Turning Around IT in Schools

Many IT departments have it tough — especially in “these times” when boards are getting into the line items that they are purchasing and cancelling service contracts left and right (some with dire consequences.)

As “the computer lady” at our school I almost ran for the door every day for about two years when we were in the height of our growth and where our board refused to allow me to get anyone to help me.

I appreciate and respect the role of IT. I also appreciate and respect the role of teachers. We need each other. If you have love/hate going on, you’ve got issues and I’d like to point out of some of them.

Signs your IT Person is about to quit

When it was at the worst, I had about 3 hours a week of time I could spend fixing computers and 15 hours of requests coming in a week. The math didn’t add up – there was no way in this lifetime under those circumstances that I was going to be able to get it all done. The teachers were desperate to get things fixed and I just wanted to feel good about myself again.

I didn’t want to eat in the lunchroom… because someone else would ask me when I was going to do this or that or talk to me about their problem.
I didn’t want to go to the grocery store because I knew that I’d run into another teacher who would ask me when I’d get to something. I was anxious at church and everywhere I went because I couldn’t escape the fact that I was hopelessly behind and that no one had a clue how long everything would take and how I was giving more time than I had anyway.

I was jealous of the other staff members who could leave at a decent hour or actually go to the sports games of their kids. I knew if I went that someone would look down their nose at me like “you have time to go to this game but not time to fix my printer.”

They all had little problems… sure. But lots of little problems on old computers ADD up. Add to that a lack of understand about how to apply windows updates and a desire to click on every pop up window that arose and it was a recipe for disaster.

I was also on the teacher dress code which meant I could only wear jeans on Friday. It upset me to crawl around on the floor and work around in equipment and ruin my nice clothes.

Perhaps the worst was not being understood. Thank goodness I had a technologically savvy engineer husband who could understand what it meant when I said that I resurrected a computer by reseating the RAM or that the computer in the kindergarten room literally had bugs in it and flying cockroaches flew at my head when I opened an old tower. No one spoke my language. I was alone. I was frustrated.

I hated when the elementary teachers had their staff meeting and I knew that they’d talk behind my back about all the things I hadn’t done and that afterwards the principal would come into my room and give me a list of the things that needed to be done – half of which no one had told me about before they told him.

I’d submit a budget only to have technology neophytes cut something important after asking the principal about its use without letting me in on the meeting.

It made me want to quit.

This is not as uncommon as you think. When I talk to IT people all over the country – this is how they feel – especially when they are underfunded and quite honestly, some are being taken advantage of. There is a difference between putting your heart into a job and losing heart over a job.

If your dedicated IT person is at the school late into the night and early every morning and everyone applauds their dedication – great. But if administrators don’t wake up and see the signs – they are just fooling themselves about whether that person will be able to do it long term. Few can or should. We have lives to lead.

These stories are compiled from my first 4 years in my present position. Perhaps I was at my low point when I started blogging in November 2005.

Here was my way “out” – I hope it can help some of you.

1 – Seek wise advice.
Find someone who loves you who does understand who will help you with the people skills it takes to work through these problems. Because ultimately, these problems are PEOPLE related. You need people to communicate with you. You need to get people to approve your budget. You need to get people to be understanding and realize that you need more staff. You need people to help make your job easier and to help you serve them better. People. People. People. If you hate people and you’re at a school – you need to rethink.

2 -Stop Saying “I”
No one cares that you’re killing yourself. No one cares that it is hard for you to maintain. No one cares about you.

This is harsh but ultimately the teacher is focused on their classroom and their students and they need their equipment to work. If it makes you have a bad day but their projector works then they will do it.

You have to relate things in terms of THEM. The impact for THEM.

For example, the principal wants you to help him on the powerpoint for the school board… again. So, you know that will take 4 hours. Let him know up front,

“I can help you for the afternoon, but I had appointments to fix ___, ____, and ____ so are you willing to run interference for me when their items aren’t fixed on time?”

Teachers care about how long it will take to fix their problem and when it will be fixed. Principals and superintendants care about cost. They also SHOULD care about things like back up and how long the internet will be out if you don’t have certain redundancies in place. Give them an honest risk assessment of the impact of their decisions and put it in writing.


3- Plan ahead and batch your jobs
So, in the example above, your superintendent always asks you to help on the PowerPoint and although it is secretarial, you know that he will ask you to do it anyway. You know when the meetings are ahead of time. Go ahead and schedule an appointment for time with the superintendant EVERY month. (The first Tuesday of every month I’ll be yours for 2 hours.) Not all will agree to this but many will. If she cancels the appointment, you’ve just found 2 hours.

This worked wonders at my school. I only had three hours but I told them.

“Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 2:15-3:30 I am working on computers. I will post a schedule of who I am working on and let you know when it is your turn. If someone is down, that takes priority over all other requests. I’m sorry if your item is scheduled for four weeks from now, I want to get to it, but until I get help approved for this problem, I only have 3 hours a week to work on tech support and this is where we are.”

4- Turn Teachers into Advocates
They aren’t the enemy. They really aren’t. Although they didn’t like having to wait, my teachers became my advocates when I was transparent in my appointments. I was fair. I communicated and let them know when to expect me to come and how many hours of work were ahead of them.

I also shared with the principal how many hours of work I had to do and continued to say

“We can get through this backlog by paying ___ a rate of___ / hour for the 20 hours and we can be caught up… at least for a while – but, for now, we are scheduled through the next 4 weeks and counting.”

5 – Turn Leaders into Advocates
Listen quickly, respond slowly. If you can only read one book, read the Influencer by Kerry Patterson et. al. and find your formal leaders AND opinion leaders. Make time for them. Be open and communicate. Don’t make this a “personal war” between you and certain people but work hard to see it from their side of things.

6- Set Limits
Look realistically at how much time you can be at the job. IT support is a time suck.

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