There are a unique set of circumstances that have positioned me to be able to observe a large number of school environments through a very different mindset than most consultants.
I always approach a school as:
- A teacher who is in the classroom from day to day.
- A consultant who has an expert opinion and understanding of particular aspects of teaching.
- A leader involved in several organisations, overseeing the direction of that organisation, the systems and day to day operations, as well as directly leading hundreds of volunteers each week.
This teacher / consultant / leader mix has positioned me to look at schools holistically. It is out of that position that I have observed a consistent pattern emerge across all types of schools. Below is a summary of the five most common areas schools are wasting money (in no particular order) and what you can do to stop the waste.
1. The principal is not aware of their leadership role.
A leadership coach by the name of John Maxwell says this about the importance of leadership, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” He goes on to explain that leadership is the reason why your school, organisation, business etc is the way it is (for good or bad). I believe that.
When you think about it, principals have a huge amount of responsibility! They oversee multi-million dollar budgets, large staffs, large student bodies, not to mention all the policies and procedures that governments force on schools. This tends to force principals into the role of a manager, not a leader.
The problem is that if you are trying to manage everything, your school won’t grow in numbers or excellence. When you approach educational leadership with a management mindset, you will listen to the wrong people, spend money on the wrong initiatives, and just copy what other schools are doing. A leader, on the other hand, will see past the day to day; chart a course and navigate the ship to its destination.
One of my biggest frustrations as a teacher was that we had systems for behaviour management and other educational related issues, but had no system for effective communication, no long term plans, and people sitting on committees who had no skill or knowledge in the area (but it did look good on their resume). We were effectively managing the school, but the leader in me was so frustrated with the lack of vision and growth.
What can you do about this?
- Invest in some leadership coaching that comes from outside the educational sector
- Evaluate whether you are making decisions through a managerial or leadership mindset
- Network with other leaders and ask what they would do if in your shoes
- Find some other principals who are leading their schools and ask them to mentor you
- Read everything you can on leadership
2. Hire the wrong type of person to oversee the technology in your school.
Most schools are employing one of two types of I.T people.
The first type is a teacher who agrees to take on the technology co-ordination role, usually due to changes in staffing numbers.
The problem with this kind of I.T person is that whilst they understand what it is like to try and use technology in the classroom, they in many cases have a very limited knowledge of how technology works and what the limitations of the software are. When making decisions they either copy what another school is doing, or only deploy what they know.
I can’t tell you the number of times that I have run a technology workshop in a school using very simple software such as a blog, but the technology co-ordinator is reluctant to support the change in direction because it pushes them outside of their comfort zone.
The second type of technology co-ordinator is one who has a fair to high understanding of technology but no understanding of what it is like to try and teach 30 students with an already packed program. The teachers don’t have the time to learn how the software works let alone take the time to teach the students.
If the I.T co-ordinator is a teacher they generally only teach I.T to students who have chosen the subject and are there because they want to be there not because they have to be there (sound familiar?)
The problem with this type of I.T person is that they assume that because something is easy to use or obvious to them it should be easy or obvious to others.
This results in the teachers becoming increasingly frustrated and are less likely to engage with technology and become resistant to any new technological initiative.
What you can do about this?
1. Have technology plan.
I have found that if you spend the time to assess the needs of the teachers, and then match the technology to their needs, you will have a much greater percentage of teachers working with technology.
The plan will help you eliminate spending on programs and technology that doesn’t help the teachers reach their goals. You will not be tempted to go out and buy the latest program. Another benefit of the plan is that you can limit the number of programs available and the technology co-ordinator can understand the whole program and be able to solve problems
2. Do your research
Rather than just reading about what’s popular, find out what is effective. Ask questions such as:
- What is the take-up rate of classroom teachers?
- Are teachers still using this technology 6 months down the track?
- Do the students engage with the technology at a superficial or deep level?
- How stable is the technology and how many updates have been released in the last six months?
The key here is to be as consistent as possible. Roll out any changes slowly and make sure that all the teachers are on the journey with you. Take the time to include them in the process and demonstrate that you are not going to leave them behind. It is slow going at first, but momentum will build soon enough. For more questions to ask before launching out into new technology check out the following post on technology in school
3. Fund the plan
Only spend your money on initiatives that directly result in the fulfilment of the plan. Ignore the popular, interesting options for now – just remain focused. By doing this, you will save thousands of dollars on licences that aren’t used, training that is never deployed and programs that just sit on the server.
In the next post I will reveal the three other areas including what technology you should avoid regardless of its popularity.
If you would like some more information about how Using Technology Better can help you with technology leadership, please contact us.