.
There are a few coughs and some raised eyebrows, but otherwise, inevitably, the room is filled with an awkward silence. Because no one ever wants to be lumbered with that job. But guess what? This could be your moment to step up to the plate and not only volunteer, but do so with a smile on your face. Because I know something that the rest of the people in that staffroom don’t – and I’m about to share it with you…
The truth is, student planners are actually very high profile and a big responsibility. They get seen and used every day, so they need to look good and be user-friendly. They are a valuable link in the communication chain between home and school, so they got to be right and they’ve got to have impact. They represent the school and everyone in it.
Except, be honest, aren’t the ones you’ve been using for the last few years just a bit predictable, a bit dry… and more than a bit boring?
Apart from changing the front cover and the key dates, everything else inside and out is always just the same, right? They lack presence and that personal touch. There’s no hint of the school ‘brand’; they’re bog-standard and generic.
It’s time to shake the snow globe, do things differently… and switch provider.
After some digging online, I’ve discovered Penstripe, a company with bags of experience in designing and producing planners, diaries and books.
What excites me about Penstripe is the team’s commitment to creativity and its custom-built service to make resources shine and stand out for all the right reasons.
A student planner is something we need to have ownership of so we can showcase our identity, share our vision and values, and help students be as organised and prepared as they can be.
It needs to be something practical and hard-wearing and the content has to reflect us and who we are. It’s got to be relevant and every page has to add value.
Penstripe offers a bespoke service so that student planners can be designed just how you want them to be.
For example, your front cover needs to reflect that recent ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted inspection grade, as well as advertise your various awards, kitemarks and accreditations (don’t forget your Inclusion Quality Mark, Gold kitemark for PE and Sport and the Eco-Schools Green Flag!)
If you want to include timetables, your school rules, uniform policy, marking and feedback systems and important reference materials then that’s not a problem. Penstripe is set up so that you control the narrative.
Penstripe has hundreds of subject specific pages available and these can be merged with your own content to create the perfect planner; being able to design your own diary sections is what will make it special to your school and students.
You might be thinking that personalisation is nothing new, as lots of companies already do this. That’s true but what they don’t do is provide an online platform like Google Docs for you to store centrally and self-edit your preferred sections.
This is what makes Penstripe my number one choice because the company has gone the extra mile and is offering something unique; it’s ahead of the game, so you can be, too.
The ‘MyPenstripe’ feature means you can customise and manage your own planners to suit your own context.
This easy-to-use online tool enables you to log in from anywhere to create and edit your own pages whenever you like. It’s a workload wizard really!
The Penstripe system is intelligent design and planning because you have control. It’s easier, faster and you get what you want, rather than wasted pages with irrelevant content.
These days, student wellbeing is a priority for every school, so I’m delighted to see that Penstripe has an 8-page interactive section devoted to this for inclusion in their planners.
You can tweak and add to it to include social media use, communication skills, sleep hygiene, nutrition, building resilience and healthy relationships, and even write your own section to contextualise it within your school’s ethos, for example, describing your positive behaviour culture and how you work as a community of learners who look after each other.
Perhaps a key area for your school might be growth mindset, revision and study techniques that are research-informed and led by best-evidence. No problem – this will slot neatly into the diary and enable students to revise better, focusing on the techniques that really work and rejecting those which don’t.
You can also provide plenty of guidance on positive thinking, the science of revision and tips to improve memory, mood and concentration.
Or how about a Life Skills and Competencies section focusing on financial management, lifesaving, community engagement, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and careers?
In addition, you can include information on the national, international and specific awareness days that fit into what you do as a whole school, showing your commitment to different charities and important dates.
The beauty of the Penstripe digital system is that each year you can easily update sections and add new content as required to reflect changes in the school. Everything is saved and ready to go.
The online platform makes in-house collaboration a doddle as all staff can take a look, make changes and feedback remotely with any further ideas; with the Student Planner Coordinator (or whatever you call him or her) having ultimate admin responsibility.
Penstripe is a real box ticker for me because it gives schools the tools of the trade to do a high-quality job and produce a top-quality resource without all the fuss and rigmarole of less advanced systems.
It actually makes it a very creative experience and encourages you to think hard about what your planner is all about and how to make it purposeful, interactive, informative and something to be proud of. What more could we want?
To find out more information head to penstripe.co.uk/student-and-teacher-planners-teachwire.
Reviewed by John Dabell