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.