Our tech team at school is going through a lot of challenges right now; one staff member left partway through the year and we miss her terribly. The other is on an extended leave of absence, and we miss her terribly. We not only miss them for fixing our computers and network, but also because they were wonderful members of our community. But it’s the computer and network issues I want to talk about most right now. Because of their absence, all kinds of tech problems have been cropping up around school. My colleagues have had three responses to this — how appropriate that the human response to digital difficulties is to resolve the ternary!
The first response was something like this — “we’re down one tech person anyway, already. Now we’re down two for an extended period of time… can’t we just hire a new person?” This is sort of a nice way of saying, This isn’t my job description. That may be true. But a lot of the things that our tech crew did for us (back in the days when we had a tech crew) were things that we could have been doing ourselves — answering kids’ questions about software during a tech lab, prepping the mobile laptop lab for a class, troubleshooting a machine, helping kids connect to their server accounts, and so on.
the result, for these (relatively few) folks, has been to back off of tech use, for the duration of the emergency. “We’re missing staff, so I’ll go back to paper methods until we have staff again. I don’t want to be using the computer lab and risk damaging something. And besides, it’s not my job.” I see two different versions of this, actually. One of them is a concern that having no tech department at all will become “the new normal”, and these teachers want to have an active tech department to help them out; they also don’t want the job of running the network to fall on them by default. Given that there are things which we, the ordinary users, shouldn’t be doing, I get this mindset, and I understand why they hang back. I even praise it — we need tech staff to do those part of the job that we can’t just learn in time to be effective at it. The second variant of the backing-away-from-the-computer phenomenon, though, has been one more excuse to not use digital technologies.
The second option, of course, has been to dive right in anyway. These folks have sought out help from colleagues where they were unsure, or have used the mobile lab whenever they needed, or designed their projects anyway. They’ve helped students do what they needed to do, and helped kids save their work to the server, and managed 95% of the tasks they’ve needed to by studying the technology, learning what they could in the short time we’ve been short-handed, and informing our tech department by e-mail of what they absolutely couldn’t do on their own. It’s a can-do, “let’s figure it out” kind of mindset, and I’m proud of all my colleagues for adopting it so thoroughly
The third option, though, the one I see among so many of my colleagues, is to adopt an attitude of “I can learn this.” One of my colleagues has stepped up to learn the database system that runs our grades. Another has stepped up to help manage the mobile lab. Another has been teaching herself to use Keynote so that she can better support her students during one of their annual projects — a project she’s been running for years with tech help, but now has gamely decided to learn to do on her own. Several other teachers have stepped up their commitment to learning to run video editing software, to better support programs all over the school.
These folks have made learning the technology a part of their job. They’re not demanding fancy training — they’re saying: “these are the tools of the next generation and my kids have to learn it… which means I have to learn it.”
Our short-handed tech staff has brought these three positions into the open, but in truth you probably see these three mindsets in your school, too. But let me suggest to you that learning to use and understand technology is your job. Understanding the philosophy and mindset of a digital user or programmer is part of your work as a teacher. And if you’re not “playing” with the tools, and helping your colleagues learn them, you are disempowering yourself, and your kids, for the sake of your own pride.
Get over it. And get your hands on the keyboard today. You’ve got learning to do.