Every day, farmers walk around their farms to check that everything is as it should be. This is known as "farmer's footing".
Here is my version of farmer's footing for the Head of Computing or ICT. Not all of these will be appropriate if you are the only computing teacher in your school, but hopefully some of them will prove useful.
Look at the wall displays
Are there any posters with the corners missing or curled up? I know it sounds pretty trivial, and I know I was rather taken aback by the way one senior management team prepared for an inspection: by checking that posters were looking OK, but when such things are not right people pick up on it. There’s a café near me where the all the menus are grubby and have their corners torn off. It really puts me off going there, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one who is affected by it in that way. It gives the impression that the owner just doesn’t care.
Walk into lessons
I always liked to encourage an ethos of staff walking in and out of each other’s lessons. Not to check up on people as such, but in order to get a feel for what’s going on, sit with a group of youngsters discussing things relating to their work, finding out if the teacher is happy with everything.
Look at the usage statistics
I would say that having some kind of statistical package on your system which tells you what software is being used and which computers are being used and so on is an absolute must. Apart from being possibly necessary for licence management, the information is needed in order to allow the resources to be distributed as efficiently and effectively as possible, to help you argue the case for more resources, and to enable you to spend money on things which are in demand rather than things which aren’t (notwithstanding the fact that you will ant to spend some money, if possible, on things just to see if they will be taken up).
Check the equipment
You don’t necessarily have to do this yourself, of course. Asking a technician how many laptops are currently being repaired, or if any projector lamps have needed replacing in the past half-term, and if all the computers in the computer labs are fully up and running are all useful things to know about. Being attentive to such details sends out a signal that you’re on the case and will, hopefully, help to avoid the situation I came across in a primary (elementary) school a few years ago in which one of the classrooms was being used as a repository of broken down computers which nobody was even attempting to repair.
Check the disk usage on the school’s network…
Again, it doesn’t have to be carried out by you personally, but you ought to know. Please don’t get into the situation of the Local Authority whose Corporate IT department sent an urgent message round to everyone saying “We’re running out of server space; please backup all essential files to a CD by 3pm today, because we’re going to erase all the data on the drive.” OK, you say, but in our school we store everything online. The same applies. If, for example, your school uses a learning platform, you will have been allocated a certain amount of storage space; going over that could incur extra cost.
… And check what’s being stored on it
This is another area where a usage statistics program comes into its own. Are people storing lots of videos and pictures, for example? If so, perhaps in the longer term a dedicated video server is required, but in the short term it’s no bad thing to expect everyone to do some “spring cleaning” every so often. By the way, what I’m advocating here is getting information on the types of files stored across the board. I’m not suggesting looking into people’s areas to see what they’ve got there, which I should imagine would break privacy laws.
Ask probing questions
Ask at team meetings: how are students doing? Are any giving cause for concern? Is any of the equipment flakey all of a sudden? Are there any lessons which looked great on paper but which are not really working too well in practice?
Walk around the school
Yes, this is still necessary to do on a regular basis, not just as a one-off activity when you first take up the post of ICT leader, especially if part of your role is to encourage the use of technology across the curriculum. It’s also important to try and walk around at different times of the day and week, to avoid this type of conversation arising:
Head of another subject: Every time I walk past the computer rooms there’s nobody in them. What a waste of money.
Me: Presumably you walk past them only when you’re free?
Me: Which is at the same time every week.
Me: Has it occurred to you that the rooms may be fully in use at times when you’re not free?
The point is, if the only time you walk around is when most people are or are not using ed tech (well), you may get a completely false impression.
Listen to people
What are people saying about educational technology? Is there a buzz? Or just a whimper?
A longer version of this article was originally published in 2009.