There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.”
― John Lydgate

BETT always provides something to talk about and this year has been know different. Whether it is announcing to 500 people at a TeachMeet that you and your wife are having a baby (and using Skitch on the scan!) through to the content of some of the seminars on stands.

One of the final sessions today was on the Google stand by Dan Leighton, Director of Technology at The Grammar School in Leeds, where he was basically covering about change in tech in Education. His slide deck is available here.

And a quick note for reference, the Google stand was directly opposite the EduGeek stand (sponsored by Smoothwall).

And why is that important? Well, as someone with 11 years leading EdTech in schools, Dan covered a number of things but the one picked out by friend at EduGeek was that he put out significant challenge that there are Network Managers who resist and block change, who say things don’t work when they can do and who even do things in a certain way to protect their jobs.

Ouch.

As an advocate for the professional identity of IT Support in schools several members shared the situation with me and I dutifully queried it via Twitter, challenging Google on the stance (as this is linked, to some extant, to the classroom in the cloud).

Google came back and said it was not their stance, apologised and then Twitter conversation sparked up around it.

Context is king here, and after discussing in Twitter it was clear that it was not the challenge about resistance to change but the fact that it appeared a swipe was taken at the whole profession.

The problem is… well… we *all* know the people described above. We have even done it ourselves at times.

Change is a difficult thing and to have someone not in our profession have a go at us for blocking it, well it won’t go down well.

However, there are always two sides. As a friend put it, a different lens. I caught up with Dan on Twitter and then via the phone and it is clear that the intended challenge was not aimed at all and sundry, that he has high regard for technical staff (having work in data centres in product design) and that the large barriers are communication and understanding the other person’s perspective.

An apology on Twitter from Dan, and clarifying that he truly does see a good Network Manager as an amazing resource.

But in conversation with EduGeek friends it has become clear that a wider explanation is needed.

Having not seen the presentation or been in the Q&A I am having to sit on the fence between EduGeek and Dan.

Looking at the points complained about, that all NMs were tarred with the same brush of being blockers, that NMs lie about things not working and that NM resist change to protect their jobs … Dan and I discussed these in refreshing openness.

It was never Dan’s intent to tar everyone with the same brush, to upset or insult. Yes, the issue needed highlighting and if listeners thought it was covering everyone that was not the intent. Apologies have been offered and hopefully accepted.

The challenge that some Network Managers say things don’t work when they do? Yes, that is the case. I’ve done it and have seen plenty others do it. The context though is that this is short hand for, “what you are asking for is Techinical feasible but has significant issues… from the resources (people) taken to set it up, the disruption to all other users, the cost, the reduction in functionality compared to what is already in place, it is not part of the 5 year IT development and maintenance plan…” and so on.

Without people effectively communicating, both sharing information and listening in an open manner, all people will hear is, “computer says no!” Moving to cloud services is not a simple change but that doesn’t mean it should not be looked at by all staff, evaluated and an appropriate decision made. If it is against the recommendations of the IT team and they still resist or refuse then that is a personnel issue, not technology.

Mordac, preventer of IT services was used to demonstrate this (from the Dilbert comic strip) and whilst that may be seen as harsh, most of us would have been viewed as that by others … either because we have not communicated or the others have not listened.

That some NMs resist change to protect their jobs? This is an extremely valid point and this is not something unique to IT in schools. What is sometimes not understood is that the job description any IT staff have is poor. That there is an expectation to know everything about everything with a plug. If you have an established skill set based on what you do in the school, and you are paid accordingly.

Change that skill set, change what you do and your job changes. It is like asking a head of English who also coordinates literacy to become a main scale History teacher because literacy is now part of the Humanities focus. This has become evident through BSF managed services and the push of Single Status. In some places these have reduced experienced and highly skilled Network Managers to the equivalent position of a science technician or HLTA. Their sort of change all depends only the Senior Leadership of the school, and those who value their staff will promote the flexibility of technology change but the security of job and terms. This is not to say schools might not get rid people as tools change. In the same way the ICT curriculum changed and some teachers moved on or subjects no longer get taught, the same will happen for IT teams.

It is not unexpected that some, who have seen others damaged due to school choices, might be resistant and seek security. This is a personnel thing again.

The only way all the works together is by having Network Managers recognised for the expertise and professionalism they bring, Teaches recognised for the expertise and professionalism they bring, effective communication between all concerned and an understanding of how to manage change.

Dan’s presentation and challenge might have pressed some of the wrong buttons for some, but the follow up conversation should show how the challenge is needed for some, should be the norm for others and that no insult needs to be taken on either side if there is concern about the stance of either side.

12 thoughts on “There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip

  1. Dan Leighton

    What this discussion highlights for me, more than anything else, is the need to work even harder at communicating between ourselves. We are all here for one purpose: to make education better for our kids. All of them. In every school. That goes the same for teachers, school leaders, technologists, administrators and commercial operations.

