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Tuesday
Feb012011

Your Personal Support Network

What is a Personal Support Network (PSN) and why is it important? We often hear people refer to their PLN – their Personal Learning Network. Less frequently mentioned, but at least of equal importance, one’s PSN is crucial for success, especially if radical changes have to be made.

A person’s PSN comprises any or all of the following:

Leadership support

Don't underestimate the value of having a personal support networkIt doesn't matter what it is you’re hoping to achieve, the (active and visible) support of the school leadership is crucial. I’ve included the conditional phrase “active and visible” because in one school I worked in, every time I ran whole-school staff training on ICT, the headteacher and his deputies would disappear for a planning meeting. It seemed to me to be giving a clear message to the rest of the staff that ICT wasn’t something they needed – or wanted – to know about.

Senior Leadership Team advocacy

It’s very useful to have an ardent supporter on the senior leadership team. Ideally, that should be you, but if you do not have a permanent place on the team, try to persuade the powers-that-be that when matters pertaining to ICT are being discussed, you should be invited along as a guest. Failing that, it’s handy to have an advocate on the team who can speak on your behalf, whether that is a formalised situation, such as when your boss is on the leadership team, or when each member of the leadership team has been allocated a school area to represent, or one based on personal friendship. Ideally, the advocate should be not merely a friend, but a critical friend. You need someone who is going to ask you awkward questions so that they are the better prepared when their colleagues do so.

Ethos of the school

Try introducing project-based learning into a school which prides itself on its traditional approach. It can be done, but it’s an uphill struggle, so don’t underestimate the steepness of the climb. If you’re intending to introduce colleagues to the joys of educational technology in a school such as this, you will need all your creative powers of persuasion, because you will almost certainly succeed only by convincing them that using educational technology will enhance and reinforce their current (traditional) approaches to teaching and learning. Avoid buzzwords and phrases like “student-centred learning” and “guide on the side”.

Colleague support

This can easily be taken for granted, but is one of those things which are noticeable by their absence. In one school I worked in, I set some work for the students whilst I was on a course for the day. In one class, the work consisted of playing an adventure game. When I came back to school the next day, I discovered that the teacher who had covered my absence in that class had refused to allow them to play a game, which he considered uneducational.

Community support

This includes parental support, and the same sort of consideration as the previous point applies. The only thing worse than the reply “Nothing” to the question, “And what did you do in school today?” is the answer “we played games”. You may have to educate parents, or at least inform them, when you wish to do something which, in their eyes, is pretty radical and which seemingly has nothing to do with education.

Personal network support

One of the things which I think people really do underestimate, especially when it comes to what may loosely be called “technical support”, is the support of one’s personal network. For example, when I started work as a senior manager in a local authority some years ago, I wanted to look at different ways of improving the finances of my schools technical support team. One of the pieces of research I did was to arrange to have a coffee with two former colleagues of mine from a neighbouring local authority, during which time they took me through the pricing model they used. This was invaluable, and consisted of much better information than I think I would have gained merely by looking online. Knowing the people, and being able to meet them for an hour without having to write off the whole day, or even a morning or afternoon, in order to do so were of paramount importance.

In contrast, when, in the same local authority, I discovered that only two other local authorities in England had adopted the same management information system for schools, I felt really out on a limb. The two LAs were hundreds of miles away, and I didn’t have the sort of personal relationship with my counterparts to be able to call them out of the blue for a chat.

As a final example, when I was commissioned to do some work on a learning platform for a local authority, a long-term colleague and acquaintance of mine kindly spent an afternoon taking me through the essentials so that I could, to use the usual expression, hit the ground running.

These experiences have served to convince me that those colleagues who believe that the only support you need is that of “the community” have been supremely fortunate – in my experience there are occasions when you really do need the personal touch.

Family and friends’ support

And finally, when all else fails, you need people to remind you that there is more to life than work, that you really are a person whose views are worth considering, or that the brilliant idea you had at 4 in the morning really does suck and that your colleagues were right about that after all!

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