Talking Tech with Leaders: Getting Buy-In and Understanding

By Abram, Stephen | Multimedia & Internet@Schools, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Talking Tech with Leaders: Getting Buy-In and Understanding


Abram, Stephen, Multimedia & Internet@Schools


HOW well are you faring with getting your technology agenda endorsed and funded by your management team or district? Is everything going swimmingly? No one is trying to block useful applications such as YouTube or blogging? Your filters aren't obstructing useful teaching technologies? Is there a conversation gulf between your IT group, your district teachers, and library folk? Or not? From my conversations with many K-12 folks, I hazard a guess that this is the management challenge of our times.

How is technology having an impact in the whole school? How are your technology strategies, frameworks, and infrastructures having a positive impact on how learners succeed? Are they empowered to do their homework successfully? What's your environment like? Can you say with confidence that technology seamlessly bridges the school-to-home gap and enhances the education and learning strategies in your school?

This is an important part of our strategy. I thought I'd devote this month's column to tactics and strategies for talking about tech with management--those key stakeholders, such as principals, board members, trustees, administrators, and even parents.

SOME KEY PRINCIPLES FOR TALKING TO MANAGEMENT:

1. Management has very little socalled "spare" time--just like you.

2. Management cannot easily make time to read a long report, absorb the key points, and make the connections to overall priorities and strategies.

3. Management often has different communication and learning styles than those that are found in teachers, librarians, and systems folk.

SOME KEY TACTICS

1. Use powerful vocabulary. Action verbs are more powerful than other verbs. Avoid jargon--especially product names and systems and library jargon.

2. Couch the message in terms that they care about. WIIFT--what's in it for them?

3. Don't be defensive. You're not defending the school library or technology. You're building support for a vision and trying to influence priorities.

4. Don't focus on money and budget increases or cuts. Focus on priorities that connect to institutional mandates, objectives, missions, and visions. Money follows priority strategies.

5. Focus on measurements, not statistics; impact, not effort; outcomes, not processes. Money and strategy follow a successful vision that engages.

GETTING THE RESEARCH YOU NEED

There are some key things that are worth doing, and there are some things that should maybe be avoided in tough economic situations. For example the megaproject research study might be appropriate for academic support but may overreach in a school district setting. Partnering might help reduce costs. Smaller studies might give you just the measurement or sound bite you need to influence management. Try these methodologies on a smaller scale:

* Sampling

* Literature search (Why reinvent the wheel?)

* Analysis of student footnotes and bibliographies

* Case studies

* Small focus groups

* Critical incident research

* Keystroke tracking

* Web analytics

I particularly like critical incident research as a simpler way of taking the pulse in a dynamically changing environment. You ask folks (teachers, students, etc.) to think back to the last time they needed something important. Then you evaluate if they were successful in having that need met and if they made the best choices. I call this "when it matters" research. Can you collect stories using this method to show the need for an increased focus on web research, print balance, and all the various emerging literacies made more critical by the evolving web?

Either way, it's good to get your act in order. Spread the wealth, and collect your war room as a team. Share a Delicious or Zotero research link group. Add everything to a Ning community. Empower yourselves to find and know enough, and have it at your fingertips for followthrough. …

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