Mar 27 2013

Focus on People, Not Products

When building an IT support structure for schools, remember that it’s always about the teachers and students.

IT professionals working in a K–12 environment walk a very fine line. We must show compassion for the unique needs of educators and ­students while at the same time meeting best practices in the field. When necessary, we must modify those practices so that ­educational needs and school ­culture are respected and served most effectively.

At Lausanne Collegiate School, an independent, pre-K–12 school of 852 students in Memphis, Tenn., our IT support team strives to meet the needs of the community by blending the enterprise and consumer worlds and by creating a hybrid ­environment in which coexistence prevails and the curriculum drives technology decisions.

IT personnel working to integrate new technology in their district's classrooms should remember these best practices for supporting the teachers and students who will be using that technology.

Strive for a Successful Integration

Don't whitewash or sterilize your IT program by using terms such as "end user" or "consumer" to describe the people you serve.

Remember that a teacher is not only your client and your responsibility, but also a user who is attempting to implement the tools you've made available to differentiate a lesson for a classroom full of students. Teachers will try repeatedly to make a tool work, but if the IT staff establishes security and other policies that are too complex, the integration of that particular technology in the classroom will fail.

At Lausanne, we keep solutions simple — not because teachers aren't capable, but because technology is not and should not be the primary issue in the classroom. When it ­becomes the primary issue, teachers will turn to their backup plan, which likely won't include the systems in which you've invested.

To make classroom integration successful, eliminate the speed bumps that could hinder that process. Look for simple collaboration systems. If teachers and students must jump through a lot of hoops in order to use a tool effectively, they won't use it.

Support Curricular Goals and Vision

Teachers face the unending task of inspiring dozens of students daily. But students aren't inspired equally. Some are excited by new books, while others are drawn to video, or building robots, or drawing pictures or designing websites. Keeping all of these students engaged ­simultaneously is an idealistic — ­perhaps unattainable ­— goal, but teachers make their living from turning idealism into reality.

IT support staff have a respon­sibility to help ensure that these goals can come to fruition. By stretching the boundaries of what's available and what's possible, we help to provide the means by which teachers' inspiration can flourish.

Make Sense of the Machines

The line between consumer and ­enterprise technologies continues to blur, making it increasingly difficult for district IT staff to manage devices safely and effectively without ­compromising users' teaching and ­learning needs. It often feels, in fact, like we're whittling down square pegs to fit into round holes to make corporate or enterprise solutions work in our schools.

The support staff must mediate the complex enterprise world and the hybrid world that education ­demands. To make the process easier, IT personnel should spend time in classrooms and actually experience the technology in use. Having the latest and greatest technology doesn't mean a thing if it doesn't fulfill teachers' and students' needs.

Own the Problems

It's easy to put the blame on ­technology — it can't argue back — but in the end, it's the IT department's responsibility to ensure that all ­systems perform as designed and enhance the educational experience.

The technology should be transparent, but if it fails or hinders the ability of the teacher or student to work, then it becomes our failure. We need to be vigilant in monitoring the problems that exist and work to overcome them as quickly as possible. Don't dismiss a teacher's complaint that the Internet is running slowly. Instead, visit the teacher in the ­classroom to see what he or she is experiencing. Chances are, a simple solution can be found. But that can't happen if we don't take ownership of the problem in the first place.

As anyone who has ever been in a classroom can attest, learning is organized chaos. A teacher works from every available source and ­inspires students to reach for the stars. The IT support staff's job is to provide the tools that teachers need to bring order to the chaos while also protecting the security and sanctity of the networks on which those tools run.

Massive server racks with rows of glittering LEDs and thousands of feet of cabling can't define a community. Rather, they must support it. To ­ensure the success of the programs we have worked hard to build and secure, we also must ensure that we're meeting the needs of the community we were hired to support.

Learn by Doing

The Lausanne Learning Institute is an international think tank for schools. Created and hosted by the Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn., the Lausanne Learning Institute offers more than 200 breakout sessions — from hands-on events to lectures, discussions and networking. Conference ­sessions meet the needs of educators, administrators, technology integrationists, technology support personnel and more.

This year's Institute, to be held July 14–17, will include "Pedagogy and Practice," a new event that's designed to assist school leaders and teachers in many aspects of independent school frameworks. For information, visit

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