DAILY INSIGHT: Watch your language

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

At a meeting some time ago, a librarian made the statement, “I don’t like to read. Reading is too much work.” Of course, having made a commitment to blog for SchoolCIO, I wrote that one down. Not too often do you get a quote like that from someone with an M.L.S. (master’s of library science) behind his or her name! You may already anticipate that this quote was not taken in context, she was actually talking with one of my IT staff about shopping for clothes and not liking to have to read labels in detail. The quote is accurate, I stand by it; however, it was taken entirely out of context.

We need to be careful in the IT world that our words, actions, etc., aren’t taken out of context by end users. When I was a technology director, one of my staff, who managed the e-mail system, would almost always depart from the staff lunch room by saying something like, “Bye for now, I got to get back to reading everyone’s e-mails.” We will call him “Bob” for our purposes. Of course, with more than 1,000 accounts, he couldn’t have done so—even if he tried—and if his supervisor would have tolerated such behavior. However, one of the more technologically intimated teachers overhead his comment and reported it to the principal, who next came to me demanding to know if it were true. Of course, by this time half the staff truly believed Bob was reading all of their e-mails. Bob really never saw the problem with that, but for some, they would never trust members of the IT staff because of that type of comment.

The point is that it is important for IT staff to be careful in how they present themselves and about what they say around other staff. Things can easily be taken out of context and generate mistrust, hurt feelings, or create other non-productive feelings among staff. Be careful about discussing chair/keyboard errors in front of non-technology staff. Technology staff working in schools need to be extra careful to generate positive energies for a number of reasons. The first is that teachers are used to having the answers. They have the answers all day in their classrooms; they know their subjects and are “experts” in their areas. So, when they don’t know the answer they are not just frustrated, they are often uncomfortable as they are in an unfamiliar situation. Secondly, when technology fails for them, it is normally in front of someone else, whether students, parents or peers. This tends to add to their frustrations and concerns about technology. It isn’t a simple issue of not knowing while sitting by themselves in an office; it is having something not work in front of 27 high school juniors. High school juniors tend not to be the most sympathetic audience for technology malfunctions.

Make sure that when you are working with non-technology staff you try to keep the IT staff from dropping into IT slang and remind them to explain things in English (i.e., not tech-speak). This will go a long way to helping the staff embrace technology and have a high opinion of the technology staff. The better the relationship, the more staff will embrace technology use, since they will feel that they have good people they can rely on. Nothing is better on a cold fall day than to get a nice e-mail from a principal praising one of the technology staff for all of his work. Make sure your technology staff remember that they need to be careful in what they say when out in the schools and that they come across wanting to help and not as being “once again interrupted by someone who doesn’t have the tech skills God gave a six year old.” I have seen many good technology staff burn their bridges by not having a good customer-service orientation. Remind staff how important it is to be collaborative and helpful when answering questions and try not to seem bothered or condescending when helping end users.

Good, helpful attitudes and being aware of your surroundings are important skills for technology directors to foster in their technology staff. Otherwise, you might find their comments taken out of contact and posted to a blog.

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