Program Strategies – Introduction
Over the past several weeks, I have been reviewing the current technology policies and practices used by the various schools in the district I was assigned to. I have observed the technology programs in action, spoken at length with various members of staff and administration and familiarized myself with the resources that are available. It is my opinion, as the technology administrator, that we must implement a comprehensive, district-wide overhaul of these current policies and practices if we are to produce a student body with the skills required to thrive in the current, and future, economic environment.
I have also understood that the reporting structure is lacking behind and there are conflicts related to power which I have to technically address without overstepping my bounds and also ensuring that all who report to me are effectively taken into consideration and I ensure all my tasks are carried out appropriately.
I recognize that such sweeping change will not be immediately embraced by all those involved in the process. This resistance is a natural part of the evolutionary cycle of education policies. The following presentation is designed to outline plans to minimize staff and administrative conflicts; and ensure total, district-wide commitment to whatever changes are approved.
Strategies For Promoting Innovative Solutions To The Stakeholders
In order to understand which changes must be made; we must first understand the current state of the district’s culture. The district is extremely fragmented. There is no standardization on who is responsible for technology integration in the schools, nor is there any standard of skill requirements to determine who is responsible for all operations. There is no communication between the responsible staff. Their reporting structure is unclear, at best, and varies wildly from school to school. In addition, the morale of many of the staff members is low; with many expressing doubts that any of these tasks can be accomplished.
If we are to be successful in this endeavor, we must create a new culture within the district. This culture must be dedicated to rewarding innovative thinking. We must create an environment whereby all members of the district are introduced to, and embraced by the creative culture. Innovation and creativity should be part of the entire development process. All staff and administrators are required to meet certain professional development standards every year. If we are to foster a creative environment, then this must be a standard they are expected to develop. This means including creativity training as one of the regularly scheduled development programs.
Creativity and innovation must be included on every employees’ end of year evaluation, and it would ideally be tied to compensation. For example, the current high school technology administrator has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience with Windows systems. This is an extremely valuable skill and should be acknowledged as such. At the same time, he has fallen behind on his understanding of current Windows technology. We must provide him with sufficient training to update his knowledge base, while stressing his value in the program. He is an invaluable resource and should be tapped at every opportunity. However, if he is unwilling to adapt to the new environment, we must be prepared to take steps to find an administrator who will. Additionally, staff members who display skills in this area should be given greater autonomy within the system. This is a reward in which all employees value.
We should also create an outlet for developing new and innovative ideas within the district. This provides an outlet for all employees to contribute their ideas and quotas. These creative ideas must have a structure in which to develop and even thrive. Finally, we must recruit for creativity. When introducing new members to our culture, we must focus on finding those who will add the greatest value in this area. Doing so will solidify the new environment we seek to foster.
Furthermore, it is very important to introduce staff training for all the stakeholders involved in this process. As the technology administrator, it is my responsibility to invite other experts from various technology fields to address detrimental issues, reducing the quality operations of these staff and to effectively expose all stakeholders concerned with the current technology trend so they are well equipped with information from a wide mixture of technology skills related to their impartation delivery. This will help improve their skills and make them realize their shortcomings.
These procedures will serve a few different functions. First, it will create an environment where staff and administrators feel free to be creative in their daily work. Secondly, as we become known for our creative culture, we will become a district of choice for those job seekers who thrive in such an environment. Finally, these changes can be adopted at a minimal cost to the district, as budgetary concerns are a high priority. They will seek us out, bolster our ranks, and bring even more creativity into the fold.
Building Commitment and Buy-in.
As it currently stands, there are very few commitments, or indeed interests, in creating a unified culture. Those responsible are extremely protective of their own areas and specialization and show little desire to work together. There are many conflicts within the groups, conflicts that hinder progress. These attitudes and behaviors are a hindrance to success and must be eliminated.
The first thing we must do is to implement the strategies that will create the culture of creativity and innovation. This culture is designed to promote commitment, by showcasing the value of creativity. We must also ensure that stakeholders understand the practical value of the policies we plan to initiate. For example, schools currently transfer records between one another via DVDs. These DVDs are hand delivered by a member of staff. This practice is an inordinately inefficient method for transferring records. There is a tremendous cost of manpower; including an employee whose essential function is just to input this data. In addition, it comes with a serious risk of records being lost, stolen or damaged. Somewhere in the district is an employee with the solution to this problem. The district must have policies in place to ensure that employee will be heard and rewarded for his or her innovation. Not only will it save the district time and money, it will increase the staff’s commitment to the new direction.
Furthermore, we must foster an environment in which stakeholders are provided with as many choices as logistically possible. Providing staff and administrators with the chance to express their autonomy in some of the small, day-to-day decisions is an extremely effective way of encouraging them to buy into those larger policies that they are mandated to follow. We must be prepared to allow as much flexibility as possible. As a supplement to this, we must provide forums for all voices to be heard while establishing the new policies. People are far more likely to commit to a course of action when they feel they have had a hand in deciding that course. They are far more likely to rebel when those policies appear to be dictated descending from on high.
Additionally, it is also necessary to ask the right questions in the right way. Passion is what is most important for creativity. Everyone has individual differences and we’re all specialized in a particular innovation. The key is to ask them what they need to be more effective to perform their roles in the school. As a result of their response, their participation will provide understanding into how they can be committed to their various tasks and even the school. A positive action from those in authority will help foster good communication within these staff and asking the right questions will make things happen positively.
Our teachers, principals and support staff will be the ones implementing these technology policies every day. We must be certain that they know they are an integral part of those policies. Providing them with a sense of ownership will ensure they are as committed as we are to the future.
Overcoming Obstacles with Competing Sources of Power.
In any culture, there will be competing sources of power which must be addressed. In this case, we have a district in which those responsible for technology implementation come from many different levels of the district. They often report to individuals who also have their own power struggles, which prevents them from working successfully together.
Again, the key to managing such scenarios is building the correct culture. In a creative culture, it is not the individual with the highest title, but rather the individual with the most creative solution that holds weight in any conversation. This environment must be continually reinforced for it to be effective. At the same time, there must be a final arbiter. In order for any system to be effective, the structure of authority must be clearly established. Power struggles generally tend to happen in the absence of a definitive authority figure. To prevent this, all involved must be very aware of who has the final say. In order to successfully implement the changes necessary, the authority for all final decisions regarding the technology program must fall to me. This will alleviate many of the power struggles that currently plague the system.
Principals, understandably are hesitant to cede power over their employees, will be routinely consulted and advised of the situations. They will also be given a certain degree of day-to-day autonomy in the implementation of the program. They will be encouraged to provide creative solutions to issues that arise. Their authority must be respected and acknowledged at all times, and their value in the process must be stressed.
Conflict Management Strategies
In any organization, conflicts will arise. The key to a successful organization is how it deals with such conflict, most especially when tasks or projects involve a group of people. Today, due to the fragmented nature of the technology program, there are virtually no successful strategies in place to deal with these conflicts.
In the culture we are creating, we must be prepared to have very clear methods for dealing with conflicts. The policies and procedures must be clearly established. This eliminates uncertainties which can threaten to exacerbate the situation. There must be a procedure by which conflicts can be resolved quickly, in an environment free of blame or recriminations. Conflicts easily resolved on the first day can often be insurmountable two weeks later. It is crucial that anyone involved in a conflict knows the exact procedure for seeking a solution, while also being comfortable with the arena in which that conflict will be resolved. There should always be a disinterested third party the aggrieved can turn to. Leaders in any building should have extensive training in conflict management. The environment should be one in which the focus is on the present moment, rather than past injustices. Each party must feel as if his or her concerns have been heard and addressed. Generally, situations can be significantly diffused simply by listening, closely and actively, to all parties involved.
Once the conflicts have been addressed, and the parties have been heard from, a system must be in place for resolutions. The resolutions to these conflicts must be amenable to both parties involved. The key to producing a satisfactory conclusion to any conflict is to ensure that both parties feel they were given the respect and attention they deserve. Therefore, the major conflict strategies to handle these issues include the collaborating and the accommodating conflict management strategies, though wisdom must be applied using these strategies, but these strategies are not totally appropriate for all conflicts that may be encountered.
Personal Reflections on Leadership Style.
The purpose of this project is a radical shift in the current culture surrounding technology in this school district. There are many parties involved in this shift, with many competing agendas and ideas about how best to perform their tasks. This can be potentially disastrous, creating a very counterproductive situation if it is not approached with the proper mindset.
