The Big Issues for ICT Leaders

QuestionsIn the series called 31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader, I covered a range of issues that I believe are key ones for Ed Tech/ICT Leaders.

But what do you think?

I've created a very short survey which seeks to determine the three most important issues as far as ICT leaders are concerned.

Please take a few moments to complete it. You will find it here:

Ed Tech Leadership Issues

Thank you!

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.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader: Are You REALLY an Ed Tech Leader

Here’s a great idea, which I am humbly proud (is that an oxymoron, or merely an unfortunate juxtaposition?) to say was inspired by my series 31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader. Written by Michael, the CEO of Simple K12, the article entitled “Are You REALLY an EdTech Leader in Your School/District/State/Country?” makes a simple but powerful suggestion: create a (paper-based) course called “31 Days to Using Technology in Your Classroom.”. Michael explains:

The entire course will be 31 pages long (okay, maybe 32 if you want a cover sheet), with each page devoted to a specific technology tool and how it can be used in the core curriculum (language arts, science, math, and social studies) courses.

Michael suggests getting different teachers to contribute a page each. That’s what I think makes this such a great idea. Most teachers will be able and happy to write a sentence or two about how you can use such and such a program in your subject. Everyone loves to share what they just found out.

The ICT Co-ordinator of a primary (elementary) school I visited once had come up with an effective solution for creating a trouble-shooting guide to the school’s computer network. She placed a ring-binder containing a whole load of blank templates (containing headings like “Program”, “Problem”, “Solution”, and invited everyone to fill in one of the sheets when they came up against a problem and subsequently found a way of solving it. The rate at which she was grabbed in the corridor to sort out some technical issue or other went from several a day to just one or two a week.

These kind of approaches work because they’re based on the observation that “many hands make light work”, which is why wikis are such a useful tool when it comes to planning in educational technology (or any other field). (See my review of Wikified Schools, by Stephanie Sandifer, to find out more about a brilliant book on this subject.

And do try out Michael’s idea and share the results with the rest of us

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader – Day 31: Get a Grip

Keep an overview of your domain!

Image by Terry Freedman via Flickr

Each day, farmers walk or drive around their properties to see what’s going on, and what needs doing. Is there a broken fence that needs mending? Has one of the animals got itself into a ditch? Is everything in order? This practice is known as “farmer’s footing”, and the purpose of it is to nip problems in the bud, to catch them and do something about them before they become insuperable.

I adopt the same practice myself, albeit in a different kind of way, because my circumstances are different. Each morning, no matter how much work I’ve got on, or how urgent it is, I check my email to see if anything has come up which I really ought to attend to, run a quick virus check, and verify that last night’s backup worked. When any of these things do require more attention, it’s infuriating because I’d rather be getting on with the stuff that I’m being paid for. But the truth of the matter is that if I didn’t pay attention to those sorts of things I could end up spending a lot more time on them in the future. It is, you might say, a necessary evil.

If you think about it, what the farmer and I have in common is that we gather information about our situation, and update it on a daily basis. By extension, I think that in order to keep on top of their game, the ICT leader has to know what is going on.

Now, I know that aspects of this have already been covered, in the form of asking the pupils, doing lesson observations, looking at pupils’ work, analysing data, and seeking other people’s opinions. Moreover, one of the first tasks I set was to walk around the school, but that was to get a general picture of what’s happening ICT-wise around the school before actually doing very much. What I’m talking about here is what you might call keeping your finger on the pulse, and it’s an ongoing process which brings together several aspects of what we’ve covered in this series. Not all of it involves actual physically walking about, as we’ll see.

I think the best approach to doing the following is what I do occasionally when I’m in London. I’m very familiar with London, but every so often I’ll try to imagine what it must be like seeing it for the first time, as a tourist. It’s quite astonishing how much more you start to notice: has that statue always been there? When did that building acquire a new lick of paint? Are people considerate?

I wouldn’t suggest doing everything on the list below every day, which I think would be impossible, but to try to make sure you cover everything on the list every week or ten days, say. For today, your task is to look at the list and see if there is anything more you could add, and if there is anything on the list that you haven’t checked for a while.

And so, with no further ado, here is my list of 9 things to do for the ICT leader’s version of “farmer’s footing”.

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. 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?

HOAS: Yes.

Me: Which is at the same time every week.

HOAS: Yes.

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 ICT (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?

Can you think of anything I’ve left out?

Although that brings us to 31 days, I’m not done yet! Look out for a few more articles on the subject of ICT leadership which will supplement what has been published so far. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series and found it useful. Do let me know what you think.

Further reading

I think this forum Q & A is quite interesting, about Freedom of Information. At the very least, it highlights the kind of things an ICT leader ought to know about.

http://www.edugeek.net/forums/physical-security/58092-freedom-information-act-request.html

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 30: 31 indicators of a good ICT leader

Another way of thinking about this is to pose another question: how will you a good ICT leader if you see one? Much of what follows – perhaps all of it – is generic, ie what you’d expect to find in any field of endeavour. The issue is, what does it all look like in the context of educational technology in a school?

A good ICT leader…

 

Has vision

Say to an ICT leader “what would you like to see in the school in the next five years?” A good leader will have some ideas, and not just come out with some trite comment like “It depends who is in Government” or “Don’t ask me, I don’t dictate policy around here”. Both of those may be true, of course, but a good leader will look and think beyond them. And if you really are in a school where your vision is not shared and your enthusiasm dampened by people who wouldn’t recognise creative thinking if it leapt out and went “Boo!”, then it’s probably time to look around for another job.

Has influence

This is a natural follow-on from the attribute above, with which it overlaps. Influence is where, if the leader says “X ought to happen”, others say “That’s right, X ought to happen. What a great idea!”. So if you have some good ideas, and your colleagues are more conservative, then how will you carry them with you? Assuming they’re not right to be cautious, of course.

Has the ear of the senior leadership/management team

This is similar to the preceding point, but in an upward direction. The ideal Principal, I think, is one who recognises you as the expert, and accordingly takes your advice.

Is able to secure funding

This is a special case of the foregoing point. A good leader is able to convince others of the desirability of funding technology properly, and in a way which enables you to plan a few years ahead.

Is focused on learning and achievement

That’s right: not the technology, but the learning. And not only the learning, but pupils’ achievement over time as well.

Has a grip on the data

A natural extension and corollary of the last point, this recognises that in order to maximise each individual pupil’s achievement, you must know how they’re doing. Same applies to groups of pupils. What you really don’t want to be is the Head of Department in the following conversation I had in a school:

Me: How do you account for the differences in attainment in ICT of boys and girls?

HoD: What difference? I didn’t realise there was one.

Knows what’s going on in their own area

I’m using the word “area” in two ways: metaphorically, to refer to the taught subject of ICT, the ICT teaching team, and the students who are studying ICT; and the physical area where you teach.

Knows what’s going on around the school

I’ve visited only one school in which there was good practice in ICT going on around the school, which the Head of ICT didn’t know about. A rather disconcerting experience it was too! I think generally speaking it’s a good idea to know what’s going on. If nothing else, it may help in planning. It will certainly help when talking to people and showing visitors around.

Knows what’s going on in the local area

Going to ICT meetings called by the Local Authority (increasingly rare these days, as ICT advisors get laid off) is tremendously important. As well as enabling you to pick up useful tips and examples of others’ good practice, attending them can furnish you with knowledge which may prove useful at a later date. Like the time I was castigated because my results were not as good as those of a school down the road. Fortunately, I happened to know, from a meeting a few weeks previously, that the school down the road assigned a mark to the students on the basis of a one hour written test at the end of the three year course of study, whereas I based my grades on a project lasting six weeks. My approach was much more robust and almost certainly more accurate, and I was able to successfully argue my case.

Knows what’s going on in the country

Do not be like the Head of ICT in this conversation I had recently:

HoD: Hey, Terry, wait a minute! Has the ICT Programme of Study changed then?

Me: Yes, five years ago.

Knows what’s going on in the world

Believe it or not, other countries face the same challenges as we do when it comes to issues like what a 21st century education should comprise, online safety and all the rest of it. We can learn from them, and their good practice in various areas like assessment or using Web 2.0 in education. We can share ideas and have discussions with our counterparts in those countries through online communities.

Is innovative…

I’m a great believer in trying things out, whether it’s new software, new hardware or a new teaching approach. If you can, try and get an innovation fund going. When I worked in a Local Authority, I set aside £1,000 each year for buying stuff and trying it out. We bought a visualiser, an electronic voting system and a tablet laptop when these devices were in their infancy. We did so not because it was a case of toys for the boys (half my team were female anyway) but in order to be able to advise schools and other departments in the LA whether they were worth investing in and what they could be used for.

… But not recklessly so

I don’t believe in taking risks with people’s education or the school’s reputation. One way to avoid such pitfalls whilst still being innovative is to set up small-scale and time-limited pilot studies. Sometimes, however, because things are not good as they should be, there is nothing to lose by trying a new, more radical, approach.

Listens to his/her team

If colleagues have concerns, they know they will be listened to and taken seriously. Consequently, they don’t mind coming along with their own ideas (see below).

Enjoys the success of others…

I mean, genuinely enjoys seeing them succeed, and so gives them opportunities to do so (see point about responsibilities, below).

… And so is approached with ideas

I’ve never understood the mentality of those people who take other people’s ideas and pass them off as their own. They can only get away with it once per person, so apart from the sheer immorality of it, it’s a pretty short-term strategy. It’s much better to give people credit for their own ideas, because they’ll be more likely to share them in the future. And besides, if the team is successful, that’s a reflection of the leadership in intself.

Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching (Way of Life), said this about leadership:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him....But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves."  (Taken from http://www.heartquotes.net/Leadership.html)

Gives team members responsibilities

I firmly believe this is necessary in order to help people gain the experience they need for the next phase in their careers. I think they also achieve more for the team and school as a whole if they are allowed to take real decisions and to be creative. One good place to start is by asking them to take the lead with a new idea they presented to you and which, after discussion, is going to be put in place.

Has team members leave (1)

You can always tell when a new leader is being effective: at least one person starts looking for work elsewhere because they don’t like the new challenges or expectations. Note that I’m assuming these are genuine and reasonable, and not merely  a form of bullying or only being promoted because the new team leader wishes to make their mark.

Has team members leave (2)

Much nicer, of course, is where people leave because they have obtained a better job elsewhere – thanks to the opportunities you gave them to gain the right sort of experience.

Enjoys a high level of achievement…

… Amongst ALL pupils

ie no gender or race bias, or at least such issues are being addressed. Another area to look out for is lack of provision for pupils with special educational needs, such as learning difficulties. I’ve always thought that if you start by addressing special educational needs you’re more likely to meet everyone else’s needs too. Another thing to watch is provision for youngsters who need to be stretched (mentally, I mean, not on the rack!)

Enjoys a high take-up of options by students

In secondary (high) schools.

Enjoys a high take-up of lunchtime or after-school clubs

Is approached by outside people who want to get involved

I’m referring to parents, school governors, members of the local community, who may wish to lend their expertise, come to the school to learn about technology, help to raise money, or give talks to the pupils.

Is approached by staff who want to get involved

It’s nice when a teacher from another subject area asks if she can teach one or two lessons of ICT a week, or when a classroom assistant asks if they can be part of the team. The thinking behind this and the previous point is that good leaders attract good people who want to work for and with them.

Sees a high usage of technology by staff

Equipment is always out on loan; the staff-only area is usually packed.

Sees a high usage of technology across the curriculum

Staff have the confidence to use it with their students. Again, equipment is always out on loan; computer labs are fully booked.

Gets good outcomes from external scrutiny

EG from inspections, the ICT Mark assessment, or any other set of criteria.

Sees equipment respected by the students…

… And staff

Is passionate about ICT

Perhaps this is the most important of all in a way. I don’t see leadership in ICT as being a form of painting by numbers. Nor do I think the context is unimportant. In education, I think good leaders are characterised by having a real passion for their chosen area, whatever that happens to be.

Over to you

I regard this list as a starting point. Please feel free to add your own insights and observations in the comments.

Further reading

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 29: Create a Buzz

Oscar Wilde, the 19th century poet and playwright, was right. He said:

There’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.

But when it comes to using educational technology in a school, I’d say you have go further than getting people to talk about it. You have to go even further than getting people to use it. You have to get people excited about it. That is not necessarily an easy thing to do. You and I may be technophiles, but for many people the prospect of using technology is an unwelcome one, even a terrifying one. Even if you can lure them into your world through having nice facilities just for them, and by having excellent assistance on hand, you may still be in the position, perhaps for historical reasons, of always struggling against a general resistance and reluctance to using technology.

The idea of creating a buzz is to make the idea of using educational technology exciting, perhaps even fun – not a word you tend to see in books and papers about the benefits of using ICT, unfortunately, although Stephen Heppell has tried to change that through his Playful Learning stand at BETT. However, it also has to be perceived as serious too, or students may not choose it in their options, and the Headteacher and others may not be willing to support it very much, financially or otherwise. This shouldn’t be difficult: why should “serious” and “fun” be mutually exclusive?

But the list below may surprise you. For me, creating a buzz is just as much a long-term commitment as a short-term flash: it’s not all about generating a flurry of excitement for a day or two.

And what does creating a buzz have to do with ICT leadership? Everything. I don’t care how great an ICT leader someone thinks they are: if the ed tech facilities are languishing in a state of disuse, and people are studying it or using it under sufferance, they haven’t quite got there yet. I’ll be looking at the indications of a good ICT leader on Day 30 of this series.

Now, with no further ado, here are my top 10 tips for creating a buzz about ICT.

Make it interesting

bore-em If ICT is a taught subject, make sure it’s interesting. A good starting point is the syllabus: the topics covered should be interesting. Where they don’t seem to be intrinsically interesting, you have to make them so. That means using great resources, and teaching it in a non-boring way. A good starting point, if I do say myself, is my seminal work “Go On, Bore 'Em!: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull”. You’ll find the details about this inexpensive but essential volume in the ebooks section of this website.

Make it worthwhile

I have been in a couple of schools in which the powers-that-be have allowed a situation to develop in which ICT is regarded as an easy alternative to “proper” ones like English or Science. Students are entered for purely skills-based courses because they are perceived as easier than the more academic ones. This sort of trend must be resisted. If you’re in a school which prides itself on the fact that by the end of the first year all pupils have gained a portfolio of skills qualifications in ICT, by all means carry on that tradition. But make sure it’s taken seriously as an academic subject as well.

(This, I think, is where the advocates of ICT being taught and used purely across the curriculum, and not in its own right, are wrong. There are concepts to be learnt, and applied more generally. There are ways of thinking about problems, and how to solve them, from an ICT perspective. I’m not sure you get that across very easily where the subject is taught only from an individual curriculum subject’s perspective, and only as a set of skills.)

In one school I worked at, I insisted that every student worked towards a GCSE in ICT, because what had happened was that a vicious circle had materialised. Easy courses were offered in order to attract all kinds of students, including the academically less able. However, that had led to a situation in which the brighter students no longer chose it in their options because they perceived it as being not a worthwhile use of their time: why would they spend the same amount of time going to ICT lessons as going to another subject’s lessons when the end result was a qualification which had little or no currency?

Having every student take a GCSE course didn’t preclude allowing them to take other qualifications along the way, and so didn’t disadvantage the less able. Indeed, many of the so-called less able students themselves gained a GCSE in the subject. It was yet another example of students rising to the level of their teacher’s expectations.

Make it an area of expertise

Many people, myself included, are self-taught when it comes to using technology. So, you and your colleagues may not have letters after your names, but you can still become experts by going on courses and having other professional development experience, and even taking qualifications along with your students. Having a team of experts is important too.

Use positive language

I think it’s tremendously powerful to use the word “when” rather than “if”. I used to say, “When you come to do your GCSE in ICT, you’ll find this concept quite useful.” I felt very gratified once when I heard two girls chatting about what else they were going to take besides ICT in their options – two years hence!

Keep the profile up

Some ways of keeping colleagues and students aware of ICT without being completely in their faces the whole time include:

  • Having a dedicated area of the staffroom noticeboard for announcements, computer room timetables, equipment booking information and so on. Call it something like “ICT Corner” (it’s best to have an actua corner of the noticeboard for this to work!) By all means have all this electronically, but if many or even just some teachers won’t look at the electronic version then you need something else too.
  • Publish  a termly or half-termly newsletter to let people know what new software and equipment is now available, what skills the students should have by now, what’s going to be covered after the break, handy hints, softwre shortcuts – you know the sort of thing. It doesn’t have to be long: a double-sided sheet is plenty. You might even consider getting students to play a large part in its production.
  • As above, but in the form of a weekly blog, podcast or video. These are not mutually exclusive in themselves, but practically speaking it may be hard to find the time to do all of them yourself. If you’re able to get colleagues and pupils involved, not only will that make it all more feasible, but it will in itself help to create a buzz.

Make it lively

An extension of this is displays – not only in the classrooms themselves but outside them. If you have an ICT area, make it an exciting, vibrant place to walk into. Fading, curling posters from British Telecom circa 1980 are unlikely to meet this requirement! Include examples of pupils’ work (copies), copies of interesting newspaper headlines (it’s only a matter of time before someone else leaves a laptop containing everyone’s bank account details on the back seat of a car in full view), careers information (if appropriate in your context), photos (eg of student helpers – see above) and local press cuttings and so on.

Create a geek squad

Having pupil experts – one or two in each class – can not only provide a much-appreciated level of classroom support (eg by putting paper in the printer or going to get a technician), but helps to generate buzz amongst students. See the next point too.

Put on a show

When you have a parents evening or an open day, have something exciting for people to look at, such as a video of ICT in use around the school, or a rolling PowerPoint presentation. Have student helpers on hand to show parents how to use the software. Set up a facility whereby parents can print out a certificate saying they completed a task on the computer. Give your student helpers special badges: it is amazing how proud it makes them feel! You can print off some really nice badges using either printing labels and a wordprocessor or, even better, a badge-maker in conjunction with Flickr.

Invite a special guest

As well as or instead of inviting guest speakers to your team meetings, which may not always be feasible, invite a special guest along to show them what the school is doing with ICT, and to get their feedback. Headteachers tend to love this, and rightly so, because it puts the school in  a really good light. Everyone likes to celebrate success.

Get a story in the local media

This can be useful too, but there are two things to be aware of. Firstly, check your school’s policy on this sort of thing. The last thing anyone wants is for staff to be contacting reporters on an ad hoc basis. There is probably a well-oiled machine in place to achieve local publicity. If there isn’t, discuss the idea with your boss first. Secondly, it’s probably not a sensible idea to advertise the fact that the school has just purchased 2,000 iPads! Stories should focus on pupils or events. For example, I once generated quite a bit of publicity in the local press by informing them that I’d had 15 year-old students taking classes of 11 year-olds to teach them about some aspect of ICT, as part of their work experience (don’t worry: the 11 year-olds’ usual teacher was present the whole time).

Conclusion?

I've included a link to a marketing blog below. It's not a bad example of the standard sort of marketing approach to generating a buzz about something, but I think there's a limit to how far you can, or even ought to, regard an aspect of education as a product to be marketed. Moreover, marketing posts such as this tend to focus on the short term.

However, I've included it because you can learn something from it, not least because it basically says you have to have something worth promoting in the first place. It's an important point: if the ICT provision in your school is not that great, please sort it out before crowing about it: nobody is interested in hype and spin, and they'll probably be put off using ICT in the future if they feel they've been misled now.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I haven't covered every possible way of generating buzz about ICT. What would you suggest?

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader: Consolidation Day 4

It strikes me that over the last 25 years or so, industry and commerce have concerned themselves with improving management, whilst education has focused on leadership. Not exclusively so in either case, and I’m not saying this is objectively true, but I do have a strong impression that this is very much the reality by and large.

businesswoman I first became aware of the trend when attending an interview for a Head of ICT post some years ago. One hapless candidate asked whether the successful person would have a place on the senior management team. The response – or perhaps it was the tone of the response -- was reminiscent of the kind of class snobbery which sociologists, from time to time, seek to assure us no longer exists:

We don’t have a senior management team at this school. We have a senior leadership team.

Does it matter? Well, if leadership is all about saying what ought to be done and inspiring people to want to do it, management is surely about how it will be done. Leadership without management is nothing less than institutionalised daydreaming, while management without leadership is nothing more than box-ticking. In other words, for an ICT department to thrive, you need both.

That’s why in this series, and especially on Days 24 to 28, I’ve covered nitty-gritty issues which purists would say are more to do with management than leadership. But in my opinion, a good leader will seek to put into place mechanisms to ensure that practical issues are dealt with.

Take the equipment loans procedure, for instance. What’s the point of having fantastic equipment and loads of ideas on how to use it across the curriculum, when actually getting your hands on the stuff is like one of the labours of Hercules? Similarly, colleagues won’t want to chance using education technology if technical support leaves much to be desired.

I read a comment recently to the effect that leaders shouldn’t have to concern themselves with such matters. Perhaps not in a hands-on kind of way, but it is certainly the job of the leader to make sure that someone is dealing with them.

A lot comes down to filling gaps on the ICT team, assuming you have the luxury of having a team and that you get the opportunity to do some recruiting. If you’re the visionary sort of leader who has little patience with details, then you need someone on the team who is quite pernickety about crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. Conversely, if you fret over the minutiae then you ought to get someone on board who has dreams and visions and is always coming up with new ideas. Ninety percent of them will be unworkable, of course, but it’s the remaining ten percent that’s important.

If you’re on your own, as many ICT co-ordinators are, then joining a community will be of paramount importance. The key thing is not to try and go it alone.

There are also plenty of resources that can help. A quick search in Google resulted in my discovering the BNET UK website, which has a section devoted to management.  It’s about business rather than education, but management is management, and with articles like “My biggest mistake as a rookie manager”, “The quick and dirty guide to getting things done” and “The Rookie manager’s guide to office politics”, the site is worth visiting it on a regular basis.

For a succinct run-down on essential leadership skills, with lots of links to articles on each one, see Chris Winfield’s 90 ways to become a better  leader.

Bottom line: although this series is about how to become a better educational technology leader, you ignore management at your peril.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 28: Start a Surgery

Here's a question for you: if you were thinking of doing something different, and you had two choices, which of these would you go with? Option A, where there is little or no support available, or Option B, where there's a lot of support available. I think most people would choose Option B, if all other characteristics of the two options were equal.

A task a day for 31 daysThe same goes for using educational technology. Despite the fact that many people use it in their everyday lives, there is still a reluctance on the part of some people to use it in the classroom. As well as putting on in-service training for people, having user-friendly how-to guides on the wall, and making sure that the technical support is first class, there is another thing you can try: starting a surgery. This is a difficult thing to recommend actually, because it can involve working beyond the school day, and asking others to do the same. (The fact that many teachers do so anyway is neither here nor there.)

So I'll explore some options, once I've described what I mean by a 'surgery'. It works along the same lines as a doctor's surgery: if something is wrong, or you're not sure about how to do something, the idea is that you can pop along to the surgery, where someone will be delighted to help out.

The great thing about setting up a surgery is that it provides yet one more safety net for those colleagues who are less than confident when it comes to use technology in their work.

The traditional model of a surgery, which is still used in many schools, is where the Head of ICT or Educational Technology Co-ordinator makes herself or himself available every Wednesday (say) for an hour after school. Where people are willing to 'muck in' and take turns to do it, so much the better.

A far better option, if you can set it up, is the one I saw in a school I supported when I was an ICT advisor. They had set up a computer area for staff use only, as I recommended here, but they had gone a step further. The staff computer area was also the Head of ICT's office, in effect, and it was shared with his technician. Consequently, there was someone available to give assistance at pretty much any time of day. As if that wasn't enough, there was a kettle and a coffee machine, with a tin of biscuits plus milk and sugar for people to help themselves to. Yes, you're not supposed to eat or drink in a computer area. Yes, it cost them money to provide those refreshments. And yes, the room was in use all the time.

Another model, if you can arrange it, is to arrange for each member of staff in your team to use one of their free periods (assuming you have them) in exchange for not being asked to cover a lesson at that time. The benefit for the teacher is that she knows where she is going to be, and can take some work in to do. If your Principal is very wedded to the idea of staff using the technology, you should be able to make a persuasive argument for this sort of thing.

A variation on that theme is to ask members in the technical support team and/or classroom assistants to do some of their work in the computer room at particular times in the week, so that they can be available to assist teachers if required. There is also nothing to stop you creating a kind of 'virtual surgery', comprising walkthroughs in the form of videos or screen captures. A virtual surgery is obviously not personalised in the same way that  a physical one is. However, by making a set of guides available in this way it is possible that you may alleviate many of the problems which come up in a typical surgery anyway.

Don't believe me? I know of one part-time educational technology co-ordinator in a primary (elementary) school who reduced the number of enquiries made of her from several a day to one or two per week. How? By the simple expedient of placing a ring binder folder in the computer room with some How-to guides for staff -- and lots of blank pages, along with the simple request:

If you have a problem and then discover the solution, please write it all down here so that others can benefit.

It was, in effect, a paper version of a wiki. Why not use a real wiki? Set one up so that staff who feel confident enough can share their expertise and solutions.

Making this facility, and the walkthroughs, available online means that if you don't have a computer room in your school it doesn't matter, because people will be able to use them at home or in their own area in school.This will also be a useful facility if you don't have a computer room.

Another interesting approach is to have a pupil rota, such as at lunchtime. The benefit for them is that they get to use their favourite applications or continue with their work, and helping staff can be a great confidence booster. Unfortunately, having a student roster doesn't usually obviate the need to have a member of staff present as well. From staff's point of view, they are likely to obtain help faster, though; and you benefit by being rushedoff your feet only half as much as you would have been! (At least until word gets round about what a great service is being provided!)

Bottom line: a surgery can be yet another lifeline for reluctant teachers -- the removal of yet another barrier to entry.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 27: Review Your Technical Support

A task a day for 31 daysIt stands to reason that people aren't going to use the technology if it's unreliable (or reliable only in the sense that it is certain to go wrong), or that getting a problem sorted out takes ages.

Therefore today, I have just one question for you: what is your technical support like?

It shouldn't come to this...In my opinion, the best technical support is that which is completely invisible. Things tend not to break down because only the best was purchased in the first place, and because the technical support folk are proactively monitoring and maintaining all the systems in use. When, in the unlikely event a piece of equipment does go on strike, it's replaced within hours, or even faster.

Is that a counsel of perfection? Is it pie in the sky? I don't think so; in fact, I know it's not the case because I've seen ordinary, urban, working class area schools achieve exactly that. Yes, even primary schools.

So again, I challenge you: what's your technical support like? What would you like it to be like? What needs to happen in order to bridge that gap?

Check out the References section for other articles which may be useful to you on this topic.

Photo by Linusb4.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 26: Set Up a Staff-Only Area

A task a day for 31 daysWhat I'm about to say will probably strike you as completely counter-intuitive, but here it is:

If you want to get your colleagues to start using technology, set up an area where only teachers and other staff -- no students -- are allowed to enter.

Keep the kids out!

Reasons for setting up a staff-only area

There are several good reasons to do this:

You need to make the technology accessible

I've also covered this in the articles about removing the barriers to entry, reasons your ed tech facilities are being underused and reviewing your equipment loans procedure, but there is another aspect, which is more psychological than anything else. By setting up a staff-only technology-rich area, you're saying to the staff, in effect, that you consider them to be so important that they don't have to vie with students for the use of these facilities.

Staff can work in privacy

I worked with one school in which staff who wanted to use a computer had to work on one in the school library, in the company of students. Hardly any wonder, then, that no teacher was ever to be seen there. How can you write a report on a student when there's the possibility of students seeing what you're writing?

Teachers can request help in private

Everyone has to start somewhere, but most teachers would feel embarrassed at having to ask for assistance in front of students, or of making what they regard as a silly mistake and getting into a panic, in public as it were. Having a staff-only area removes that source of fear.

You can showcase the technology

You don't have to have only computers in the staff-only area. Ideally, have other equipment such as a digital camera, a pocket camcorder, a voice recorder, an electronic whiteboard, a visualiser, a "voting system" and anything else you can think of which might get people excited about possibilities.

Features of the staff-only area

So what should your staff-only area be like? Here are some ideas, based on what has worked in my own experience.

It should be a drop-in centre

Any teacher should be able to trot along to the room whenever they feel like it. The easiest thing to do is to make the key available from the school office.

Only the best is good enough

Your natural inclination is, no doubt, to put any new equipment in student areas, and "recycle" older equipment by putting it in the staffroom. However, if you want to encourage teachers to use technology in their lessons, you need to give them (exclusive) aspect to the best, the newest, the brightest.

Apart from the psychological aspect (see above), this approach is also a way of helping to ensure that the equipment is reliable, at the very least. You're also maximising the chances of staff being able to use more advanced features, faster, and with better quality results.

Think of yourself as a car salesperson: would you arrange a test drive using some old banger, or the latest model, in pristine condition?

It should be away from the staffroom

The staffroom is a place where you can be constantly interrupted. If possible, use a completely different room. It pays to look around. In my last school, I discovered a music practice room which was being used to store half-a-dozen music stands. You don't need a whole room for that. I went to see the Principal and, to the protests of the Head of Music, I acquired the room, which I set up as a staff-only area.

I installed 6 computers, a laser printer and a colour inkjet printer (these days I'd install a colour laser and possibly a 3D printer too).

Within a week, literally, the room was in constant use.

It was yet one more factor which contributed to the fact that within a couple of terms the use of ICT across the curriculum went from virtually nothing to almost constant. Let me put it this way (bearing in mind that in those days laptops and software was expensive): we had to convert a further two classrooms to computer labs, bringing the total to five, over the course of 18 months.

I like to think that setting up a staff-only area helped.

Photo by sumnix worx.

 

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 25: Review Your Loans Procedure

A task a day for 31 daysOn Day 24 we looked at how to make the ed tech facilities, especially computer rooms, more accessible. Today I'm considering the business of loaning out equipment, in the form of a series of questions to consider. These questions arise from my experience of visiting schools and seeing the procedures — or lack of them — for loaning out equipment.

What equipment is available for staff, students or classes to borrow?

For example, do you have class sets of laptops or pocket camcorders? Can staff borrow equipment to take home, so that they can familiarise themselves with it, or do some work on it in their own time? Is equipment available for students to borrow?

How do people know what's available to borrow?

Is there a list published somewhere? How often is it updated? Do people know that the list exists? How do new staff, especially those starting at odd times of the year (eg supply teachers) get to hear about the list?

What insurance cover do you have?

If a teacher or student borrows equipment, especially to take home, who pays if the item is lost, damaged or stolen?

What is the actual procedure for borrowing equipment?

Do people have to fill out a form? If so, where are copies of the form kept? Is it online? If so, can everyone gain access to it? Is it part of your VLE or Learning Platform? (For example, it's possible in Fronter to set up loan equipment as a resource like a room, which therefore shows up as being available or unavailable at a particular time.)

By the way, just in case you think this is a no-brainer type of question, I worked with one school to help them improve their management of technical support, and it transpired that in order to borrow equipment, teachers had to go and see one of three people. The person they had to see depended on what they wanted to borrow, although this was not made explicit anywhere. Moreover, one of the staff only worked part-time!

How do people know if the equipment they want to borrow is available?

Actually, how do you know that it's available? I visited one school where a crucial lead had gone missing because someone had borrowed it without telling anyone. So how do you get loaned equipment back in time? What do you about it if someone (consistently) fails to return stuff on time?

Where do people collect the item?

I'd suggest the school office, if you can use your powers of persuasion. Why? Because there is always someone there during the working day, which means that not only is it easy for someone to collect the equipment but also that it's not been left alone in a cupboard that might be broken into. (In one school I worked in, someone walked into the school and stole a printer from an office — not mine, I hasten to add: I locked my office every time I left it.)

Is the loaned equipment ready to use?

In the previous question I used the phrase 'in time'. In my opinion, that is not 5 minutes before the next person wants to borrow it. You need to allow time for charging it up, inserting fresh batteries, inserting an empty SD card, or whatever. Teachers need to be sure that when they open the box, everything is ready to be used.

Is the equipment easy to use?

Remember Freedman's Five Minute Rule: that it should be easy to be up and running and do some basic things with no prior training in five minutes or less. I advocate that for loan equipment there is a set of instructions for the teacher to consult if needs be. I don't mean the kind of instructions which have been written by a technician and then translated from Japanese! I mean clear, step-by-step instructions.

I also think that if a teacher is borrowing an item for the first time, someone should spend a few minutes with them just going through the basics.

How do people return loaned equipment?

Do they have to run around finding the person to return it to? Do they return it to the school office?
How is equipment checked?

I'd recommend using the kind of system that libraries use when lending out CDs. They check for obvious signs of damage and then note it down on a card. For example, you might note that a camcorder has a scratch down one side. I'm not suggesting you charge people for damage, but if a teacher knows that the scratch she has just noticed has already been documented, she won't be worrying about whether she did it or not.

If you loan out laptops, you should also check for newly-installed programs — although I would highly recommend that you make it impossible for anyone apart from yourself, your immediate colleagues or technical support to install anything. And do a virus check.

Why so many questions?

The whole point of all of these questions is this: is it easy and pleasant to borrow educational technology equipment? If not, why would anyone wish to bother?

As ICT leader, part of your remit is, almost certainly, to encourage other people to use technology in their lessons where appropriate. A good starting point is to ask yourself these kinds of questions.

The crucial thing to do is to consider them from the standpoint of a teacher who has just started working in the school today. If you can't answer these questions unless you've been in the school for at least a term, or unless you're you, then something needs to be done — and fast!

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 24: Removing Barriers to Entry

Educational technology is different from other areas in the curriculum in one respect especially, which is that its success is partly measured by how much it is being used by non-specialists. With that in mind, the final quarter of this series is about encouraging other staff to use it.

A task a day for 31 daysIn fact, not merely use it, but want to use it. For that to happen, the technology has to be useful, exciting, easy to use, easy to access. Today, I'm going to concentrate on that last one, making the educational technology easy to access. I'll continue with this theme tomorrow.

Let's start with a simple proposition. If the educational technology is easy to access, other staff may or may not make use of it. If it is difficult to access, then they almost certainly won't, except under sufferance, such as if they are forced to by the senior leadership team, or on a particular day they have no alternative.

You have to bear in mind that, these days, it is really quite easy to gain access to a computer if you really need to. Many public libraries have computers which can be booked for an hour at a time, and there are internet cafés, not all of which look like dives. Many teachers have their own computer or, in the UK, a school laptop.

Bottom line: when it comes to using a computer outside school hours, teachers have a lot of choice as to where they go if they want to use a computer for lesson preparation or report writing. In a few days' time I'll be looking at how to encourage teachers to use the school's facilities for their own work.

But what of using the computers with classes? There are several things you can do in order to encourage or facilitate that, but within the context of this series I am going to focus on just one: making sure the equipment is accessible. Today, I am considering computer labs; tomorrow I shall look at equipment that is loaned out.

Remove the barriers to entryThe first step in making a computer lab accessible is to enable staff to actually get into it. Yes, I realise that is pretty obvious, but consider the situation I found myself in in one school:

  • The keys to the computer labs were kept in a Deputy Headteacher's office.
  • You were allowed to go into the office to get a key as long as the office was (a) unlocked and (b) not in use for a meeting.
  • You were allowed to take only one key at a time. (The significance of this will become apparent in a moment.)

What this meant was that what should have been a very simple act — walking into a computer lab — required meticulous planning if you were not to end up waiting outside a computer lab with a class of kids who were becoming more and more unruly by the second while you frantically tried to gain access to the key.

That is assuming, of course, that you had been able to book the use of the room in the first place, because that was another major hurdle. Each room had its own booking timetable, which was available on the teacher's desk in the room.

Sounds logical enough, doesn't it, but suppose I wanted to book the use of the room next Wednesday morning for one of my classes. This is what I could end up doing:

  1. Find key to computer lab A.
  2. Check timetable in Lab A.
  3. Return key and, if computer lab A was booked at the time I need it, take the key for Lab B.
  4. Check the timetable for Lab B.

And so on. There were three computer labs, so checking their availability could, by the time you'd managed to get hold of the key each time, easily take your whole lunch hour. Little surprise, then, that most staff did not bother most of the time. It would be untrue to compare the computer labs to the Marie Celeste, because at least that ship showed evidence of recent occupation.

Sorting this out took surprisingly little time, using a few simple expedients.

Firstly, I redesigned the computer lab booking form. I figured that nobody would care much which computer lab they used (we didn't have a specialist area set aside for, say, multimedia; the only real difference between the rooms was the number of computers in them). Therefore, I amalgamated the room timetables for all the rooms onto one booking sheet, and organised it by time rather than room.

In other words, if you wanted to use the computers next Wednesday morning, you looked at the sheet to see which room(s), if any, were free at that time.

I then placed the booking timetable in the staffroom, which seemed quite logical to me.

These two steps meant that booking a computer lab went from possibly taking an hour to taking less than five minutes.

I also asked the school office to take charge of the keys. After all, there is someone there all the time, so that made perfect sense too.

All of a sudden, gaining physical access to the rooms was no longer a Herculean labour.

