31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 8: Set Up a Committee

A task a day for 31 daysThey say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. There's a certain amount of truth in the message being conveyed: committees often start by arguing, and end up compromising. The result is something that nobody in the room had in mind at the outset.

And, let's face it, committees may add another level of bureaucracy to an already bureaucracy-burdened profession. So why am I suggesting that organising one could help you become a better ed tech leader?

A committee can actually be a good thing — if the reason for its establishment is clearly to further the use of technology in the school, and the people invited to sit on it do not regard it as a forum for arguing in favour of having more funding lavished on their own curriculum area. Organised and managed properly, an ICT committee can be beneficial in a number of ways.

The benefits of an ICT committee

The members of the committee can be your eyes and ears around the school. We've already seen how walking around the school can be quite useful, but you can't necessarily do that every day, or even every week. You certainly can't be in other teachers' lessons all the time. A committee can provide useful information about how the technology is being used — or not being used — in different areas of the school. And, crucially, why or why not.

A committee can provide a watching brief on developments in technology. I'm mindful of the comments Doug Woods made about my suggestion of delegating a unit of work, to the effect that alleviating some of your own workload is not a good reason for it as other people are busy too, and I agree. But if people are on the committee they can be asked to keep an eye on things in an area they're passionate about, which they probably will do anyway. If they also happen to be non-specialist geeks, so much the better.

In any case, if you're in a secondary school they will be specialists in their own curriculum area. I think it's quite reasonable to expect them to provide feedback on the way technology is being used there, and new software applications. If nothing else, it should help to avoid duplication. For example, in one school I worked in, three subject departments had each bought exactly the same software — before I arrived on the scene, I hasten to add: one of the first things I did was to co-ordinate all software purchasing in order to both avoid that situation and to be in a position to enjoy price discounts.

Notwithstanding the camel comment at the start, colleagues on the committee are likely to come up with ideas you wouldn't have thought of. They have friends in other schools, for example, and belong to subject associations and read different magazines to the ones you do. They have different experiences from you. They're different people, for heaven's sake! They're bound to come up with different ideas.

Who should be on the committee?

In a secondary school, it makes sense to have a representative from each subject specialism. It's interesting to see who is chosen by the team leader. It's often the youngest teacher in the department, but is that because they're brimming with ideas and understand technology, or is it because they're the most junior members of the department and being on the ICT committee is seen as trivial but necessary? It shouldn't make you treat the teacher concerned any differently one way or the other, but this kind of knowledge can give you an insight into how important the use of technology is seen by their subject leader.

An alternative approach, if your school is organised like this, is to invite people from each faculty or learning area. That has the distinct advantage of keeping the numbers down, which makes the committee easier to manage. On the other hand, there are a fewer people to contribute to the work of the committee.

Primary schools are structured differently, of course, but you may still want to invite people based on their specialisms, eg literacy, special educational needs and so on. But the big problem is that, in the UK at any rate, primary schools are often so small that the same person is literacy co-ordinator and special educational needs co-ordinator, with several other roles thrown in for good measure.

So you have to be sensible and judge your particular situation on its merits. Should the committee comprise colleagues who have volunteered? Do you even need a committee at all? Perhaps it would be best simply to ask colleagues' opinions about things from time to time, or set up a means whereby it's easy for them to make suggestions and voice their opinions whenever they like.

Maybe the ICT committee should be an ad hoc one, ie set up for one particular purpose, with the intention of disbanding it once it has done its job. A good example would be where the school is thinking about implementing a new VLE, or a new set of portable computers.

Practical matters

Some thought needs to be given at the outset about when the committee will meet. In England, for example, there is a work time directive in place that teachers should work 1265 hours a year. This comprises both teaching time and 'directed time', and is often regarded as an upper limit (see this example, which I don't think is atypical). In such circumstances, if you're going to set up a committee, try to ensure that its meetings are counted as 'directed time'.

Even if you don't have to worry about the 1265 hours or similar, I think it's good practice to recognise that sitting on a committee like this takes up time which could have been spent on lesson preparation or with one's family. It shouldn't be taken for granted.

Also, it should go without saying that the meetings should be conducted in a businesslike way, ie with an agenda, and with notes of the meetings afterwards. People shouldn't be expected to have their time wasted whilst you consult the back of an envelope or, worst still, ask if anyone in the room has anything to discuss.

And a nice selection of cakes and some fresh coffee wouldn't go amiss either.