Planning for an LMS/SIS Implementation

If your school is considering transitioning to a new LMS and SIS such as Blackbaud Learning Management SystemTM and Blackbaud Student Information SystemTM, it’s never too early to start planning for the implementation and launch. Following these tips will help make this process as smooth as possible.

1. Create an implementation team.

Having a small committee of school administrators and teachers who are accountable for the overall implementation process and day-to-day task setup is essential to success.

Appoint a project leader who will attend all of the LMS/SIS consulting sessions and maintain responsibility for keeping the entire implementation on track.

Establish one or two staff members to be topic experts on each LMS/SIS feature that your school is planning to use. When working with Blackbaud, you’ll want them to attend the appropriate Blackbaud University (BBU) classes so they can lead the training sessions that pertain to their areas. For example, consider breaking up the workload like this:

  • Academic group setup and Grading—the registrar, academic dean, or even the college counseling and guidance staff
  • Class Pages and Gradebook setup—the academic technology coordinator or a couple of teachers who are already successfully using technology in their classes and are willing to help train others
  • Attendance—the attendance managers or front-desk staff  (i.e., the people responsible for attendance each day)
  • Schedule—the scheduler or scheduling team
  • Team page setup and athletic management—the athletic director or athletics staff
  • Medical—the school nurse

Involving a team of individuals in the implementation process will ensure that the right person is available to provide accurate information to critical software setup questions. Implementing new LMS and SIS systems is a significant undertaking, and the need to have knowledgeable go-to people at the school to instill confidence internally and create buy-in also cannot be understated.

2. Engage your school’s faculty.

It’s crucial for teachers to feel like partners in the LMS/SIS implementation and launch, and if you engage them early and prepare them well, they will be your best ambassadors!

  • Share the decision to make a change to a new LMS/SIS as early as you can, let them ask questions, raise concerns, etc. Ideally, teacher representatives are involved in the vendor review and selection process. As the ones who will use the new LMS/SIS every day, you want them to be on-board.
  • Discuss current LMS use (if any) as well as any other classroom technology tools. Determine the technology needs that will be met by the new LMS/SIS, and which may not, and address any potential gaps collaboratively.
  • Ask for volunteers to be early adopters. Send them to training classes and get them set up with their class pages as early as possible. Let them test, play, and ask questions. Their experience will help you determine how to train the rest of the faculty.
  • Give the remaining teachers access to the LMS/SIS as early as possible so they can get comfortable in the software. Let them play on the current year’s pages. Offer training sessions before the end of school and follow up with optional summer workshops and refresher sessions at opening meetings and in-service days. 
  • Set clear, reasonable expectations for class page use in the first year and provide teachers as much time as possible to create the necessary content before school starts.

3. Prepare your school’s data.

A large part of the implementation process involves migrating data from your current system to the new LMS/SIS. Make this as easy as possible by preparing ahead.

  • Audit your school’s current constituent contact card data. Is it accurate and up-to-date? Will you pull it from a single source or multiple databases? How much cleanup is necessary? If the answers to these questions are cringeworthy, start the cleanup process early, well before you need to prepare your import files for the new system.
  • Audit the current student grade data if a historical transcript grade import is part of the new implementation. Will you need to scrub it to ensure it is accurate and complete before importing it?
  • Make a plan for generating and storing historical data that won’t get imported, such as alumni and past student transcripts and historical report cards, so it’s easily accessible going forward.
  • Talk to your teachers about the changes that are coming. Give them plenty of time to gather any materials from your current LMS (if applicable). This step is especially important if your current LMS contract is expiring and teachers will lose access.

4. Support your school’s students and parents.

You’ll want to have a plan in place for introducing students and parents to the new LMS/SIS and making sure they know how to use it going forward.

