The title comprises the theme I’ll be following in my seminar at the BETT show. It’s called “20 must-have tools in 45 minutes”, and is firmly targetted at leaders and managers of ICT or educational technology – or people who aspire to such a position. What that means in practice is that I’ve followed these principles:
Here’s an interesting conundrum: why is it that, given the trend towards distributed leadership and collaborative change, a lot of conferences targetted at leaders seem to consist of a succession of people lecturing to the audience?
I’ve done a quick analysis of the entries received so far to my Issues for Ed Tech Leadership survey, and here are the results.
As you can see, top of the list is a lack of perception by colleagues of ICT’s importance in the curriculum. So, after all these years, we don’t seem to have an unequivocally wonderful job of convincing others of how technology can be beneficial in the curriculum. It’s interesting to note that the solutions proposed to address this (not shown here) tend to be divided between those who think we should make more training available, and those who think it’s a leadership issue.
I have to say, I’m in the latter camp, and I am tempted to agree with UK ICT consultant Bill Gibbon when he says we should have compulsory courses like SLICT (Strategic Leadership in ICT) courses for senior leadership teams.
Could it be, perhaps, that there is insufficient research into the benefits of ICT? Well, a sizeable minority apparently thinks so, but I agree with ICT consultant Doug Woods’ view:
Actually NO there is plenty of evidence and research into benefits but it is generally not readily available to edtech leaders in school. We need a central resource to collate this research findings, even where contradictory, and make them easily available.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given that most of the respondents hail from the UK, where Becta and the QDCA have been given notice to close down, a lack of impartial big picture guidance is the second-most frequently cited issue facing ICT leaders. I think a lot of people will agree with ICT Co-ordinator Steff Rooney that the Becta self-review framework can (should?) be used to highlight weaknesses in a school’s ICT provision. Let’s hope it’s eventually mothballed rather than disposed of altogether.
This is literally just a quick snapshot. I’ll spend more time on it over the summer break. That gives you time to complete the Issues for Ed Tech Leadership survey if you haven’t already done so -- it should take you only a few minutes.
I don’t have too much time for mission statements. To be honest, I regard them as being unnecessary. Actually, I’d go further: if an organisation is so hung up on its image that it wastes time and resources on thrashing out a mission statement, what does that tell you about its priorities? More to the point, why should any organisation even need a mission statement? Its mission statement should be implicit in the way it goes about its business.
How about this as an example. A couple of months ago my computer started playing up. Unfortunately, it started to get really bad about two days after the year’s money-back guarantee had run out. Fortunately, there was a free maintenance package thrown in, which meant that for two years I could get it repaired free of charge, on a return to base basis. Not ideal, but still, better than nothing. So I decided to avail myself of this service, and the retailer I purchased the computer from arranged for a courier company to pick it up the next day. The following conversation ensued when the courier arrived:
Me: Ah, I think there’s going to be a problem because --
Courier: Look, mate, I’m not here to repair it, I’m just the courier. Just give me the computer.
Me: Well, what I was about to say, was that I don’t think it’s going to fit into that container you’ve brought.
Courier: OK I’ll be off then.
Me: Wait a minute, let me just measure it. Come in for a cup of tea while I do that.
Courier: I don’t want a cup of tea, I’ve got to get on.
Me: Well let me just measure the container you’ve brought.
Courier: I ain’t got time for that. Phone the company.
Me: Can’t you just hang on for two minutes? I need this computer for my work.
Courier (driving off): That ain’t my problem, mate.
I think that statement, “That ain’t my problem, mate”, sounded like the company’s mission statement. Was I right?
Well, I phoned the company up right away, having to use an 0845 number which, here in the UK, is charged for at a premium rate. I was then subjected to 12 minutes of awful music, and advertisements. When I finally managed to speak to someone, she said she’d try and arrange collection for the following afternoon.
“I’ll let you know if that’s not possible”, she said.
“No, could you let me know either way, please?”
When, by 4 pm, I had heard nothing, I phoned the company again, and spent 8 minutes listening to “music” and advertisements. The girl I finally managed to speak to was not the same one as I’d spoken to in the morning. There was no record of my phone call, and no collection booked in. She assured me that she would call me to let me know what was happening. (Incidentally, that was 2 months ago. I am still waiting.)
I phoned the company I bought the computer from to see if they could help, and they told me they would phone the courier company. Fifteen minutes later, she phoned back to say that she hadn’t managed to speak to anyone yet, because she’d been listening to music and advertisements, but would try again.
A few minutes later she phoned me back, and told me that she’d spoken to her manager, and he decided I’d been treated so badly that I could bring the computer in and obtain a full refund. (What do you think that retailer’s mission statement is?) I did so, and immediately purchased a new one, of a different manufacturer.
There have been several outcomes of this episode:
- That was the first time I had any dealings with that courier company. It will be the last.
- So committed am I to that last statement that, having found out that the manufacturer of my original computer uses that courier exclusively, I have decided to never buy that make again, so I never have to deal with that courier company again.
- I got a new computer out of it.
Just to finish the story, the following morning (not afternoon, as requested) there was a ring at the door. A (different) courier had come to collect my computer.
If you think about the behaviour of the courier company, what conclusion could you draw other than that the leadership must be at best incompetent, and at worst actively contemptuous of its customers? Because this is my contention: that the service an organisation provides –- whether it’s a corner store, a department store, a government department or an ICT department in a school – is a direct reflection on the quality and priorities of its leadership. How else could an organisation provide such appalling service, at various levels?
