Thursday, December 4, 2008

Framing the Agreements - The carrot and the stick

It is 2:30 am and I'm thinking about our agreement meeting that we are having tomorrow. Here's my dark night diatribe

People deserve to know why we have rules. Write the agreements from the ground up. Start with the rationale for having agreements at all. People have a hard time with being constrained in their choices. We need to explain the rationale behind the rules. There are specific reasons we have the specific rules. The overall reasons are:

  • A network is a public place, fraught with the same benefits and precautions of any public place. We share the road with many other people. The rules of the road are are the speed limits, stop signs, vehicle inspections, etc. You get the idea.
  • Limited funding for technology. We have to live within a budget. This budget limits the number of computers we can make available and the services we can provide. We have to be proactive in what we choose because we can't afford all the choices. A computer, on a network, that serves many people, has many costs. All of these costs have to be considered.
  • Limited time to provide support. We are trying to provide a set of services that can be maintained by a limited number of staff. The more skilled we become as a whole, the more services we will be able to provide.
  • Limited time for training. The more time we take for training, the more self-sufficient teachers can be, the more time available to provide additional services. Until we make a commitment to train teachers to some basic level of competence, we are going to be busy helping them along and fixing some basic problems.
  • Limited understanding of the network and the common good. It is ironic but until and unless people understand the implications of their behavior on the overall systems (stated above), we need rules to guide them. I was not given the passwords to critical computer systems until I understood the implications of making changes in those systems. Before we can drive the streets on our own, we have to learn the rules of the road and demonstrate competence. It would be irresponsible to give someone the right to drive without the requisite skills.

A Reality. A building administrator made the point that these constraints will be denied and the rules will always be challenged. In his words, "That's the nature of teachers. They want to work independently, autonomously and without the limits that serve the bigger picture. They aren't concerned about the problems their behavior will cause others but how they will deliver tomorrow's lesson."

With this reality in mind... we should be prepared for people to try and go around the expectations. We need to explain and correct them when they stray from the expectations. People deserve to know why we have these rules. I would like them to accept the rules. I would like them to acknowledge the reasons we have the rules. But this may be too much to expect for some - perhaps most. First they don't understand how all the pieces affect one another - how management of one computer at a time is inefficient. Second, just as that administrator said, some simply don't want to look at issues from the big picture. They are focused on how the limits affect them and their classroom only.

The many carrots of technology. Let's remember, there are still many choices available to people. The agreements are created to constraint behavior in some key areas. But within those constraints, there is plenty of room to move. In fact the constraints are in place to afford us the ability to operate and continue to provide a working system to use. We need to help teachers see the ways in which they do have choice. We need to let them know of some of the resources available to them? How can we help them connect to these resources? We certainly can't progress on limits only. We need to provide equal time to pointing them in the direction of opportunities.