I’ve asked Gerald Haigh, a freelance journalist and author of a number of educational leadership books, to take some time out to share his thoughts on some of the topical education issues you’ll have seen on this blog or elsewhere.
This week, he’s been thinking about some research I wrote about last month (Network Managers and Teachers have a relationship problem), where the researchers had uncovered some of the tension that exists between teachers and Network Managers, and started to look at some of causes.
I’ll let Gerald explain more:
I’ve been thinking about the survey that you reported on a month or so ago, in a posting called “Network Managers and Teachers have a relationship problem”.
Now I don’t propose to take sides in this issue. I couldn’t be less qualified to do that. What I can do though, is point out what I’ve seen, and been told, in schools where the relationship seems to be working.
I’ve been in quite a few ICT-savvy schools in the last year or two, usually helping to capture good practice in case studies. And what they all have in common, it seems to me, is an ICT strategy that’s being driven along by a senior leadership team member who has a clear vision of what technology can do for learning. Not a co-ordinator, or a middle leader with ICT responsibility, but a deputy or assistant head with a vision and enough experience and management clout to make it happen. That person will have, of course, really effective support from whoever’s at the top of the technical team, but there’ll be no doubt, to put it bluntly, who’s the boss. Somebody, say, like Simon Brennand, deputy head of Philip Morant School, who’s passionate about ICT for learning and heads a strategic ICT group of senior teachers and technical staff.
“We see that relationship as fundamental to the pace, breadth and depth of school improvement,” he says.
Having that very clear lead from a senior teacher does, it seems to me, take away some of the potential for irritability and misunderstanding.
It was Isobel Bryce, head of Saltash.net Community School Cornwall who first alerted me to the importance of clarity in the ICT management structure. In the case study of Saltash.net I wrote for Microsoft last year, she defines three key staff roles, all of them in place at Saltash.net
“a strategic thinker in the senior leadership; a strong classroom practitioner at assistant head level, supporting learning; and an effective Network Manager.”
(And we take it as read that there has to be head teacher like Isobel, who knows what ICT can do for learning.)
As I visited more schools, I kept that model in mind, and often raised it with the people I spoke to. That, as you’d expect, threw up some questions. Not everyone believes, for example, that you need all three levels in a smaller school. What’s never in question, though, is the need for that strategic lead from SLT level.
Isobel also mentions the Network Manager. It has to be someone, she says, who understands that it’s all about the learning, and that can be quite hard for someone who’s come up via the technical route. It may be that the senior person has to be assertive in pointing out the priorities. This, of course, is one reason why the strategic leader has to carry authority. (In the army it’s called “Solving it by putting rank on it”.)
Ideally, of course, there’s no conflict, and it’s all done in a developmental way. Monkseaton High School, for example, famously grows its own technical people. Network Manager Andrew Johnson is a former student who started as an apprentice in the school’s technical team at age sixteen, going on to be mentored by the school through a series of accredited learning milestones. Now, five years on, he’s an Open University graduate, with a highly saleable set of skills and a deep understanding of what ICT can do for students and the school community.
Another kind of ‘grow-your-own’ strategy featured in a report I did last year on Marsh Academy where, as part of a Microsoft Partners in Learning initiative with the TDA and QCDA, a group of Year 11 students were trained as student technicians, running a real live ICT helpdesk in school. The point here is that most of the training was done by the school’s technical team, who as a result became much more directly engaged with teaching and learning.
So have all tensions disappeared from these places? Of course not. You still hear grumbles about knee-jerk cries for help from a teacher when a plug comes out, and heavy sighs from the technician sent to help. None of that’s ever going to disappear. But my guess is that once the structure’s right, the roles clarified and the core business of teaching and learning kept firmly in view, the relationship’s going to stay professional, purposeful and progressive. And they probably have some good laughs too.
FITS should be mentioned here as part of the toolkit that can help support better relationships between the technical and the educational teams in schools. This was Becta's (who?) and now belongs to the FITS Foundation (http://www.thefitsfoundation.org/). I could write a very long post about all the work I have done over the years with schools around this issue but much better not to be dull and just to recommend those FITS materials.