When iPad support dwindles
Imagine the following scenario: you are an English teacher who is on the senior leadership team at a large secondary school. You have been chosen to lead the iPad project that will see every department have access to devices. A few weeks into the project, the English department come to you saying they do not see the value of the iPad in their lessons. They cannot find any useful apps; students are more distracted than previously and they want to stop using the iPad in their department.
As easily as that, you now find yourself caught in a no-win situation. You cannot agree for them to abandon their iPads, as that would open the floodgates for other departments to do the same, but neither can you send them away to figure things out alone as they are confessing they need further support.
What will do you to get more support?
More often than not the result is that the project leader has to figure out ways that the department in question can use their iPads. Now imagine that same scenario but with two or three departments at once. Any additional time you had spare is now gone! The key to solving this problem is to have a strategic team in place that you can call on for support.
Find a Project Leader
Let us re-run that same scenario, but this time you have an enthusiastic English teacher in your strategic team representing the interests of that department. When the English department approaches you with their struggles you can now call upon the teacher from your strategic team. You sit them down, explain the situation and offer them the chance to really run with the technology to further English. They can liaise with all staff in science, learning what the ‘pain points’ (why teachers are struggling with iPads) are and how they can be solved, collating new ideas and sharing best practice in the department.
They can also offer to be the ‘go-to’ resource for anyone in the science department when they need that little bit of extra support. Best of all, they can share all their good work from English with the rest of the teachers on the strategic team, creating collaboration and idea generation across departments and subject areas. I have met many schools who believe they cannot get their staff to do these ‘above and beyond’ duties without paying them to, but you would be surprised by what really motivates people. Every school I have worked with developing strategic teams has had plenty of voluntary candidates coming forward.
But remember, a Project Leader is strategic thinker, not a problem solver.
Unfortunately, the first scenario in which the project leader does it all is the current norm across the UK, and too few schools embrace the strategic team concept. Project leaders end up taking on a ‘firefighting’ role, putting out iPad-shaped fires and resolving problems, niggles and complaints each and every time they appear.
Let me be clear: the project leader’s primary role is to be the strategic thinker, not the problem solver. There are real key questions to be answered when starting an iPad project that every school must satisfy:
- Which subjects and departments should the iPad be adopted in first?
- How will teachers be supported in developing the new skills required to ensure the iPad is beneficial in the classroom?
- What would the ideal use of the iPad be in the hands of students, and what new tasks and activities does the iPad offer that will benefit them most?
- If you do not have a strategic team in place, how will you satisfy these questions when challenges occur?
This is the biggest reason you need to make it a priority to develop a strategic team that will support your role and the development of the project. Once the team is in place they should assume some of the responsibilities associated with the project. Always remember that the role of the project leader is to achieve the vision. If you spend your time on day-to-day challenges, such as apps or classroom behaviour, you will quickly find you are out of time for the important stuff. iPad projects take on a life of their own, so be prepared to deal with the challenges yours will throw at you.
Generally, you should have no more than ten members on your team. Once you surpass this number, it becomes difficult to maintain high-quality meetings. If there is a reason you must have more than this number then consider creating a 2nd or sub-team. There are three types of teachers in schools when it comes to technology use, and understanding the pros and cons of each will allow you to pick your strongest team.
Building a team that works
With your strategic team in place, it is time to ensure it fulfils its potential. The first thing to do is to appoint one person to chair the team. Your chair will have several responsibilities, including chairing meetings, taking votes and deciding on key actions. It is essential that the chair has this level of responsibility because it gives your team a solid function and takes the pressure off you to manage the day-to-day issues of the project. I meet countless schools with committees of individuals on an equal par. They have no responsibility or authority to make decisions, which means that when challenges arise, frustrated staff turn to the project leader. This leaves the project leader overwhelmed with a long list of jobs they never get to the bottom of, and defeats the object of creating a strategic team in the first place!
Appoint a Chairperson
Appointing a chairperson will ensure that meetings remain focused on outcomes and actions, and removes the possibility of hours spent in directionless conversations that end up nowhere. It can be very difficult to agree on a course of action if no one around the table holds any authority to even chair the discussion. So, save that headache and have a strategic team chairperson.
The added benefit of a chairperson is that it offers less senior staff the chance to use their leadership and decision-making skills. This can be a huge incentive for staff who are looking for a challenge beyond their current role.
It is wise to rotate the chairperson of the team periodically so that this motivator is available to all on the team. Your staff’s strengths can often lie in undiscovered areas. One of the hidden benefits of many successful iPad projects is its ability to bolster staff retention, with plenty of extra responsibility up for grabs. A lack of career progression often leads ambitious staff to leave and in a climate with a national teacher shortage looming, the prospect of retaining talented staff should persuade any headteacher to allocate a little bit of extra authority!
To liven things up, offer team members the opportunity to throw their hat in the ring with a short presentation on why they should be elected, and then take a vote. It can be the team’s first decision together and may start to bring them closer as a collective. In some staffrooms, the thought of appointing a New Qualified Teacher (NQT) as chairperson might rock the boat, so encourage all team members to put themselves up for the role and then put it to a vote. You will demonstrate the possibility that less senior staff can take on important roles and at the same time remove yourself from any potential controversy by making it a democratic decision.
Now that your team is on its way to having its first elected leader, it is time to draw up the objectives that they should begin working towards. These should be general, encompassing objectives from which the team will act upon and further define. Successful teams have the following key objectives:
- To facilitate the sharing of best practice
- To investigate and innovate new ideas for how to use the iPad for learning
- To support the teaching body as they adopt the iPad
With objectives defined, you will need to designate a regular meeting place for your team at scheduled times. Your job is to remove as many barriers for them to reach their objectives as possible, and a good place to start is to find them a reliable meeting spot.
Next, schedule a regular catch up with the team at set intervals.
It may not always be possible to attend all meetings, so from the outset manage their expectations that this may be the case. The timeframe is at your discretion. I have seen strategic teams meet up weekly and others who catch up once per month. There was little difference in what both accomplished; the key was the quality of their meetings. To ensure high-quality meetings, develop a set format yourself but allow it to be open for innovation from the team as time progresses.
It should include discussions around some of the following elements:
- Presentation of new ideas/apps/workflows for the group
- Discussion of ideas that have been piloted in lessons/departments
- Updates on department use. i.e. who is doing well and why, and who may need additional support
- Collective decisions on resolving problems and challenges that have been flagged by teachers
- The development of learning resources for iPad lessons
There is no right or wrong format for these meetings to follow. The only cast-iron rule is that they must not descend into moan-a-thons or become bogged down by the worries and anxieties around teething problems. They need to remain solution-focused and time-managed. If there are anxieties within the team, schedule time to discuss this towards the end of the agenda, so that emotion does not hijack the meetings. Your team should be developing a positive environment and getting hands on. It should be enjoyable! Ideas and enthusiasm are critical to developing the rest of your staff body.
• Develop a strategic team. Ensure you have representation from all relevant stakeholders around the school in your team to maximise its effectiveness.
• Assign responsibility, resources and expectations. Your strategic team is there to decrease your workload and lead innovation from within the staff body. Allocate responsibility to those who will be leading and have regular check-ins to see how progress is going. Ensure your team has a dedicated area and time in which they can meet and share best practice. Your job is to remove as many obstacles for them as possible.
• Keep your team small, and if necessary create multiple workgroups. Any more than ten members will stifle teamwork and innovation. Smaller teams work better towards innovation as all members have a role to play. There is no space for passengers.
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