Sunday, February 14, 2010

Educators & Technical Folks Should Play Nice

This blog post started out as a comment on Ten Commandments of School Tech Support, but it got way long before I knew it! Probably because this is one of my pet issues.

I'm an instructional technologist who often serves as a bridge between educators and technical staff. The Commandments are good and Mike Moore's response is awesome as well. Too often "educators" and "techs" come at each other from their own perspectives and forget they are playing on the same team.

I believe it is of the utmost importance to have clear communication and patience from both sides. I also think #3 in the commandments - Thou shalt not make fun of the tech skills of teachers or students, nor allow anyone else in the tech department to make disparaging remarks about them - as well as Moore's counter #3 -  We won’t pick on you if you don’t pick on us. Yes, we do know what you say about us - is the key in all of it. We all have different backgrounds and experiences. "Making fun of" or "picking on" each other shows a serious lack of respect for our colleagues and their strengths.

A few tips for educators working with technical staff, from my own experience, are:

1. When working with a technical glitch, write down or screen capture if possible the error messages you get. You do not have to understand them, but you help your technical people a great deal if you give them that information to start with. Don't worry, they'll decode it. Also, try hard to remember exactly what you were doing when the error occurred. That info can also be a key to solving the problem.

2. If you want something new or want a website unblocked or want a procedure changed, be able to articulate the beneficial educational impact your proposal will have if it is approved. And be nice when you ask and all through the interaction about it. Even if things don't go your way in the end, the technical staff will be more open to working with you on future projects.

I have had a great deal of success working with technical people when I follow this practice #2 in particular. Your technical staff are people with feelings and pride in their work, and they are severely turned off from wanting to help if someone comes at them with a negative attitude right out of the gate or if their attitude turns ugly throughout the discussion process.

As a former classroom teacher, I am so embarassed when a teacher treats our technical staff badly. After all, educators are responsible for teaching teamwork and respect for others to their students. We don't tolerate it when students are disrespectful to us, nor should we be tolerated when we are disrespectful to our colleagues.

3. When the technical staff says no to something and tells you its for security or safety reasons, even if you don't agree, please understand that their jobs depend on maintaining a secure and safe network. They do not want your social security number or your students' private information and files accessed or corrupted, for your sake as well as theirs. They are also responsible for upholding laws like CIPA and FERPA in the U.S. They are not just saying "no" to be mean. Conversations on these topics can also be revisited later. Change does not always take place overnight.

And, a couple of hints for my technical colleagues:

1. In general, teachers and other staff do not know as much technical stuff as you. And we don't have the right vocabulary for everything. And we know it. So sometimes we get a little intimidated or flustered when we are trying to explain the problem. If you can be patient while we are trying to explain, we would appreicate it. And ask us questions. We probably know more about the problem than we realize, and you can draw a lot out of us. When you are tempted to get frustrated with us for all that we don't know, remember, it's job security for you. If we had time to learn all there is to know about computers while still teaching children, we wouldn't need you. But we do need you. Badly.

2. Yes, we may have to ask the same question several times about how to do something or why something has to work a certain way. Again, we're not the technical ones. And working with 25 or 50 or 150 other people all day every day tends to drain the brain's capacity to take in and store information outside our field of expertise. We reserve most of our brain power for teaching, which is what we do best. We may be teaching your kids and we are certainly teaching the people who will support our economy in your golden years, so it's in your best interest that we focus our energy there. Again, we appreciate your patience and reassurance.

Writing this post has been somewhat self-convicting. Because I've worn both sets of shoes to a certain extent, and I have experienced frustration with both sides and not always handled it well. We should all continue to learn and grow in our ability to work with people.

Hopefully if we are in the education field in any capacity, we're there to serve the best interests of the students. So, next time you are frustrated with "them", take a deep breath, remember why you are doing what you are doing, and remember that "they" are part of your team. We should all be models of showing respect for one another and cooperating, especially since we're in a business that teaches respect and cooperation to young people every day.