I’m confident that what Morrison learned in Pittsburg is playing out across the country. There’s a bond created when a team of people go through a hard time together and what we’ve learned during this pandemic is that the social and emotional needs of a district needs to include their staff as well as students. Adding Nele’s insights to my 30-year history in edtech, here’s some thoughts about where we are from an IT perspective and what might be considered for the future.
Restate and revise district digital strategies. Schools have disaster plans, clear chains of command, and a format for backing up vital district data, but how did it go? Was the IT team able to handle the burden or were there gaps in the plan? Is the insurance sufficient for the devices? What about helpdesk policies?
Now is the time to work with IT staff on revising policies and procedures governing the district’s digital strategy. New computers, cameras, power supplies and other hardware were acquired quickly in a mad dash to supply students and teachers with what they needed. North Carolina’s Wake County school district spent $48 million on new hardware. Chicago Public Schools added 100,000 laptops in December 2021, in the expectation that students would be learning remotely when they returned from the winter break.
Aside from the benefits of simply having an updated digital plan, one bonus of this thorough review is that a revised and clearly articulated plan conveys a sense of order. Having order is one important way to help staff not feel overwhelmed by what they’ve just experienced.
Review the software tools in use to run the district’s technology. Implementing any new software always involves several layers of complexity, especially at large districts, but this might be the time to migrate to new software. Districts report a dramatic increase in help desk requests so consider investing in a knowledge base or project management software. The Project Management Institute has terrific training and resources for researching software to manage school technology, manage security threats, or run helpdesks. On the classroom side, there are cloud-based or network solutions for classroom management, portfolios, and gradebooks to name just a few.
It’s likely that teachers themselves grabbed software in the scramble to go online back in March 2020. Take a survey of their favorites and, if the district hasn’t purchased a license, these tools might be worth making available to all the schools On the other hand, if these tools don’t work for the whole district, it might be best to discuss with staff whether they want to keep using them.
Consider how to support new audiences. IT staff have always had to be network engineers while supporting teachers, and sometimes doing so without having formalized helpdesks. When the pandemic upended things, parents became support staff and tutors to their children. Now that parents have engaged with the school support staff, it is likely they will continue to stay engaged, which might mean adjusting for their increased presence and demands.
There is also the ever present worry that remote learning will return. Some districts are still offering online schools and plan to do so for the long term, and I expect we will see such offerings increase as districts realize the potential for managing these programs themselves rather than outsourcing.
Lastly, realize that there has been a shortage of well-qualified substitute teachers. In New Mexico, the National Guard has been called in to help. This is a good time to look into the support substitutes receive and consider if the existing plan is sufficient.
Recognize that it has been a stressful time. For everybody. Recognize that just like teachers, district IT staff might be tired or overwhelmed if for no other reason than the uncertainty they’ve faced. Personnel departments and sometimes the union has resources to help staff deal with this pressure. Something as basic as emphasizing work breaks, to training and reminders about mental health programs, let your staff know support is available to them – and that it’s okay to ask for help.
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