There is also the matter of access to the network. I understand the need for security, but I could never understand why some Heads of ICT made it so incredibly difficult to get into the computers unless you ahd your own user ID.

My view is this: there are always going to be students who forget their login details, new students or staff who have not yet been given their login details (even though they should have been) and visitors to the school. So why not create a bank of generic user IDs, like User01, User02 and so on? I believe that as long as people know that the work they create under these names will not be kept very long, and so must be transferred or saved to an external medium if they want to keep it, that's fine. It will only be the odd one or two in a class anyway (one hopes).

Another aspect of access is ease of use. These days, many applications are fairly intuitive if you've been using computers for a while. But not everybody has. When I was Head of ICT I came up with Freedman's Five Minute Rule. This states that someone should be able to come into your computer suite, log on, do some work, print it out and save it and log off, all in the space of 5 minutes even if they had never set foot in the school before.

One of the things you might do in order to meet this requirement is to put up posters giving step-by-step instructions for starting each application, how to save work in the word processor, how to print off your picture, and so on.

To be accessible, the computer systems also has to actually work. I will be covering technical support another day, but it's worth saying at this point that if your computers are unreliable, people won't use them. If, for example, there is an intermittent fault such that every so often the network crashes for no obvious reason, you really need to get it sorted out. It may be that it "only" happens on average once a week, or even once a month, but no teacher wants to be the one in the computer lab with a class when it does.

None of the things I've discussed here will in themselves make teachers want to use the computers. What they are all about is reducing, or even removing, the barriers to entry, to borrow a term from the econommists' dictionary. Think of it as a shop might: opening the doors of a shop and putting in signs reading "Menswear 1st Floor" won't get people flocking through the doors. But make it hard to enter the shop in the first place, and then fail to let people find their way around easily, and you will certainly deter all but the diehards or the desperate from even trying.

Look out for another article, coming soon, on why your computer facilities may be lying idle much of the time.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Consolidation Day 3

Hopefully, the last ten activities have been useful. Having spent some time seeing what's going on, and then looking at some hard evidence, you should by now have started to address some practical issues, such as:

  • What is the documentation like? Is it helpful?
  • What resources do we have? What do we need?
  • What are people talking and writing about? What new ideas are coming in?
  • What do we need to do to make the ICT team (if there is one) even better?

It would be good to spend some time looking back on these activities to see if there are any gaps, because the next batch of 'assignments' are very practical and pragmatic indeed, as you'll see.

Just a couple of points to make:

Firstly, activities like reading, which don't produce an immediately identifiable result, are very important. I remember seeing a sign for a door once which depicted someone sitting with their feet up on the desk, and their eyes clothes. Underneath it said, "Quiet please: genius at work!"

I think there's a grain of truth in that. We all need quiet time to sit and just have ideas. The target culture has made us all think we're not doing anything of value if you can't see it or measure it. However, the brain needs time to mull things over. I certainly find myself that if I read and reflect, read and reflect, ideas start to gestate and are worth waiting for.

Secondly, there is a particular type of team leader who thinks that they have to take credit for everything the team achieves. Apart from being morally suspect, if not reprehensible, that sort of attitude is self-defeating, because ultimately people will simply stop giving out their ideas. Either that, or they will email you their idea and copy the email to everyone else they can think of, including your own boss.

If you've done a good job of encouraging and facilitating the birth and sharing of ideas, it doesn't matter whether people think you had the idea yourself or not. How come? Because if people in your team have great ideas then that's a reflection on you anyway.

Coming soon: some practical things you can do to get the technology being used across the school.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 23: What is Your Dream Team?

A task a day for 31 daysWouldn't it be nice to be starting work as an ICT leader in a brand new school? Not just a new building, but a new school. You know the situation: the school is opening in 18 months' time, and the Principal is recruiting managerial staff now, of which you're one. One of your tasks, along with your new colleagues, is to recruit people to be in your team. What a wonderful feeling that must be!

As you've probably inferred, I've never been in that situation myself. No surprise there, but this may surprise you: I've never regretted it. It's not that every team of people I've managed has been perfect, far from it.  But even 'challenging' colleagues can not only make very valuable contributions to the work of the team, but can help you and their other colleagues grow.

In fact, the very term 'dream team' carries connotations of some sort of notion of wishing to work with people who are made in your own image. People are individuals, and it's that individuality, and the interplay between team members, that is all-important.A good team leader encourages that, and does their best to ensure that the team ethos facilitates it.

Also, recruiting a 'dream team' from the start assumes that the team members and therefore the team as a whole will remain exactly the same ad infinitum. Is that actually good? The dream team of today will surely not be the dream team of tomorrow, unless you're either very good at recruiting, or very lucky.

So where does that leave us? I suggest that the dream team is more about 'soft' characteristics, and not things like qualifications or even experience. I recall once being invited to sit on an interview panel for the appointment of a Head of ICT in a secondary school. In the end, it came down to a choice between a young man who had a great deal of expertise and experience, but who had no 'presence', and another fellow who hardly knew anything technical about technology, but had bags of energy and enthusiasm.

The Headteacher said to me: "I don't know which one would be better." My response was: "Well, it seems to be that you have a choice between someone who has no personality but lots of knowledge, and someone who has no knowledge and lots of personality. You can teach someone about computers, but you can't give someone a personality!"What's your dream team? Photo by Hilde Vanstraelen.

In another context, Doug Woods puts his finger right on the button when he says:

21st century education is not about equipment, it’s about approaches.  It’s about putting the learner at the heart of their learning and allowing/enabling them to use the equipment you have in creative and collaborative ways.

So, what would your dream ICT team be? The kind of things I always look for are the following, in no particular order:

My dream team

Willingness to co-operate

If there's one thing we know about technology, it is that it will go wrong. Maybe not today. Perhaps not tomorrow. But it will do so sometime. In that situation you need people who can step in at short notice, be willing to swap rooms with you if they don't need the computer lab, or let you use the laptops because what their class was going to is not as urgent as what yours was going to do, etc etc.

Enthusiasm

I want to work with colleagues who can get the kids fired up. Hey, I want to work with colleagues who get me fired up -- which is pretty tough because I'm fired up to begin with. I don't want to work with people who have seen it, done it, got the tee shirt and are treading water until they retire.

Self-confidence

I'm not prepared to accept cop-out excuses like "Well, the kids are all digital natives and so know a lot more than I do" for dumbed-down work that keeps the kids' behaviour under control by the simple expedient of sending them to sleep. I don't care that there are gaps in your technical knowledge — there are gaps in everyone's technical knowledge. But I do expect you to know about teachning and learning.

Particular strengths

I think a large part of what makes a team a 'dream team' is the individual strengths of its members. It's impossible to specify these in advance, but to give you an idea of what I mean, here are the strengths exhibited by the members of a team I worked with once:

A: Had excellent discipline, even though she was only in her second year of teaching. I think it was because her main role was a PE teacher, in which listening to the teacher's instructions is of paramount importance for the children's safety.

B: Was absolutely brilliant with students with learning difficulties. She had infinite patience, and could make the most complex concept comprehendible. I asked her to be in charge of ensuring that all our resources were suitable for students with special educational needs.

C: Was a science teacher and doing an MA, so she brought an academic rigour to every aspect of her work. If a student gave an answer like "Because it's more efficient", she would respond by saying "What do you mean by that?" Her students soon learnt to think before speaking, and to be prepared to back up every statement or opinion with evidence. A woman after my own heart.

D: Had the ability to break down activities into even more stages, so that if someone was away when you covered the topic, or couldn't 'get' it, you could use all these extra resources that he had created. He, too, had outstanding reserves of patience and energy.

Well, you can see where I'm coming from with all this, but a few questions arise. Firstly, am I saying that technical expertise is unimportant? Secondly, most of us inherit a team rather than create one from nothing, so doesn't my list really constitute a dream in the sense of having nothing whatsoever to do with reality? And finally, and related to the foregoing question, how do you make sure that people are co-operative or whatever, if they're not?

Is technical expertise unimportant?

No, but if you're going to insist on having something like a degree in ICT before you will even look at someone, you will close yourself off from a great deal of expertise that's around. Also, people can go on courses, and will learn by doing anyway. If they need extra technical support of classroom assistance for a while, then that can be arranged.

How do you 'convert' an existing team into a dream team?

In my experience, people will co-operate, have more self-confidence and be more enthusiastic if you delegate responsibility for one or more units of work to them, and have interesting activities and opportunities for professional development, such as good in-service training, going to exhibitions, attending conferences, and having their lessons observed.

I'll be saying more about delegating a unit of work after the end of this series, but the important thing about delegating the responsibility (as opposed to merely the task) is that the teacher can choose whatever topic they light to hang the concepts on. If they happen to love windsurfing, and can use it as a means of teaching modelling, why not?

Also, this approach actually reduces teachers' workload, as I'll be demonstrating. As for the other things mentioned here, they are all about respecting the person as a professional, and treating them as such.

It's also encumbent on the team leader to notice people's strengths and weaknesses, and to use them and address them respectively.

Bottom line: there's no such thing as a template for a dream team, so you have to think it through for yourself. So your 15 minute task for today is to make a note of the following:

  1. What are the features of your dream ICT team?
  2. Which ones are already in evidence?
  3. How might you address the deficiencies?

Oh, and by the way, you're not allowed to recruit new staff or lose existing staff. 

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 22: Organise In-Service Training

I am firmly of the belief that an ed tech leader is only as good as the team they're leading, and that good in-service training plays a large part in improving teachers' skills, knowledge and understanding.