The story also illustrates another point which for some reason is often not as obvious to service providers as it should be: everyone in the organisation is a representative of the organisation. They may not think of themselves in that way, but the bottom line is that if they upset enough people to the extent that the organisation has to reduce its operations or even fold altogether, their jobs could be on the line.
But in that case, all I have to say is: it ain’t my problem, mate.
I have a thing about mission statements: basically, I think they're a waste of time, effort and resources. But there's always an implied mission statement, which is always a reflection on leadership in my opinion.
An article will be appearing about this tomorrow morning at 8 am, but if you want to read it now, you can, at the Technology and Learning Blog, where there's a slightly different version of it.
If you're an ICT or Ed Tech Leader, do take a few minutes (literally, just around five minutes) to complete a survey on what issues ICT leaders face today. The initial results will be published soon. Thanks.
This is just a quick heads-up to say that in the next day or so I aim to publish a snapshot of the results so far of a survey I set up about a week ago. If you haven't already done so, take the survey now -- it takes only about 5 minutes.
Read the original article about it if you missed it: The Big Issues for ICT Leaders
A lot of restaurants provide free 'extras' that help to make the experience enjoyable. So, as an interesting little exercise, if you're an ICT co-ordinator or ICT subject leader, what do you do to make people's experience of ICT more pleasant?
The kind of things restaurants do, depending on the type of cuisine, and the individuality of the owner, include:
- Placing fresh iced water on the table without your having to ask for it.
- Placing bread on the table.
- Placing bread sticks on the table.
- Putting a plate of olives on the table.
- Supplying you with 'bottomless' coffee.
- Supplying you with 'bottomless' fresh orange juice.
- Giving you a square of chocolate when the bill is presented (as a sweetener?).
- Giving you a complementary drink along with your bill.
- Opening the door for you as you leave.
- Shaking hands with you as you leave.
- Presenting ladies with a rose.
What do all of these have in common?
- They are 'extras'. One could argue that good food and service are to be expected and therefore, in a sense, need not be commented upon. However, extras are, by definition, things you were not expecting, and therefore nice to receive.
- They do not involve huge effort or cost on the part of staff.
- They are the kinds of thing that are most likely to generate word-of-mouth recommendations.
So, if you were to adopt this philosophy, what kind of 'extras' might you provide to other teachers wanting to make use of the educational technology facilities? Remember, this could be quite important in encouraging reluctant teachers to use the technology in the future. Here are a few of my suggestions.My philosophy is that someone ought to be able to use the facilities from scratch, and walk out with a print-out of their work five minutes later. Therefore, these first suggestions are all geared towards that (although that is not the only consideration).
- There should be guest log-ins available, with the details on a card that is attached to the computer or laptop.
- Printing should be easy: no need to have to think about which printer to use, for instance, unless the choice is blindingly simple, eg between monochrome and colour.
- Instructions should be available -- on the walls, on the desks, perhaps even on the computer itself.
- Assistance should be available if needed, perhaps from a classroom assistant or a technician.
I also believe that your working environment should be pleasant and welcoming, so I should recommend one or more of the following:
- Get rid of all those notices telling people what they can't do. It just creates a depressing, negative atmosphere.
- Make sure the keyboards are clean. When I use the tech facilities in a school, I don't expect to have to use an alcohol-based hand wash afterwards.
- Make sure the monitors are dust-free, as far as they can be. Why should people have to risk eye or skin irritation?
- Make sure the environment is clean and pleasant. When I work at home I am not surrounded by screwed up print-outs on my desk and floor, so why should I have to be in that environment in a school?
You might say that these things aren't your job, and I'd agree. But I'd argue that it is your job to make sure they get done. Your role may be that of a 'technology evangelist', working alongside teachers and encouraging them to use the technology rather than having a direct part to play in the provision of such facilities. Even so, your job is going to be that much harder to do if the physical environment is deeply unpleasant.Incidentally, in case this post seems predicated on the existence of a computer lab, pretty much the same arguments apply in other circumstances. If, for example, you have banks of laptops and no computer room at all, you would still want to make sure that, for example:
- The laptops are clean.
- They are fully charged.
- They come with instructions for using the laptop itself, including log-in details...
- ... and instructions for using common programs like the word processor on your system.
- A number to call if assistance is needed.
Of course, none of these are 'extras' as such. So extras might include, say:
- A private area where staff can work at computers without having to worry about students looking over their shoulder.
- Providing staff with the most up-to-date and/or advanced facilities.
- Making tea, coffee and biscuits available.
- Having USB sticks to give to staff on which to save their work, security considerations permitting.
If none of these appeal, perhaps the 'extra' is simply a pleasant and friendly attitude. If staff feel that they are in a sharing, collegiate environment, rather than invading someone's private domain, they are much more likely to return.
For more ideas, read the series called 31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader.
An earlier version of this article was originally published on 15 September 2009.
In 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:
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.
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
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?
Me: Which is at the same time every week.
Me: Has it occurred to you that the rooms may be fully in use at times when you’re not free?
The point is, if the only time you walk around is when most people are or are not using 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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?
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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.
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.
What 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.
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.
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.
In 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.
The 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:
- Find key to computer lab A.
- Check timetable in Lab A.
- Return key and, if computer lab A was booked at the time I need it, take the key for Lab B.
- 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.
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.
Wouldn'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!"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.
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.
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.
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:
- What are the features of your dream ICT team?
- Which ones are already in evidence?
- How might you address the deficiencies?
Oh, and by the way, you're not allowed to recruit new staff or lose existing staff.