Are IT Staff frustraters for the fun of it?

Published by Matt Setchell on

I always tell my daughter that my first job is to keep her safe, and my second job is to keep her happy. When the two align, it’s easy. When she wants to download an app that sends all her data to the Chinese because her friends have, it’s a challenge. As well as explaining it to her, I have technical blocks in place to protect her.

As any parent will know, sometimes to keep your kids safe, you have to make some unpopular decisions.

The same is true when trying to keep schools safe with their IT. Not every decision is welcomed or understood.

Like my 12 year old daughter, school leadership don’t always understand the decision, and can only see it from their point of view. They see they are getting blocked, but everyone else is getting to give their data to the Chinese for watching a few videos. Why can’t they do it? Why does it matter when they can’t see anyone else getting hurt by it?

If I were to just block my daughter, and not explain why, she would find a way around it. She would go and tell her mum that her dad has stopped her doing what her friends have for no reason, and go and find someone to enable her to get her way. Missing out the crucial part of why her dad doesn’t want her to do it.

Just like parents, technical staff have an important job to do to keep users and systems safe in a world that is constantly changing and more riskier then ever. The scale of this responsibility is often, like the wider role, not understood.

(Which is why, incidentally, your network managers, MSP’s should be involved at every stage as part of leadership teams with you to learn and inform, but more on that in a bit)

However, when IT do have to assess and deliver a want from the school leadership, what technical people do next is key. We have a reputation for being blockers for no reason. Frustraters for the fun of it, and not being enablers.

But, as I tell my daughter – whilst I’ve got a job to do to keep her safe as her dad we can look for alternatives and compromises – that align better with keeping her safe. At the very least, she needs to fully understand why I’ve said no. Often, deep down, she knows it’s not great – she has heard in school to be wary, or someone else’s parents have also stopped them downloading the app. She just wanted to watch the videos, and I can redirect her to other sites that are trusted to watch funny videos about pets – without giving the Chinese access to her device.

A big part of this compromise is understanding exactly what, and why, my daughter wants to do something.

Sometimes my daughter will go running to my ex wife and try and get her way there. What sometimes happens similarly, is schools run to the person who says yes, a governor or leader who is a bit IT savvy who challenges the decision.

However, like when parenting, the wider context is key. Knowing the full situation allows informed decisions, and this is true for both sides. After all, everyone wants the school, or their daughter to be safe.

As I alluded to earlier, IT teams need to know the school’s aims, with context. They need to be experts in education just like your other leaders, who all have their own areas of expertise as part of a team.

Some schools delegate IT management through a deputy or assistant or a business manager – buts these non specialists will not help the situation – IT is important enough now to sit at the big boy table.

As always, communication and partnership is key. You cannot expect those who are not expert educationalists and those who are not experts in technology to understand the nuances of each others profession.

On Friday at the Nasen live event, I was on a panel – I was referred to as the “techie one” and that people in my role were “blockers” (it wasn’t a personal attack, but interesting preconceptions) and how could IT stop being blockers to enable accessible solutions.

Where IT have let themselves down is a failure to communicate – however this has stemmed from years if not decades of being undervalued, and not having the seat at the table – to the point where many on both sides have misinformed preconceptions.

And the truth is simple – IT folks want nothing more than to see their systems making a difference and being valued. Get them in the classroom to experience the difference technology can make for a SEN child – and a good person will have complete buy in. Many could be an earning a lot more, doing a lot less in industry, just like teachers and support staff.

Leaders – it’s time to listen to their expertise – they are great problem solvers – and work together – when you are making plans, ask for input. The most successful partnerships I have been part of are where I was asked for solutions, and understood the full picture – not just told to deliver a solution that I knew wouldn’t work or could be done better.

If you don’t feel you can do this with your current IT – look inside at your leadership of that team or individual. Are you providing the opportunities? If so, and they are refusing to want to be involved in all areas of your school – then they are not the right person for that role. It’s not just a technical role anymore.

From an IT point of view – your team need to be an expert in their area, and that includes the area that their users use the technology for. They need to understand that safeguarding and cyber security are crucial, but that if they are a blocker – that there is often a solution that can be found. This might well look different to what another school does. They might not have got it right, remember.

On both sides, there is a need to stop assuming the answer is always going to be no. And give the full options, or listen, to your colleagues with pros and cons, and let them collaboratively make the call based on evidence.

Categories: Blog