DAILY INSIGHT: Returning to the Basics

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

Earlier, I wrote that the little things are important for staff to hear and see. However, apparently either I wasn’t clear enough, or some of my colleagues aren’t taking my advice seriously enough! So, I have to reiterate. Thanks for the forum to rant…. Back to the most basic technology service—communications. Most CIOs are stretched to the limit in schools these days. However, it is more important than ever to communicate and support each other. Sometimes the total lack of responsiveness of some peers drives me nuts.

As a fairly new superintendent, I actually asked another colleague one day why she was calling me for advice on some minor issue. I could think of several other colleagues in the area who probably would have had better advice. She told me that I was about the only one who returned her calls in a timely manner and she had a Board meeting that evening.

Recently, I was speaking with a colleague who is working on becoming a superintendent. I told her that I would help her with that process, assuming that she agreed to my two conditions:

  1. Always be honest with your peers
  2. Return your phone calls and e-mails.

About two days later, I suggested she contact another area superintendent for his thoughts on an issue, and she laughed and reminded me of our deal. The superintendent I suggested she call still hadn’t returned a call from more than a month ago. Similarly, I have waited for weeks or more to get a return call from an IT director or CIO on a given query. This is really unacceptable. As I write this, I am waiting over a week for a return call from another of my colleagues who may simply not know how to access her voice mail messages. However, I suspect she doesn’t need anything from me, so maybe my call isn’t getting returned.

My secretary likes to remind me that I am the only superintendent that she has worked with (she has worked for about eight over the course of her career) that is willing to take parent phone calls and walk ins. She also points out that they usually end up thanking me for speaking with them and leave (or hang up) happy. What I don’t tell her is people simple want to speak to the person in charge and get the information they are seeking or point out their concerns. Rarely are there issues that cannot be solved with a little bit of information giving and time.

So, the first point is respond to your e-mails and phone messages, promptly. The second point is as important. Give accurate information. When I had to hire a principal a couple years ago, I was doing the normal reference checks, but I never was told about the candidate’s inappropriate relationship with another school employee in his then current district. I ultimately learned of that information from one of my Board members, but several of my colleagues were less than honest with me when discussing his qualifications. I had a similar experience lately. In education, our world is already small. Some days, I think that it is not only small but closing in on us. So, it is important that we help each other out and support each other. Please return your messages in any form and give the requesters accurate information.

Probably not the most technology-related topic, but I think anyone in a leadership position needs to communicate to all stakeholders.

P.S. I am taking bets as to whether my phone call to BH gets returned before this gets posted. The smart money will see this posted first.

Steven M. Baule is currently superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning.