25 ways to make yourself unpopular: #20 Be persistent

One of the most irritating things about children – but also one of the most endearing – is their tendency to ask lots of follow-up questions. They are never fully satisfied with the answer to their original question: each answer leads to a further enquiry. I think that ICT leaders can learn much from children in this respect.

There are two areas in which this sort of dogged persistence can pay off. First, you need to be relentless in your quest to ensure the students in your charge receive the best possible experience they can. That means not only that they should enjoy the subject in a fun way, but also from being challenged and from achieving better understanding and grades than they themselves may have been satisfied with at first.

That means asking questions of the students and not accepting the first throwaway answer they give. For example, one of the commonest answers given by students in my experience is “because it’s easier”.

“Why would we use a spreadsheet for this?”

“Because it’s easier.”

Too often, the teacher responds by saying “Good”, whereas the correct response in my opinion would be to say “Please explain what you mean” – and then to question the response to that. The students may not thank you for it, because they often think they want a nice, quiet, easy life. But then again, when they realise that you’ve helped them push the boundaries of their understanding and capability, they just might.

It also means questioning yourself and, if you have one, your team. How might the course be improved? Is it still relevant? How can we ensure that students can do as well as they can irrespective of their background, ethnicity or gender? These are not easy questions, and continually asking them is not necessarily guaranteed to ensure your popularity rating remains high.

Persistence often pays offPersistence also pays off when it comes to asking for money and other resources. You may ask the Headteacher or Principal for extra money, and she may say “OK, I’ll think about that and let you know”. There is absolutely no harm in asking after a week if she has come to any conclusion, especially if you can muster another fact or figure to bolster your case.

Being persistent is not in itself a bad thing, but if you’re too persistent, or persistent in an obnoxious kind of way, then don’t count on being on many people’s Christmas card list. More to the point, don’t count on actually getting what you want. Like many other areas in life, it’s a fine balance. In my experience, you  have to listen to your intuition as well as your head to try to get the balance right.