4 lessons for IT professionals from a technically skilled teacher

People must be effective educators to be effective technology leaders.

Matthew Arnold, a high school teacher in Fergus, Ontario

Photo provided by Matthew Arnold

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Matthew Arnold, a teacher at the Center Wellington District High School, in Fergus, Ontario, works in a school system that was an early application of Google tools such as tablets, Chromebooks, Google Classroom and G Suite for Education. Arnold works with various students. Some students live with learning challenges. Many are people who have not done “school” well historically. And some have heard the words “sit” or “sit still” or “be quiet” too often from people in positions of authority or power.

When Arnold describes how he serves students, he sounds like an effective IT leader. “They need to know that their success is up to them – and that I am here to listen and help them succeed.” That feeling penetrated our hour-long conversation while he talked about the role that technology plays in his contacts with students and colleagues.

SEE: G Suite: tips and tricks for business professionals (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Prepare hardware and software

Students can take a Chromebook out of a cart when they enter Arnold’s classroom. They switch on and log in with their school-issued G Suite account to access Google Classroom and all G Suite apps. Many teachers at school also use Classroom to assign, evaluate and follow student work.

But Arnold does not assume that students know how to use Google Classroom – he takes the time to ensure that students know how to “go to the Classroom tab that gives them access to their work.”

For students who want to work from their own device, often a telephone, he also makes sure that they install the apps they need. This may mean that Google Drive, Google Classroom and G Suite apps, as well as Google Docs, Calendar and Keep must be installed on an Android or iOS device.

The last two apps, Agenda and Keep, are especially important. “Outside of school, students need to know how to keep track of appointments and manage a to-do list. Keep and Agenda are tools that they can use for free throughout their lives.”

Arnold also discusses choices and institutions with students. “So many apps turn on notifications by default. That can be distracting, especially when they get a notification for every Snapchat or text. We discuss what’s important to them and turn off notifications from many apps.” This approach, called targeted device use, is a mantra of the entire Student Success team.

Focus on “What has been done?” and “What is the next step?”

Arnold follows every important part of the current project on the blackboard; of course he also keeps track of the work in Google Classroom. But the tangible state of progress before a student leaves the room, combined with the digital monitoring of that progress, reinforces the focus on forward movement. After a student has recorded the progress on the blackboard, they can take a photo to refer to later. Practice includes the core of almost every advanced modern management technique: “What happened? What is next?”

Classroom videos that are placed on a YouTube channel also allow each student to learn at their own pace. And using YouTube gives students a glimpse of how they can use social media in a positive way.

Does a computer or tool not work? Do not panic. Pause.

Arnold also learns the value of a break. For various reasons, he has noticed that many students become impatient with a computer or tool that does not respond immediately. He teaches them a few tactics to deal with that frustrating feeling.

First, “if a system doesn’t respond,” he says, “don’t panic.” (Yes, he is a hitchhiker guide for the Galaxy fan.) “Don’t talk to the keys,” he says. “Move your hands off the keyboard, hold them in the air, look at the clock and wait 10 seconds. If it still doesn’t work, turn your Chromebook off and then on again and try again.” This works partly because Chromebooks restart so quickly.

Arnold also works with students to apply the same strategy to other aspects of life. “If you get a Snapchat or message that drives you crazy, stop. Pause. Wait. Take your hands off your device and keep them in the air for 10 seconds. Don’t forget that you don’t have to respond right away.”

That is the pause that we must all remember: put the device down, wait and then choose how you want to respond carefully.

SEE: How to manage work stress: a guide for IT leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Give people priority over process optimization

Arnold also told me a story that indicates how serious he is about learning. At Upper Grand, teachers recommend students to be recognized for various achievements. Historically, that meant long meetings filled with teachers who spoke (a lot) about why a certain student deserved recognition.

Arnold thought that these long meetings seemed like a problem that could be solved better with a more efficient process. Like most analytical, results-oriented people who don’t like meetings, Arnold identified a potential process improvement.

So he built a system. People can fill out a Google form with a handy selection list to choose the recognition category and type in a few short fields for recognition reasons. The Google form would give everyone easy access to any recommendation in a spreadsheet. And less time would be spent on meetings.

But Arnold had forgotten an important fact: people wanted a forum, not a form. The process-efficient Google form prevented people from talking. Much of what people liked about the process was the opportunity to tell colleagues success stories about a student. The “time-saving” form eliminated the very human part of the process, which we know other people are listening to and talking about something that matters. The form is retained – as well as discussions during meetings. And Arnold continues to listen and think about ways technology can help people.

Your experience?

Which learning experience has had the most influence on how you approach or use technology? Has a certain lesson been learned? Has a work experience led you to think about machine efficiency and human development and effectiveness? Let me know your thoughts and experiences, either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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