Friday, December 5, 2008

Working out Agreements - what works for everyone?

Yesterday, the Technology Leadership Team met to discuss the Agreements (rules of the road) for Technology. This was a lively conversation, one that involved many side trips. It is evidence that everything is related - purchasing is related to hardware and software is related to training is related to time is related to focus is related to vision. While the main thing is student achievement, the 'stuff' that brings this to life has to work, be compatible, be understood and within our means to maintain. The fact that there are these relationships means, not that we get off the subject, but that we get diverted by another - related - subject.

As we move from subject to subject, issue to issue, I begin to wonder what the guiding forces are in the mix. This isn't a static project. We are doing the equivalent of repairing and guiding a airplane that is in the air. Sometimes I wonder if we have agreed on the destination :-) And to that point, it would make sense (as we said in our meeting) to get more clear about our goal and vision. And very wisely, we stopped and discussed that vision for a time.

The question is, to what extent do we all have the same goal. We are all in agreement that student achievement and success is the main goal. But, in our day to day operations, what do we focus our time and energy on? Do we keep student achievement and success in mind? What is the Action Plan behind our vision. Is it aimed at integrating technology into the curriculum or providing administrative tools for classroom reporting and management? Have we got the specifics of our vision nailed down or are we simply flailing away at the day to day challenges that arise.

In the meeting I made the observation that this is a somewhat uncomfortable conversation for all of us. I said that this conversation impacts the level of control that we have or don't have. In making agreements, we are choosing to limit ourselves in some way and abide by some rules or procedures. Making these agreements takes control away even as it gives us control (predictability) and is therefore threatening to our individual desires.

I didn't feel like I got much agreement on this point - I didn't see many nods. Even so, I know this is true for me. I need some assurance that people will abide by some rules of the road. If they don't, my staff will suffer under the disorganization. They will get drown in working on poorly organized and disjointed systems. They will be pulled one way and another by teachers with very important but unrelated projects. This is a control issue for me. My guess is that everyone, from every school, has a related concern. They want us to support them on their most important initiatives. They need us to keep the computer and software engines running so they can do their work. They have special projects that require support, software configuration, hardware reliability. They may want us to stay away from meddling in certain areas. They probably have concerns about our over-involvement in certain areas as well, though I may be wrong. So, while we all would welcome the additional control and predictability that the agreements would afford, the agreements limit our freedom as well.

I wonder if other school districts are having these conversations. I don't think we are unique in our search for technology that works for students and teachers. But I wonder if other districts spend so much time discussing the policies and procedures for purchasing and managing systems. Do they allow every school to decide how they will spend money on computers and software or do they dictate these things? I think the latter.

We have been engaged in this process of collective bargaining for about 8 years. I think we have learned a lot from one another through that time. We have very dedicated building technology staff who think very seriously about how to help students and teachers. Our conversations are generally positive and respectful of differences in role and responsibility. But I can't help wondering if we aren't losing time and money by allowing each building to set their own course.

The course we have chosen is a challenging one. In our system, each school has the right to set their own agenda for technology, spend their own money, and expect that we will keep up. While they are expected to stay within the general vision of the district (and the agreements) and have very limited money to spend, they are free to do what they choose. The agreements are our attempt to put some parameters around their activities so that we can keep pace with the various issues and initiatives. And true, the schools have accepted (I don't know how willingly) some of the decisions that the district has made for network infrastructure (servers, email, physical networks, firewall, etc). It is an interesting mix of freedom and control.