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 -- 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: Consolidation Day 2

A task a day for 31 daysIn a sense, most of what we've done so far is looking and listening, and not an awful lot of doing. That's not literally true, of course: looking and listening are activities, as is planning. However, the point I'm making here is that it's better to wait a little while before storming into a situation. As the old proverb says, Make haste slowly.

That can be very difficult to do, especially if you have just taken up the post of ICT leader in a school. You've seen some things which need addressing, and you want to make your mark. That's why Day 6 was concerned with identifying actions you could take that would gain some 'quick wins'. But more profound change, which becomes embedded in practice, takes longer.

So, Week 1 was concerned with gaining a few quick impressions of the state of educational technology in the school. In Week 2 we went a little deeper, looking for hard data and getting other people's opinions.

Next week we do more looking — at something which from my experience is not looked at often enough. Also, it's a time for action, where we look at things you can actually do in order to make the experience of educational technology better for the youngsters, your colleagues and yourself.

As they say in the media: Stay Tuned!

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader: Consolidation Day 1

A task a day for 31 daysThere is always a danger with any series like this that, with a new task or challenge being presented each day, it can all become somewhat relentless. For that reason I decided at the outset that I would insert some 'consolidation days'.I suppose technically that's cheating a bit, because it will make the series longer than 31 days — but I never said anything about the days being consecutive!

Reflection is a good thing, so let's cogitate on what's been achieved over the first seven days.

In fact, reflection is a good word to use in this context, because what this week has been mainly about is metaphorically sitting back and watching and listening. The exception was Day 2, of course, which was designed to both satisfy leaders' innate predilection to actually do something, and to set events in motion that would have long-term benefits without being too disruptive in the short-term. As I've suggested before,one of the worst things you can do, if you're new to the job, is to go around changing everything before you really know what's what. You want to make your mark as a new leader, but hopefully you'd prefer to be known for being incisive and doing what's needed, than for being impetuous and self-obsessed (which in my opinion is a characteristic of people who act without doing some fact-finding first).

If you've been rising to the challenge every day, what you should have by now is a kind of shopping list of issues to address, and some ways to address them. You will have found out what, in your opinion, needs looking at through the exercises on Day 1 (SWOT analysis), Day 4 (getting out and about) and Day 7 (wall displays). You will also have started to think about ways of dealing with these issues, whether in the short term (Day 6, quick wins) or the longer-term (Day 3, find a non-specialist geek, and Day 5, draw up a wish list). Remember, the whole focus of this series is to stimulate some thinking, not necessarily to solve all the problems straight away.

If you haven't had time to look at one or two of these tasks, well, today's a good day for catching up!

The next seven days will involve further looking, but at a deeper level, and will also involve other people.