A task a day for 31 daysLet's take that phrase 'good in-service training': what does 'good' mean? What is 'in-service training'?

Not all INSET has to involve PowerPoint

The meaning of 'good'

I think in-service training is good if it enables the teacher to do something s/he couldn't do before, or to be able to do it better. I'm using the word 'do' in a very broad sense. It could be that, having attended a course, you have a greater understanding of a particular issue than you did before, without necessarily having to actually do anything with your new-found knowledge.

(I'll explore this in another post, but I believe very strongly that there needs to be time and space set aside for teachers to explore issues as an intellectual endeavour, and not merely so that some pre-defined 'output' measure can be improved. But that's for another day.)

Ideally, in-service training should be useful for the individual teacher, the ICT team and the school as a whole.
Teachers should have a huge say into what training they will experience. I've seen instances of where teachers are sent on courses they don't want to attend, and denied permission to go on courses they do. That's a ridiculous way of trying to get the best out of your staff. Admittedly, there may be some things which everyone has to attend, such s information about a new curriculum, but there has to be give and take.

As far as what is good for the ICT team is concerned, that should be discussed by the ICT team. As team leader you will need to take some decisions, but they need to take into account your colleaues' concerns and ideas too.

Types of in-service training for ed tech specialists

But what is in-service training? Traditionally, it's a course. However, it could take a number of forms, such as:

Types of in-service training for non-specialists

Bear in mind that one of your jobs might be to organise training for non-specialist staff. Ideas that come to mind include:

  • As you don't know what colleagues know or don't know, I'd suggest conducting a survey to find out what sort of things they would like training on.
  • Running a regular ICT surgery. I'll be covering this in more depth soon.
  • Running specific training for teaching assistants who help out in ICT lessons. I've always thought it best for all concerned for them to have at least a basic level of competence in using technology.
  • Encouraging colleagues from other subjects to invite you to their team meetings to help them discover how technology could be used in their lessons.
  • Making a video of the ICT going on around the school, and showing it at a staff meeting. (Students can take this on as a project.)

Your task for today

 

There's a lot to think about there, but here are a few issues which you might like to consider in your 15 minutes today:

  • Who is going to deliver the training? It doesn't have to be you or an outside expert. One of your colleagues might be able and willing to do so. I've had pupils giving training, and the teachers loved it because it was so effective for them.
  • Does training always have to take place as an extra-curricular activity? Doesn't that discriminate against colleagues who are paid by the hour? Since the training they enjoy will benefit the school (one hopes), should they not be paid to attend it?
  • Does training always have to take place after school? After all, that discriminates against colleagues with family commitments. How about lunchtime sessions as well? I don't think there is an ideal time for training or a foolproof answer to this type of concern, but I think it's important to try and be as flexible as possible.
  • Does all training have to take place 'live'? If you were to video your training sessions, the recordings could be made available on the school's VLE for colleagues to access in their own time.
  • The same goes for screencasts. Why not create a series of short screencasts to cover the basic aspects of applications which are commonly used in the school?
  • Does training have to take place in school or a teacher development centre? How about a team visit to an exhibition? I have organised some great visits for teachers to work places where technology is used.If such days are planned and organised well, they can be really effective professional development.
  • Does all training or professional development have to be organised? What about taking part in online discussions? What about making the technology available and allowing people to use it how they see fit, or simply to explore it?
  • Looking at your team as a whole (or yourself if you don't have a team), what are your most pressing training needs? Where are the gaps in your knowledge or skill set? How and when can you start to address this?

Further reading

You may also find the following articles useful:

5 Minute Tip: Keeping a Professional Development Record.
Web 2.0 For Rookies: Proving Professional Development.
                    

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 21: Organise a Team Meeting With a Difference

A task a day for 31 daysIf you lead a team of ed tech teachers, you can do a lot with team meetings; in fact, you can turn (at least some of them) into opportunities for professional development. It's a very good idea to occasionally depart from the standard team meeting format and put on a "special". This helps to keep interest high, and enables various goals to be achieved, including staff professional development, which I discussed in the post about attending conference. They can also help the team to maintain its "edginess" and dynamism. As Doug Woods said in his comment about the post on resources, the most precious resource a school has is its staff. Help them become even better, and in so doing improve the team as a unit.

1 Invite a guest speaker

It may be difficult to get someone to come for just an hour. However, if you invite them to spend the afternoon, say, being shown around and taken into some lessons and talking to students, they may be willing to address you and your team afterwards. The benefit for them is that get to see a real school in action, and which prevents them from losing touch quite so rapidly!

Alternatively, invite another member of staff or even a student to give a talk on something of relevance. It may be about a generic issue such as assessment or lesson observation, or a more specific one such as how your students use Facebook.

If you invite a student to an after-school meeting, make sure you obtain parental permission and check that it's OK with the powers-that-be.

Remember: all guests should be offered refreshments.

2 Evaluate resources

Make team meetings productiveIt helps to prepare for this. For example, ask teachers to come armed with a list of topics that they need resources for, and/or a list of resources they have come across or acquired but have not had time to have a proper look at. There's a rubric I devised which you may find helpful.

Also, consider getting in inspection copies of books and demo software to look at.

You could also consider combining this idea with the previous one, and invite a product salesperson to come in and give you a demo and answer questions.

3 Invite the senior management/leadership team to meet YOUR team

Yes, they know you and your team and what you do -- but  do they? Why not invite them along to look at the kind of activities the students are asked to do, and have a go at some of the whizzier things themselves? Make sure there is student work to look at, and be prepared to discuss examination results and that sort of thing.

4 Do pupil work scrutiny

"Work scrutiny" means going through pupils' books and folders to try and gauge what they have leant and achieved -- in this case in the use of educational technology. It can be very useful if you can, with permission of course, go through the pupils' books from another subject, such as English, although a request to do so could be construed as being some sort of inspection.

The purpose of doing work scrutiny is to find out how good a job you've done at getting pupils to use and understand educational technology in general. Read more detail in the post about looking at students' work.

5 Watch and discuss a video podcast

There are plenty of technology-related podcasts available. It could be useful to watch and discuss one or two, in case there are issues you could raise with students. (Look out my forthcoming post about a great video to get the intellectual juices flowing.)

6 Listen to and discuss an audio podcast

See above.

7 Have an international discussion

This is a variation of inviting a guest speaker. Why not arrange to speak to an ed tech teacher or her students in Canada or the USA, say, via Skype? Obviously, you have to keep an eye on time zones (which is why, being based in the UK, I did not mention Australia or New Zealand).

8 Do moderation

"Moderation" means going through pupils' work and assessing it, in order to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of (a) what the standards are against which you're assessing the work, and (b) how to interpret and apply them. It is not the same as work scrutiny, mentioned earlier.

9 Share best practices

If you or a team member has done something that worked really well, or heard about something that someone else has done, it should be shared. This idea could be combined with the first one, ie you could invite a guest speaker, possibly from another curriculum area in the school, to talk about what other teachers have tried. If you arranged for another teacher to come and look at what you do,

10 Share ideas

Why not discuss the activities you already do, and see if other ways of achieving the same thing can be thought of? Ideas that sound promising could be put into practice on a limited trial basis -- see the next idea also.

11 Share research results

For this to work, at least one person has to have done some research of course. It could be classroom-based research. For example, you may have decided to try out one of the ideas generated in the ideas "special" meeting with one class as a pilot study. The outcomes can be discussed here. Or someone might report back on a conference or an exhibition they've attended.

12 Have staff training

Use the time to be shown how to use a particular application, and to practice using it. This can be especially useful if a unit of work is coming up that requires people to have a knowledge of, say, how to use a wiki or desktop publishing.

13 Create resources

The one thing that teachers always complain they have too little of is time. So make a space for them to create resources. Doing so in the same room as others gives people a chance to bounce ideas off their colleagues.

14 Share news updates

This works especially well if you have asked different members of your team to be responsible for different things. For example, are there changes in the rules about writing school reports? Has anything happened in the edublogosphere that ought to be brought to your colleagues' attention?

15 Do development planning

What courses will you put on next year? What needs to be done for the new course starting in September? What courses do you hope to run, or should you be thinking about running, in 3 years' time?

16 Discuss data

How well are your students doing? How much progress have they made since last year? Are there differences between the attainment of girls and boys? What does your data tell you about these sorts of questions?

17 Discuss ways to become better

This is not quite the same as discussing ideas (see above). Having analysed the data, you will probably want to discuss ways in which to improve -- but this can be a stand-alone activity. A very useful starting point is to approach it from the point of view of a student. As a student, how do you know how well you are doing, for instance. In fact, why not ask the students what they think you're doing well, and what needs addressing, with suggestions?

18 Focus on pupils with special educational needs

Take a look at your handouts or VLE pages for your students. Do they require a higher standard of reading than some of your students possess? What is in place to ensure that students at risk of falling behind get the extra help they require? In fact, going back a step, what is in place to make sure that you find out in advance which students are at risk in that sense? What about students with physical disabilities? Have you catered for them?

Use a meeting to discuss these issues and then draw up an action plan to deal with them.

19 Focus on pupils who are gifted and talented

If pupils are under-challenged they become bored, and bored children often become disruptive. What extension activities are in place to prevent that happening? Again, use the meeting to identify gaps in the provision for such students, and decide who is going to what about it by when.

