Matt Townsley’s (@Mctownsley) entry on Loose and Tight Leadership has me thinking about how this applies to technology leadership. In Aligning School Districts as PLCs, the authors discuss how, “Loose and tight leadership is based on the premise that relying exclusively on either a tight “top-down” or a loose “bottom-up” leadership approach is not effective.”
For the purpose of this reflection, I’m going to re-define tight and loose as…
Tight: IT controls most everything, machines are locked down for standardization and cost control. Standardization gives everyone equal access.
Loose: IT provides core services, but doesn’t always control everything, enabling end users to have control to make decisions.
Of course, you’re probably laughing at the thought of “loose” technology. How often do you hear about a district tech team that is too “loose”? Traditionally, IT teams are very much on the ‘tight’ side, wanting to control most everything which eventually causes a rift between classroom and IT needs.
What has West Des Moines Schools done to promote a better mix of tight and loose leadership related to technology?
By no means are we promoting ourselves as the ideal or exemplary scenario of balanced tight/loose technology leadership. We don’t proclaim to have the magic answers, but our tech team has had discussions around this topic over the last few years. We simply want to acknowledge that we believe it’s important and that we are working towards a better balance, including the following…
We treat our wireless as if we’re the largest Panera store in the area. The wireless network is open to anyone and to any wifi device. We see no need to discriminate by device or to restrict certain users. Of course, different users get different rights to internal services – but everyone deserves to use their device of choice and get at least basic Internet access and network shares. In the last few years, we’ve given everyone access to selective internal services including network drives and other internal resources from both school and home. VPN access (remote access to your network drives) has also been available to all students for several years. The premise for all of this – wireless access and network shares are core services that we provide – and whether you access them via linux, mac, pc, personal device or district owned device is irrelevant.
Teacher laptop program……………..
Teachers wanting a district purchased laptop for professional use may take a 15 hour professional development course to receive one. They also receive license renewal credits and may also choose to get graduate credits through Drake University. The key aspect of the program is that teachers are full administrators of their own laptop. Within the first 10 minutes of class, they get to open their equipment right out of the box – no one else has touched it or installed anything. Teachers use a special usb flash drive to “image” or install the standard applications. After that, staff are welcome to install and modify the laptop for their needs. For example, if there’s a new web 2.0 tool that requires a certain plug-in, or a new application they want to test or experiment with, they are welcome to do so. Even simple things like printers – teachers are welcome to select/install the printers that meet their needs. Of course, with all of this comes the concern… why isn’t IT doing this for us? Isn’t this their job? Our program is based on the idea that IT has certain core services they are responsible for – but we need to setup scenarios where staff members have the ability to experiment and innovate with new sofware tools and options. District IT is still responsible for all hardware issues and setting up training and support – but our task has changed from IT controlling the software to enabling users to control the software.
Like many other schools we are also exploring and testing iPads. After initial testing, we decided that it didn’t make sense for IT to control iPads. Classroom teachers wanted the ability to download and test apps on their own – and we saw no need for teachers to contact tech support for something as simple as downloading apps. Our model for our initial roll out of iPads is very similar to our teacher laptops – district IT is responsible for hardware, training and support – but our job is to enable classroom teachers to be able to control the software.
Will classroom teachers eventually become technicians? No… this is not the goal. Instead, we are simply searching for ways to enable and empower staff through a better balance of some technologies being managed “tight” while others are more “loose”. One thing we know for sure, if all technology is locked down, we won’t be encouraging or enabling staff to innovate.