    I’ve suggested we work collectively to build an EdTech Manifesto created by a partnership of all the different parties. The landscape has changed since we last saw one of these about three or four years ago and there have been huge changes from the major suppliers. Can we draft something that we can all sign up to and agree on? Something that covers the need for strategy to take account of operational necessities, for leaders to truly value the skills and knowledge of their IT staff, for technologists to feel the passionate drive that teachers feel in their bones to make a difference, for administrators to listen to technologists and provide them with the resources they need to do what they have been asked to do and trust them to make the right decisions, and for commercial organisations to be brave enough to supply what education needs in a way which allows them to make choices which are sustainable and adaptable.

    Anyone who wants to help draft it get in touch with me or Tony and we’ll get cracking on it.

    Reply
  2. Linda Garratt

    I was one of those gobsmacked edugeeks listening in to this talk. I agreed with Dan Leighton that blockers need to be sorted out. They exist, unfortunately, in all walks of life, but schools do sometimes seem to have more than their fair share. I speak as Chair of Governors as wellmas my day job. I think the shock came because Dan certainly came across to me as implying that all NMs were blockers and protecting their jobs.

    Were he on edugeek regularly, he would see why we howled. Many of us are fighting hard to provide the team service to the education of the students and struggling with non technical staff failing to understand that we can, and want to, play a part in developing it into a 21st century provision.

    Too often there is a divide between teaching and non teaching staff in schools and, somehow, this needs to be eliminated for schools to be truly outstanding. On BETT Futures later in the afternoon, they were discussing encouraging girls into STEM and seemed to have completely forgotten the role that Technicians in Science and IT could play; teachers are not the only school staff. We are all only employed for one reason… the education of the young people in our establishment. There is undoubtedly fault on both sides in this, but a very limited budget in most schools does restrict options and sometimes limits imagination.

    I would welcome a manifesto, but wonder how you convince the blockers to engage with it.

    Reply
    1. Tony Sheppard Post author

      When Dan and I spoke on the phone about that area (getting blockers involved in the manifesto) we did chat about how it gets dealt with in other areas too. When you consider the people going to TeachMeets (or attending EG conferences, etc) you are almost preaching to the converted at times … at times all you can do, if people refuse point blank to engage, is to carry on with those who will work with you and make it almost impossible for the blockers / nay-sayers to keep quiet. Even if it is giving them a few titbits that they can knock down and replace with their version at least that is the start of contribution.

      As for not including technicians when considering roles for girls in STEM areas … it is frustrating. BCS Academy are not interested in talking directly to support staff and will only work with teachers or instructors … very unprofessional for the supposed professional body for the IT sector. At least NAACE do recognise the roles and even have an award for it.

      BCS take the view that their members have to do the legwork if they want change, and when this was put over onto EG there was a certain amount of apathy about doing the legwork … almost an expectation it would be done for them by an active and vocal minority. EG is not alone in this, as BCS membership said they hit the same barriers in other sectors too.

      Reply
  3. AndyDis

    I refuse to believe and strongly disagree with this statement:-
    “The challenge that some Network Managers say things don’t work when they do? Yes, that is the case. I’ve done it and have seen plenty others do it.”

    Reply
    1. Tony Sheppard Post author

      Unfortunately, Andy, it is the case and the deeper explanation is covered in the context. Are you saying that the context is also wrong?

      Reply
        1. Tony Sheppard Post author

          Is ITIL rife in schools? How many schools run CABs? How many schools document the lifecycle management of their services?

          Reply
  4. Linda Garratt

    This proposed manifesto sounds great, BUT I truly think that what needs to be done in schools is for teaching and non teaching staff to respect each other for what they do and for the vital part they play in education. This is a problem across a large proportion of schools.

    I honestly don’t know that a manifesto would be anything other than words on a piece of paper (or should that be in Google Docs? ). How do schools get teachers to realise that the support staff count… and that they want to count? We have skills, many of us are at least as highly qualified as the teachers… schools need to be talking to their technicians in all areas. With money so short, they cannot afford to do otherwise.

    Reply
    1. Linda Garratt

      Just to add, I have suggested to Rich Cowell that maybe the ANME (Association of Network Managers in Education) might like to pick this one up. He is interested.

      Reply
  5. Peter L

    I am truly amazed how one sided this exchange is. NM say things don’t work when they do…. To PROTECT THEIR JOBS! This beggars belief. The best protection for a NM job is to get everything working, get involved in emerging technology and take the portion of the credit they deserve. This is what the vast majority of us are doing every day. I see nothing is mentioned about Teaching staff and their unwillingness to adapt. Or the school SLT who won’t engage in any meaningful way. Or the clueless governors who are do detached that they believe every thing the head says because they don’t have any real contact with anyone else in school. Or the bursar who says no because they have books to balance. The NM Sees all this and when requests are made these often factor in the response. But who is seen as the Blocker? The NM who is the face of ICT.

    There are many blockers in schools and NMers suffer at the hands of more of them than practically anyone else.

    Reply
    1. Tony Sheppard Post author

      Hi Peter
      In other blog posts there are plenty of examples of others being blockers too. It is not a unique thing, neither to the roles of IT support nor in the education sector.

      Reply

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