20 Have a good clear-out

Do you and your team really need that copy of the version of the National Curriculum that was changed in 2000? It's nice to have an archive of historical material -- but only if you're a museum. I have always found that clearing out a load of obsolete stuff has a really liberating and refreshing effect on the whole team.

21 Do budget planning and analysis

Is too much money being spent on printing? Are costs in one area significantly greater than in others? What peripherals and consumables need to be bought before the end of this school year, and what needs to be planned for next year?

Involving the whole team in such discussions can lead to a greater sense of shared responsibility -- as well as some good money-saving ideas.

22 Plan capital purchasing

What equipment needs to bought next year, and what replaced? How about over the next 3 years? You'll need to have your development plan handy for this one. It also ties in with planning professional development (see below).

23 Discuss success and challenges

What's going well, and what not so well? Clearly this is related to other suggestions here, such as sharing good practice, but there is a subtle difference in emphasis. To make this work, there has to be an atmosphere of trust: nobody likes to say in public what is not going so well for them. It also ties in with the Niggles and Quick Wins suggestions (see below).

24 Do joint lesson planning for team-teaching

If there is a chance to have some team teaching, why not use meeting time to do some joint planning? In fact, even if you are not  going to have team teaching, planning lessons together (doing so in pairs works well) can lead to new insights and ideas. It can be a great way to freshen up everyone's teaching. See also the suggestions about creating a lesson plan bank.

25 Discuss lesson observations

If you have a chance to observe each other's lessons, the results can be discussed here. With permission, you could video parts of lessons and use the meeting time to watch and then discuss the videos. Alternatively, and perhaps less threatening to people, carry out this exercise using a third party video. For example, Teachers TV lets you download and use video clips.

26 Departmental policies

When was the last time your departmental policy on assessment was looked at? Do you have one about accessing the VLE? How about equal opportunities? Obviously, in an ideal world the policies will be lived in practice. Nevertheless, the documentation ought to be reviewed and, if necessary, updated at least once a year.

If you think about it, an evaluation by an inspector, who will not have the time to see everything that goes on, can be affected by the sight of a set of policy documents that are clearly 5 years old. Sometimes, the policies themselves are fine in principle, but the terms used have become obsolete. For example, a sentence like "Pupils are not allowed to bring in their own diskettes" looks old even though diskettes are still in use. But changing that to "memory sticks" will only solve the problem temporarily. It may be better to try and future-proof it to some extent by using a general term like "media" instead of a specific one.

27 Niggles list and simple solutions

What sort of things are upsetting people, and how might they be tackled? One of the things that always used to upset me, for example, was teachers leaving the computer room as if it had been hit by an earthquake. Or take the case of a school I visited recently where someone had walked off with a video lead, because it was "stored" on someone's desk. What creative or even very simple solutions could be implemented to deal with such occurrences? See the next suggestion too.

28 Quick wins

In a way, this is similar to #27, but is more outwardly-focused. Walking around the school, what could be done very quickly and inexpensively to make other teachers want to make greater use of the educational technology facilities? Why not ask your colleagues, via a survey, what they like and dislike about the provision, and invite suggestions to improve it? You could then discuss the results at this meeting.

29 Plan professional development

What professional development do the team, and its individual members, require? What's coming up in the next year by way of conferences or other events that may be useful to attend? You will need your development plan at this meeting, because it is much easier to get the go-ahead to attend an event if you can demonstrate how it will enable you and your team to meet your objectives.

Did you find this list helpful? All feedback greatly appreciated!

This is a variation and an update of an article first published on 22 August 2008.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 20: Do Some Reading

In my opinion, reading is very important for helping you generate ideas and innovation. However, I do believe that to get the most out of a book or article you need to do what I call ‘active reading’.

A task a day for 31 daysThat means not simply reading an article in the way you might read a sweet wrapper or a billboard, but thinking about what you’re reading – even before you open the first page. There’s a good article on this website about efficient reading by Alison Skymes, and I should highly recommend that.

In this article I’m going to recommend some newsletters , blogs and Twitter accounts which should prove useful to you. Please bear in mind that the official UK ones from Becta (marked with a *) may be discontinued as part of, or a consequence of, the impending spending cuts.

Also, I haven’t recommended any books here. That’s not because I don’t read books – I do! But books come and go, and I tend to review them on their own, usually in Computers in Classrooms first. To find book reviews,  go to the tag ‘book review ’. You can also see a list of books I’d recommend on the books page. And, of course, there are my own books, which you can find listed here .

OK. With no further ado, here is my list of recommended reading.

Always make time for reading

Why subscribe to an independent newsletter?

  • They have an independent voice, ie independent of organisation’s interests, or commercial interests – but you need to check just to make sure this is the case.
  • They tend to contain a wide range of expertise, viewpoints and topics.
  • There’s a sense of community (sometimes).
  • They can be good for local news.
  • They can be good for national news.
  • They can be good for international news.

Subscribe to an independent newsletter!

Examples include:

  1. Computers in Classrooms  This is my own newsletter, so I would recommend it, wouldn’t I smile_tongue? But several thousand other people like it too, and they all have an interest in educational ICT. Although Computers in Classrooms contains news items, it is mainly a forum for exploring the possible implications of recent developments rather than simply the news of the developments. It also contains magazine-type articles, reviews, prize draws (sometimes) and other good stuff.
  2. Information Technology in Developing Countries I have to declare a bit of an interest here because I occasionally have articles published in this newsletter. I like it because it has articles about educational ICT issues in countries such as India and Africa, which tend not to be reported on very much by the main magazines, blogs and newsletters.
  3. From Now On This has some interesting discursive articles, and provides plenty of food for thought. I don’t like the website much because in my opinion it takes too long to drill down to the list of articles, but it’s worth the effort.
  4. Stephen Downes' Online Daily newsletter. Useful and eclectic round-up of half a dozen or so ed tech news items every weekday and sometimes at weekends as well. Downes can be acerbic or hilarious -- I find my point of view varies according to whether it's my turn to be at the receiving end of one of his withering comments! Downes scans hundreds of ed tech blogs and is good at seeing through the persiflage.
  5. Ed Tech Talk Newsletter This short newsletter gives out information about forthcoming online talks and discussions in, especially, Classroom 2.0 Live (which I mentioned in the article for Day 18, on joining a group).
  6. Technology & Learning News Useful for keeping up with an eclectic range of educational technology-related news.
  7. Technology & Learning Blogs Again, I must declare an interest, being one of the bloggers featured on this site. You’ll find a great variety of bloggers and blogs here, each blogger posting every two weeks on average. Much food for thought.
  8. Local newsletters can be very useful indeed, so if your Local Authority or School District published one, subscribe!

Subscribe to a blog or follow a Twitter account (or two)!

  1. Becta’s Emerging Technology  News * I have to declare an interest, as I proofread this before it goes live. It’s a great source of technical news with suggestions about the impact on education of technical developments. Neil Adam does a sterling job of finding and summarising complex technical issues, and often writes about advances months before they appear in the mainstream press.
  2. Next Generation Learning  * This will be useful to you if you’re looking for articles suitable for parents, ie without technical jargon and implicitly assumed knowledge.
  3. National blogs/updates, eg Department of Education and Learning & Teaching Scotland: these are useful, but cover all aspects of education, not just ICT.
  4. Local blogs, eg Havering ICT Blog, or even a local school’s blog
  5. Corporate blogs, eg Microsoft’s Schools blog
  6. Independent blogs, eg The ICT in Education blog smile_tongue , Andy Black, Doug Woods and Shelly Terrell. Note that these are just a few of the blogs I subscribe to.
  7. Tech  News blogs, eg TechCrunch and Gizmodo -- although I’d recommend Becta’s Technnology News over these (see above).
  8. Collections of useful information, eg Shelly Terrell’s Teachers Reboot Camp (again), Chris Smith’s Shambles and Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day.
  9. Leadership-oriented blogs, eg Miguel Guhlin’s Around the Corner, Scott McLeod’s Dangerously Irrelevant and Stephanie Sandifer’s Change Agency .
  10. Twitter in general
  11. Twitter lists, eg Danny Nicholson’s Techie Teachers list. (Uk-centric, mainly).  You’ll find more ed tech lists listed here.

I hope that’s enough reading for you! Remember, you don’t necessarily have to do it all yourself. If you lead or are part of a team, perhaps your colleagues could monitor particular newsletters or blogs, and report back briefly at the start of a team meeting.  In a nutshell, the suggestions in Delegate a Unit of Work applies to other aspects of leading ICT as well.



31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 19: Attend a Conference

A task a day for 31 daysIt's a great pity, in my view, that one of the first things to go when the budget is tight is training. You can understand why: allowing a teacher to go on a training day not only costs the event fee, but also the cost of hiring a substitute teacher. Plus there is the hidden cost in terms of the fact that substitute teachers, no matter how good they are, rarely fill the shoes of the regular teacher. (And that is one reason, incidentally, why creating a lesson bank is such a good idea.)

Nevertheless, it's a short-sighted measure because I think continuing professional development (CPD) in any job is essential. One especially good form of CPD is — or can be — a one day conference.

I've already written about what I look for in a conference. But how can going to a conference help you become a better ed tech leader?

Benefits of attending a conference

A conference presentation can give you useful insightsIf you choose the conference well, these are the potential benefits:

  • Get the latest news and upcoming developments. Things move so fast in  both technology and education that this is a good enough reason in itself to get along to a conference. One thing I have often found is that if a representative of officialdom is giving a talk, they will give you off-the-cuff news and insights which will either never find their way into published reports or will take some time to do so.

