Big ideas for ed tech leaders: Who’s in charge?

When I was training as an inspector several years ago, I wanted to give one teacher the benefit of the doubt. Her room was set out in an L shape, so the only way all the pupils could see the whiteboard was by crowding into one small part of the room. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, the lighting was such that it was hard to see the whiteboard because of the light from the window beaming on to it. There were, of course, no blinds. And this lady must have done something pretty awful in a past life for this to happen while inspectors were observing her lesson, but to cap it all there were road works going on outside so you could hardly hear yourself think.

I felt sorry for her and so wanted to give her the equivalent of an “average” grade, based on what she might have been able to achieve with the pupils had circumstances been different. The inspector training me would hear none of it.

“Who’s in charge of her lesson?”, he asked me.

“Well, she is, but – “

“No ‘buts’ about it.”

“Yes, but she can’t help the shape of the room, or the light, or the noise, can she?” I said

“No, but she is the person in charge, so it’s up to her to adapt to the situation in a way that ensure the kids will still learn.”

It’s a tough thing to say, but on reflection I think he was right. At what point do you say, “OK, this is my responsibility now.”?

Unless you’re fortunate enough to be able to have carte blanche over the design of your school, your technology budget, how Computing or ICT is taught, and who teaches is, you are going to be the inheritor of someone else’s legacy. There’s a honeymoon period, when you first take on a role of Head of ICT or similar, when you can do no wrong because everyone knows that you can’t be blamed for anything that existed from before you arrived. And every reasonable person knows that it takes time to effect all the changes that might be needed. But there does come a time when, despite all the problems, lack of support and so on, or whatever your particular situation is, when you have to ask “Who’s in charge?”.

Once you have given the only answer you can – “I am” – then you can start to plan for, and make, changes. If you are prevented from making the sweeping changes you would like to, then make small ones. In the end, it all counts, and probably does make a difference, even if you can’t see it on a day to day basis. You know the old saw, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Well, sometimes the single step is simply saying “It’s down to me: I’m the one in charge.”

This post was inspired by a football discussion I was listening to. One of the interviewees said, “He [the club manager] has been there long enough to have turned things around. There’s a limit to how long you can keep on blaming various predecessors.”

cross-posted at

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant with over 35 years of experience in education. He publishes the ICT in Education website and the newsletter “Digital Education."