Using ‘The Force’

When the tickets pile up, who will come to save the day? 

GUEST COLUMN | by Eric Schommer 

CREDIT Eric Schommer Saint Monica SchoolBudgets always play a role in choices schools make. Our school is not able to hire a full time tech support staff member but has the technology that needs full time support. We are a preK-8 school with 460 students, 40 staff members, 60 desktops, 120 netbooks, 200 iPads, and 40 laptops. Our classrooms all contain student response systems, Smart boards, Apple TV’s connected to HDMI projectors, Teacher iPads, Teacher Macbook Pro’s, and 7” Galaxy tabs for each teacher’s assistant. We run 9 different operating systems, house 8 servers with over 200 wired connections and a wireless controller that handles access points that permeate 90% of our building as well as 2 other buildings that we wirelessly bridge. Annual as well as monthly professional development assists our school in reducing the amount of training related help desk tickets.  The tickets pile up when pieces of equipment start acting out of the ordinary. That is where our Techie Task Force comes in to save the day.

The Techie Task Force builds confidence, ownership, safety, purpose — and lasting relationships.

Distributive leadership uses the belief that staff members will develop and achieve when given a role in leadership. We have experienced the ownership of leading compels them to achieve far above what they thought capable Those members within the group take pride in their group’s accomplishments. It does not warrant extra pay and in our experience, has not been an issue.

We apply this leadership style to our students in each grade level. We observe the classes and invite those students, who demonstrate the desire to “play with the toys”, to fill out the application. Once accepted, we train them on their grade level break/fix technology, provide a Techie Task Force shirt, and “administrative” level logins for their specific needs. These logins provide them access to the programs and keys necessary for installation as well as control over the antivirus, Java, & Adobe updates. We have a part time technology coordinator for actual network maintenance and repairs. That coordinator trains, supports, and supervises the students and staff on the Techie Task Force.

As a small Catholic school, our tech budget is minimal and our tech staffing is sparse. In order to support all of the new technology while still maintaining budget constraints mandates creativity. Conferences continue to have examples of this type of technology support yet they look different for each school application. Our team (pictured above), consisting of various grade level students and teachers, meets monthly to go over new issues, review recurring issues, and praise each other for jobs well done. We even have a Kindergarten student on the team!

Some classrooms are more in need of support than others. In this case, we supply support tech from other classes that do not need as much intervention. Each classroom has either a teacher or a student that has gone through the training and receives the monthly updates.

So what do the teachers on this team do? Some of them have network privileges that allow them to help with networked printer, Apple TV, and teacher laptop issues. Others have learned how to reset access points that stop responding. One teacher has been taught how to troubleshoot wiring issues and how to punch down or terminate lines if necessary. Several are in charge of iPad updates and configuration. They are all proud of our system and proud of their roles in our building. This team addresses most user error and many easy fix items such as resetting IP addresses, smart board and student response system connections, apple TV connections, and dual display issues. They also address drive issues and internet connectivity.

We provide shirts for all of our tech team participants that can be worn in lieu of their uniform whenever they desire. Certain days of the year are set aside so those participants can be recognized for their duties above and beyond what is expected. It is amazing to see how empowerment enhances ownership. They all want to make sure that our program is the best in the city. This has a lasting impact on the social-emotional development of some students that join.

Several students on the Techie Task Force are not a part of the athletics program or any of the clubs we offer at St. Monica. This opportunity provides them with friends that have the same interests as well as adults that have common goals.

A junior in high school that was a part of our team returned in December to let us know how much the team meant to him. He told us that he did not do anything at school other than school work until he joined our team. For three years, he did not feel like he fit in with students and had no way to engage with the teachers. After joining the team, he felt like he was an important part of the school. He told us that his grades improved and he even started to make friends outside of the group. This student has Asperger’s Syndrome and several peers as well as some adults did not think that he would be able to join groups or participate in activities with his peers. He started a similar club at his current high school last year. The tech director said it was a relief to finally have a team address the daily little things that others could do leaving the main infrastructure to him.

Our school believes strongly in service and support. The Techie Task Force is one demonstration of that belief. All students that want to join will be given the ability to serve. Our school has embraced the use of students and teachers as technical supports in the classroom. Every year they ask, with eagerness in their eyes, if it will continue. The team provides support for our technology in school, support for our peers, and support for the general health of the school’s culture. As we know from experience, the Techie Task Force builds confidence, ownership, safety, purpose — and lasting relationships.

Eric Schommer is St. Monica Catholic School Assistant Principal, Technology Director, and Support Services Director.

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