Obviously, a laisseiz-fair style of leadership cannot possibly succeed in such an environment. The current system has no centralized authority, and it has proven ineffective in engaging technology to anything close to its fullest potential. Meanwhile, an authoritarian approach would fail to significantly increase anyone’s buy-in to the new system. Such a system would generate a great deal of resentment, and discourage staff from lending their full support. This paradigm shift in cultural values requires that everyone involved be heavily invested. The only way to successfully make this possible is to ensure that everyone involved feel respected and empowered. As such, I would absolutely adopt a democratic style of leadership. This style includes every member of the organization, while providing enough structure that everyone is aware of their roles and duties.
The entirety of my strategy is designed with the goal of maximizing each person’s commitment and involvement in this project. By utilizing a very defined structure, I believe I will be able to minimize tensions and power struggles. Everyone should be working toward the same goal – the goal of better integrating technology into our educational practices. I have worked hard to maximize buy-in from the very start of the project. Every member of the team has been given clearly defined reasons to be committed to the new policies. Their voices are heard on a regular basis. As the spearhead of this movement, it is my duty to exhibit the best practices I espouse at all times.
Another key to my process is to maximize effective communication.One of the key issues in this scenario is the lack of proper communication. This barrier can be alleviated first by ensuring there is a clear, centralized voice that all parties can and must communicate with. In this case, that voice would be mine. Additionally, clear procedures must be established to encourage communication between various schools of various levels. I would ensure that technology coordinators had frequent opportunities for communication. I would establish meetings in which they could review such aspects as progress made, issues faced and solutions discovered. The culture I am building is one of full and open collaboration. That collaboration would be considered the lynchpin to this program’s success.
Different types of conflict call for different approaches to resolution. Task and process conflict, for example, can actually be beneficial in moderation. Disagreements on how tasks can and should be completed can lead to new and innovative solutions. An example would be addressing the question of how we can create a standardized system when schools operate Macintosh, Linux and Windows-based systems, sometimes all in the same building. The ideal situation is to provide technology specialists a forum to discuss how to solve this issue. There would be a great deal of process and task conflict in this situation. However, it is that very conflict that would likely produce the best solutions. Because the group solved the conflict together, in a positive way, we would have the added benefit of increasing their buy-in to the solution. That being said, these types of conflicts should be managed closely, because they have the potential to turn into deeper, more destructive conflicts.
The negative conflicts, such as relationship or behavior, require a much more aggressive intervention. In these cases, the parties involved in the conflict must be presented with clearly defined procedures for solving the issues. Each member of the party must be given the respect he or she deserves. The conflict must be addressed directly, without judgment, and given the opportunity to find a resolution both parties are amenable to. If there is a definitely wronged party, as is often the case with behavior, conflict, the aggressor must be dealt with in a fair, but clear way. The behaviors that lead to unnecessary and destructive conflicts cannot be tolerated. All policies enacted by the organization must have the ultimate goal of fostering collaboration and creativity.
The main step I would take to ensure buy-in is to create processes that encourage collaboration. People are most committed to policies they feel they had a hand in creating. I would hold open forums in which all voices are considered equal. Any stakeholder who feels he or she has a constructive contribution will be encouraged to actively participate. Throughout every step of the new program – from establishment,- I would give members of the organization the opportunity to express themselves in an open, non-judgemental way. In the meantime, they would see clear examples of others being rewarded for innovative, and collaborative actions. Those who prove themselves to be valuable contributors, willing to develop themselves and their ideas in creative ways, will be given greater autonomy to perform their duties. They will be held up as standards for others to emulate. At the same time, I would ensure each member of the organization are aware of their value to the enterprise. There would routinely be opportunities to share their experiences and ideas, and a very clear support structure for them to rely on.
The current organization of this district’s technology assets is a quagmire of disorganization and disarray. There is a distinct lack of communication as well as no central authority providing universal standards or procedures. As a result, the tremendous potential of technology to improve education is being wasted. However, it does not need to be this way. By changing the culture, by fostering a culture of creativity and communication, this organization has the potential to create an educational environment that will produce citizens who are ready to excel in the new, modern age. By establishing an open, collaborative organization that rewards innovation over all, this district has the potential to become a shining light for others to emulate.
Furthermore, as a leader, I must be adaptive to those who have to report to me, listen to where there needs to be a fix and ensure the roles I’m to perform as the technology administration is duly performed effectively. I must also ensure that all hands are on deck for the success of the project. I must also ensure I’m fully equipped with all necessary information to guide every member of the staff in the course of action.