Spreadsheets vs. Databases – Up Your Data Management Game

So I’m going to share one of my favorite time-saving methods here – Databases. I have to thank a former supervisor of mine for changing my approach to data management – thanks JP! His words in that department meeting long ago still ring true in my ears to this day – “IF YOU ARE USING SPREADSHEETS FOR INFORMATION, YOU PROBABLY SHOULD BE USING A DATABASE”. I literally cannot count the numbers of HOURS this has saved me from year to year by being able to have all the information I need the way I need it. Let me explain:

Think of this and raise your hand if this is true – you’ve thrown student names into a list in a spreadsheet – be it Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, Libre Office, whatever – and you just had to sort them alphabetically with one piece of data, say maybe- t-shirt sizes. Then a few weeks later you had to do it again with their instruments. And maybe the instrument one is frustrating because it’s not in score order. Band Director problems – amIright?

If anything in the paragraph above sounds like you, you probably should be using a database. You might have multiple spreadsheets with different bits of data, or you might have one massive spreadsheet with everything that is unwieldy. A database may initially look like a spreadsheet, but without getting too into the technical jargon, the key differences are that you can sort and filter data, and usually create different layouts for seeing the data, and the information is connected behind the scenes. In today’s “data driven” (sorry teachers, I know that’s a trigger phrase) society, being able to organize, sort, and manage data is essential and a spreadsheet just isn’t up to the task.

Once I drank the database cool-aid, I’ve been using databases for everything – student organization, music libraries, instrument inventories, keeping track of personal gigs, private students, and milage – even our holiday cards.

So, how do you get started? A lot of band directors may be familiar with some pre-made database solutions. Some are Charms or Cut Time. These are very band director specific. There are other solutions that you can build yourself – think Filemaker or Microsoft Access. I spent a lot of time learning Filemaker but I don’t suggest that as a starting place. The best solution I’ve found is Airtable. It’s like the Google Sheets of databases. It’s all online and shareable in real-time with co-workers – perfect for those of you who co-teach or share responsibilities!

If you want to learn more about Airtable, check out this follow-up post to find out more about how it can help manage your data. (I’m not a paid spokesperson but I’d be happy to be!) For now, just start considering that it might be time to up your data management game with databases.

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