31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader – Delegation Case Study

When I suggested that one of the key things a leader must do is delegate, particularly units of work, ICT consultant and blogger Doug Woods rounded on me. “Hey”, he said. “You can’t just go around delegating stuff you don’t fancy doing yourself. Other people are busy too!”. He expressed it far more eloquently and fulsomely, but that was pretty much the gist of it. (For his actual comments, go here.) Of course, he is quite right, so I thought it might be useful to explain what I did, when I delegated the writing of units of work to my team, in a little more detail.

There are three key things to bear in mind about delegation, which in my view are crucial to its success.

Firstly, as I said in the original article, you have to delegate responsibility, not just tasks. That is pretty difficult for some people to do, because it means letting go of control. But you have to bite the bullet and do it, otherwise you may as well simply go out and hire a load of unqualified, inexperienced assistants – although even there I’d say you ought to delegate responsibilities and not just tasks as far as you can. When you delegate responsibilities, you gain the benefit of ideas that are different to your own, and you help to nurture future team leaders who could, if needs be, take on some of your work if you become ill or need to take leave of absence for some other reason.

Secondly, people need to see what you are doing. A few weeks ago I watched an episode of a programme called Junior Apprentice. The team leader spent some time saying “Bob, I want you to do X, Mary, you work with Jane on Y”. There was something especially obnoxious about his style of management in my opinion, and I know I wasn’t alone because after a minute or two of this one of the team members said “And what are you going to be doing?”, to which he replied something like “managing the team”, if I remember correctly. Wrong! Personally, I like to work for people who roll their sleeves up and get on with it. When I was teaching, I’d always look at the Headteacher’s car parking space when I arrived and left. I admired those Heads who got in early and left late; the ones who did things like consistently leave at 3 in the afternoon every day, or the Deputy Head who left early to get her hair done and do some ironing, I thought were a waste of space. It was, in my opinion, an abuse of position and power, and nobody can respect that.

Thirdly, everyone has to feel that they gain more than they lose from the arrangement, otherwise they will just feel resentful at being used.

With those principles in mind, here is how I approached the delegation of units of work.

The scheme of work that the school used when I arrived was pretty dreadful in my opinion, as it was Office-based: word-processing in term one, databases in term two and spreadsheets in term three. Knowing that, before I arrived I worked on my own variation of a scheme of work, Informatics, which I had helped to create for ACITT, The Association for ICT in Education. Unlike the Office-type curriculum, this was a problem-based curriculum with interesting contexts and including several aspects, such as the technical side of computing.

Of course, implementing this would have been a challenge for the teachers in my team, because they were not ICT experts, and they were not used to teaching in this manner, ie one I described as “learning on a need to know basis”. In other words, rather than spend a term learning a whole load of commands in Word that you may or may not ever use – and which the students will probably have forgotten when they do want to use them – teach them only the features which are relevant in a particular context. After all, isn’t that how we learn in everyday life?

So what I did was write all of the lesson plans and resources for the first two units of work, which covered the whole of the first term. My colleagues were perfectly free to customise them if they so wished, but the point is that they didn’t have to if they didn’t want to or didn’t have the time. So this, in effect, pre-empted the question, “And what are you doing?” – because I’d already done it.

Now for some arithmetic. Each member of my team taught several classes in several year groups, and within each lesson they needed materials and strategies to facilitate the teaching of a wide range of ability, including children with learning difficulties and those who might be classified as “gifted and talented”. As the new scheme of work was being introduced in all three year groups at the same time, each unit would have to have, in effect, nine versions or, to be more accurate perhaps, three versions with two variations of each, ie:

Year 7 main materials, support materials and extension materials

Year 8 main materials, support materials and extension materials

Year 9 main materials, support materials and extension materials

So, to cover six units per year, each teacher would have to create over 50 sets of resources. My proposal was quite simple: each teacher would take responsibility for only one unit of work. This is what that meant:

  • Make sure the unit covered the concept(s) listed on a matrix: the idea was that by the end of each year, students would have covered a number of key concepts. The teacher could use the context already suggested in the scheme of work or, i they preferred, devise their own.
  • Write the lesson plans.
  • Write the mainstream resources.
  • Write the support resources for youngsters with learning difficulties.
  • Write the extension resources for gifted and talented students.
  • Write the teachers’ notes.
  • Run some in-service training for the rest of the team, taking us through their unit and showing us how to use the computer applications involved.

By the way, the reason that there is such an emphasis on writing resources rather than finding them, is that there wasn’t the volume of free resources that are available now, and also the scheme of work represented quite advanced thinking for its time, so there didn’t seem to be that much available in the way of resources that took a problem-solving approach.

As far as delegating responsibilities rather than tasks is concerned, this approach did that. The only thing not negotiable was the concepts to be covered, and that was because it would have taken a lot of time and effort to change that. As the idea of a matrix implies, changing the concepts covered in one unit would entail making changes elsewhere to ensure that all the concepts were covered by the end of the course.

And in answer to the third issue, that people have to feel that they’re gaining more than they’re losing, I think the arithmetic here speaks for itself. Rather than have to create 50 sets of resources, each teacher had to create around 9, because they had to address only one unit of work – except me, of course: I’d addressed two.

There were other benefits too. Firstly, it was good professional development for some members of the team who did not regard themselves as ICT experts and who were therefore unconfident in their ability to deliver (which described more or less all of them, in fact).

Secondly, each teacher could really have fun with their unit, deciding on the context and working on their own, innovative approach – a marked contrast to the kind of teaching schemes which provide what almost amounts to a minute by minute script, and which I describe pejoratively as “painting by numbers”.

Thirdly, because I had done the first term’s work, the others in the team didn’t even have to start thinking about their unit for at least several weeks, an in some cases several months.

So I hope this short case study has provided some insight and background to my recommendation of delegating a unit of work and, by extension, other aspects of the work as well. Do let me know your thoughts and/or your own example of successful (or unsuccessful) delegation in the context of ICT leadership.