  • Announce the change as soon as you can and tout the benefits to get families excited for the new system.
  • Invite parents to log in for the first time (provide clear steps) before school starts. Be available to support and troubleshoot if needed. Provide screenshots, how-to documentation, and videos to show parents how to navigate around the new site (post these as resources behind the password).
  • If applicable, make a plan for guiding students through the initial login, navigation, and functionality. Schools have had success doing this as part of an orientation program, homeroom agenda, or advisory meeting.  
  • Provide ongoing training, resources, and support for student LMS/SIS use (ideally a team effort involving classroom teachers, advisors or guidance counselors, and IT or academic staff. By showing students how to get the most out of the LMS/SIS, they’re more likely to use it well and help their parents.

5. Be open to change.

Even with careful planning, the transition to a new LMS/SIS solution can be challenging at times, getting all the different facets to fall into place. Be prepared for this reality and stay positive.

  • Trying to replicate your school’s old software setup exactly is a recipe for frustration.  Instead, focus on the new solution and keep the big-picture needs of your school, students, teachers, and parents at the forefront when encountering change. Remember, there’s a reason your school is upgrading its LMS/SIS solutions, and rethinking methodologies is an excellent exercise for any team.
  • Anticipate possible challenges in the implementation—you know your school and your team best—and share them with your consultant early in the process to partner up on finding a solution before issues emerge. 

6. Establish a go-live date and start early.

Most schools choose to implement LMS and SIS solutions in the summer before going live in the new school year; however, it’s best to begin the process in the late winter or early spring. Getting an early start will benefit your school by:

  • Having the right school experts available when needed. Asking teachers and administrators to attend training classes and consulting sessions in the middle of the summer is challenging with individual vacation schedules. 
  • Giving teachers time to preview the software before leaving for the summer. Showing teachers the reality of their current school year in the new software is the best way to introduce them to the LMS/SIS. If time and schedules allow, you can also use those current-school-year pages to teach and practice.
  • Letting administrators get comfortable in the software, train their staff, and test settings and access before everyone else logs in. 
  • Providing plenty of time to populate calendars, schedules, class pages, news, resources, etc. before inviting parents to log in. You want the community to be as vibrant and current as possible at this first touchpoint to create excitement and encourage parents to come back. Rushing to get everything in place at the end of the summer often creates a still-under-construction view that’s not a great first impression.

The Ideal Timeline for a September 1 Launch

  • November/December—Establish the school’s implementation team; audit and clean up data as necessary
  • January—Schedule the kick-off call with the consultant as well as initial training and consultation sessions
  • February 15—The deadline for delivering the constituent data import
  • March 31—Complete the academic course setup with sections and rosters; allow a small beta group of teachers to access these pages and start learning the system
  • April 15—Complete the current-year setup for schedule and attendance
  • May 1—Finalize the current-year grading setup; conduct the initial faculty training sessions and provide logins to all teachers
  • May 31—Finish the LMS/SIS consulting sessions and begin corresponding with the long-term support team
  • June 1—Email parents to announce that an exciting new community will launch in September. Highlight the features that will be the most impactful for them, and let them know when they’ll receive login information. Make sure the email you are using is current and ask parents for updates.
  • June 30—If applicable to the project, complete the historical grade import
  • July—Rollover the school year and start building out the schedules and rosters for the upcoming year
  • August 10—Complete the new school year setup; inform teachers that they can access class pages and start populating content and creating assignments
  • August 15—The internal go-live date, providing a buffer just in case it’s needed
  • August 25—Email parents and students a link to the new LMS/SIS community with login instructions for September 1
  • September 1—Parents and students begin accessing the system
  • September (after the start of school)—Train students on how to use the LMS/SIS

Contact us today to learn how Blackbaud K–12’s LMS and SIS solutions and knowledgeable professional services team will help drive efficiencies, improve the parent experience, and deliver advanced ed-tech features such as rubrics and competency-based education. 


 

About the Author

Anna Daylor

A Blackbaud consultant since 2015, Anna previously led the implementation team at a 9–12 boarding school that transitioned from Education Edge and NetCommmunity to Blackbaud's education management solutions. Anna brings over 15 years of first-hand independent school experience as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator to her work with our schools. She lives with her family in Vermont, where she loves outdoor activities such as hiking, running, skiing, gardening, and trying to exhaust her two very active dogs.

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