    For example, they may give you interim results of some research they've been carrying out, or some options they've been considering plus a heads-up about a forthcoming consultation. All of these kind of things help you keep on top of your game and put you in a position to be able to advise the senior leadership of your team from an informed standpoint.
  • Meet other ICT leaders. I do my best to keep up with the news, but even so I always manage to find something out from a fellow attendee that I didn't know before. In fact, just being able to, if necessary, have a good moan about the state of things can be very good. After all, being an ICT leader or co-ordinator is often a lonely job, and meeting others in a similar position can be therapeutic if nothing else.
  • Another benefit of meeting colleagues in similar positions is that it enables people to exchange ideas. No matter how innovative you are, you can still learn something from talking to other people.
  • If the conference has been good, you will not only come away full of new information and ideas, you will also have had a morale and energy boost.

Conference follow-up

One of the downsides of going to a conference is that the new information and ideas end up going to the bottom of the virtual in-tray. I think it's very important indeed that when you return from a conference you work to a simple rubric along the lines of:

  1. What were the three key things I learnt at the conference?
  2. What is one thing I can and should change immediately as a result of attending it?
  3. What is one thing I should change, or advise the senior leadership to change, over the long term?

If you lead a team of teachers, feedback should be given at the next team meeting. That in itself can provide valuable CPD, not only in terms of disseminating the knowledge to colleagues, but also in terms of the ensuing discussion.

If the team meeting is not scheduled for a long time, the information and advice should be disseminated to the team in some way.

I also think that one of the conditions of being allowed to go to a conference is that the notes made are distributed as necessary. Otherwise the benefits of attending are confined to only the attendee and can soon disappear.

Clearly, most of the points made here can be applied to any form of training, not only conferences.
There are aso online conferences, perhaps the best known being the K12 Online Conference. Attending such a conference is often easier than attending a physical one because you can watch the presentations in your own time, and so do not need permission as such.

However, I think there are two principles and one practical issue involved here. The principles are that, firstly, I believe that teachers should be treated as professionals. That means being given time to go to events like conferences. Secondly, expecting people to attend a conference in their own time effectively discriminates against those teachers who have family commitments and for whom, therefore, attending an online conference is impractical at best and impossible at worst.

The practical issue is that attending an online conference in real time enables you to participate in the discussion and Twitter stream taking place at the time.

It may be possible to negotiate for members of your team and yourself to have guaranteed no cover while the online conference is going on, so that each of you could attend in their 'free' lessons. Obviously, that kind of arrangement won't be possible in the average primary school.

In any case, it's not an ideal situation because in my experience you still get constantly interrupted and even called upon to do an emergency cover anyway. In fact, the ideal arrangement is to attend the conference at home or at a colleague's house. I don't underestimate the difficulties of getting that approved though.

Bottom line: attending a conference at least once a year is essential. It should help you do your job better. Everyone knows that teacher expertise is one of the most important factors in securing student learning and progress; conferences can help you maintain and increase that expertise.

You may also find this article useful: All About BETT: What it is, 9 Reasons to Attend,4 Reasons You Should Be Allowed to Attend, and 4 Other Colleagues Who Should Go Too

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 18: Join a Group

A task a day for 31 daysWhy join a community? John Donne said ‘No man is an island’, and that sentiment is certainly true when it comes to education in general, and ICT in particular. Joining an organisation can reap benefits – I’ve identified 12 possible benefits below.

We work better togetherI’ve drawn a distinction between societies and communities. It’s a completely arbitrary approach on my part, which sees a society defined as a formal organisation, with a particular structure, entry requirements and so on, and a community as an informal organisation.  As I say, it’s pretty arbitrary: some communities also have membership approval and other formal elements. Nevertheless, I hope the distinction proves useful to you.

Why join anything?

  • Remember the proverb, many hands make light work. I have often found that when I am looking for information, someone in one of my groups has already done some of the work of researching and collating. (Equally, I think it’s incumbent on each member of a group to contribute in some way now and again, and that would include you!)
  • Belonging to a group affords networking opportunities, such as through discussion forums, a newsletter, or conferences.
  • It’s very hard to keep up-to-date with news and still have time to do your day job. Belonging to a group is a good way of keeping in the know, such as through a society’s newsletter. Incidentally, on Day 20 I shall be looking at newsletters you might like to subscribe to.
  • If the society has a magazine, you can be sure to find discursive articles which go into more depth than the average blog post or newsletter item. Note that my newsletter, Computers in Classrooms, often has discursive articles. See, for example, the April 2010 issue.
  • Societies usually put on special events, eg talks, conferences, including expert speakers. Some communities do so too, in the form of ‘webinars’, ie web-based seminars. In fact, sometimes that is the only thing a community does. See, for example, Classroom 2.0 Live, which features a special guest speaker and discussion each week.
  • Communities and societies often have online forums, blogs and podcasts.
  • Belonging to a group may give you opportunities to get involved in projects. I know, you already have enough on your plate. But doing this can give you greater knowledge and insight into a particular area.
  • There may be courses and other professional development opportunities.
  • It’s a support network, not just for work-related stuff, but for emotional well-being too. See, for example, Elizabeth Potts Weinstein’s article and video. IN the video she states that after being told in effect that she was useless, she went to her Twitter community and asked for reassurance.
  • Being exposed to group discussions and newsletters is likely to give you a wider spectrum of information sources than you might otherwise be aware of.
  • There are opportunities to contribute own point of view. Not everyone wants to do so, of course. In fact, most people don’t. But the option is there should you want it.
  • Some groups and/or levels of membership give you kudos. That may not be too important to you on a day-to-day basis, but it can help make your CV/resumé stand out from the crowd.

Examples of societies include:

  • The British Computer Society http://www.bcs.org/. The magazine is good for in-depth articles which tends towards more technical topics.
  • Royal Society of Arts http://www.thersa.org/ A very interesting organisation which has social good as its core aim. Lots of opportunities to get involved in projects and discussions.
  • Naace http://www.naace.co.uk/ . This is, in effect, the subject association for ICT in the UK.
  • Mirandanet http://www.mirandanet.ac.uk/ An academic society, but one which sets a lot of store by teacher/classroom research. Unlike the other societies listed here, Mirandanet is free to join.
  • International Society for Technology in Education http://www.iste.org/ I’d describe this as the subject association for ICT (educational technology) in the USA. Lots of interest groups available.
  • If none of these sound suitable, you can always form a local group, eg of fellow ICT leaders or of colleagues from neighbouring school districts or local authorities. Note that I have included only those societies which have a broad set of interests, not highly specialised ones.

Examples of communities include:

  1. Social networking groups, eg Linked-In http://www.linkedin.com See, for example, http://uk.linkedin.com/in/terryfreedman This is a good networking community and a source of interesting discussion and news (if you join one or more of the groups available)
  2. Social networking groups; use this as a starting point: http://www.educationalnetworking.com/List+of+Networks Note, though, that some of the URLs listed may change because Ning has announced that it is going to end its provision of free networks.
  3. Discussion list: Safetynet http://lists.becta.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/safetynet Specialises in e-safety, as the name suggests. I’ve included it even though it is specialised because e-safety is such an important consideration in our work. Note that I have no idea whether this group will continue, because I don’t know what the new UK’s government’s plans are for Becta.
  4. Discussion list: ITTE http://www.itte.org.uk/ This is a community of teacher-trainers, specialising in ICT.
  5. Discussion list: Ed Tech: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/~edweb
  6. http://www.classroom20.com/ Good all-round community with thousands of members.

I hope you find something there which ignites your interest. Your task today is to explore the links I’ve given you to determine which of these, if any, to join.



31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 17: Visit an Exhibition

As an educational technology leader, one of the most important things you can do is to actively look for new ideas. One great source of ideas is an exhibition.

A task a day for 31 daysBut, you say, there are no educational exhibitions going on right now. Really? Well maybe there aren’t, but maybe there are – I’ll return to this in a moment. However, it’s not necessarily that relevant anyway. The point of attending an exhibition is not to just be spoon-fed ideas, but to kick-start your imagination.

So, your task for today is to try to identify, and possibly even visit, an interesting exhibition. Where are the best places to look? Here are 8 suggestions.

  • If you live in the UK, have a look at the Exhibition and Trade Fair website. This is very comprehensive, and should enable you to plan ahead if you can’t get to an exhibition in the near future.
  • On the subject of planning ahead, don’t forget to pencil in the BETT Show for next January. A cross between an exhibition and a conference, this is a must for any ed tech leader who is serious about keeping on top of their game. You can read my thoughts about it in my BETT Highlights articles.
  • Museums, especially science museums, can be a great source of inspiration. They often also showcase very interesting applications of technology. Sometimes they house exhibitions of the development of technology over time. Perhaps you could take a look, and if it looks good arrange to take a group of students along.  Search for ‘museums and galleries’ online for lists of useful links.
  • Another source of useful links is the tourist board for your country. Enter ‘tourist board’ into your search engine. For example, the English Tourist Board website lists lots of interesting exhibitions and similar attractions.
  • Have a look at the website for your local area: there may be an interesting exhibition not a million miles from where you live.
  • In fact, there may be an exhibition going on in the foyer of the Town Hall, or your local library.
  • Perhaps a local school has put on an exhibition which you could attend.
  • Maybe a colleague in your own school has mounted an exhibition you could get to in the next ten minutes.

Even if attending an exhibition does not, in the end, furnish you with any great insights, not to worry. In the words of the old adage: a change is as good as a rest!