Back To School: Drowning

The first day of school is a time of excitement for many. Parents get to see their children off to another year of learning, development, and, well, supervision (haha). Students get to see friends they’ve missed over summer, meet new friends, and look forward to a bright year ahead, all the while, sporting their best sneakers and clothing and adorned with the new backpack full of fresh colored pencils, gel pens, and a new set of new headphones. 

Meanwhile, the school’s technology department is hunkered down in their office bracing for the wave of tickets, feverishly cranking out devices, credentials, and other peripherals to get students off and learning — because, let’s face it, everyone counts on their tech to be up and running the first day of school. It’s a basic school supply just like the rest of the supplies in the students’ backpacks. And the internet that those devices are connected to — well, that’s a basic utility that everyone expects as well.

While starting school flawlessly has gotten easier in plenty of ways, some things never get less stressful. The first few weeks of school for every K-12 technology department are an exercise in treading water — and sometimes just straight-up drowning until there’s enough of a break for you to surface for air. The following is my reflection on why starting the school year is always so rough on technology departments, with a short list of some ideas to make it less stressful. 

So let’s start with the things that are out of our control, that most definitely make our lives more stressful: 


  • Summer Slide: When teachers all come back at the same time from a two-month employment hiatus, they’re going to forget a few things. In reality, they’ve experienced the same type of summer slide that their students experience when it comes to operating their technology. Staff forget how to make copies and print, they forget passwords, and, most notably, they forget how to put in a ticket. 
  • New Ideas! Along with forgetting about how to do things, teachers have also had a summer to think about all the new things they want to do and implement. This is great, but it creates a lot of stress on tech departments when they have requests coming from multiple directions. 
  • Back-to-School Stress: It is important for technology departments to realize that teachers are often squeezing a lot of planning into the weeks leading up to the start of school. They’ve endured meetings and new trainings, all the while trying to get their classrooms ready. This puts them a little on edge and makes all their requests seem urgent. 


  • Transient Populations: Dealing with students in a school brings about a specific set of challenges that other industries definitely don’t experience. For one, transient student populations make our jobs particularly difficult. Students leave at the end of the school year without telling you they’re leaving, and students enter at the beginning of the school year with little to no notice. This can make resource assignment and account creation a small nightmare. 
  • Student Summer Slide: Students don’t just forget reading and math concepts, they also forget things like passwords and how to operate their technology. 

Lots of things are out of our control, but what can we do to manage some of the chaos and calm the anxiety?

First, before you let the pain of the beginning of the school year wear off, I challenge you to meet with your team and jot down a list of pros and cons from the beginning of your school year. This will give you an opportunity to reflect upon what you believe you did well and need to do again next year, and it will also give you the opportunity to figure out the things that need to be done differently next year. The following are a few recommendations to get your planning for next school year off to a great start. 

  • Review communication plans. Look over your communication plan and figure out ways to best communicate at the beginning of the school year.
    • Create reminder sheets/emails. Recognize that teachers might do well with a concise sheet of reminders for the upcoming school year. Sure, not everyone will read them, but at least you tried — and maybe in some circumstances your efforts can assuage some of the stress of the new school year. To make your sheet, stop and take inventory of the things you know are key to kicking the school year off. Things like:
      • How to connect to a printer.
      • How to reset a password.
      • How to enter a support request.
      • How to connect to the projector.
      • How to roll over classes in a learning management system.
    • Be clear that tickets will be prioritized and acknowledge the requests as they come in. You don’t need to fix everything the first week of school, but you do need to make sure the mission-critical things happen. 
    • Remind teachers and staff of your process for creating new accounts as well as the delay time in getting them set up. If they have a realistic idea of how long it will take, they won’t be bothering you to get the new students set up right away. 
  • Email your future self. Take notes after the beginning of the school year, write down all the things that were stressful, and maybe draft an email to yourself that will remind you of all the things you wish you had done earlier in summer. Schedule that email to send in late May of next year (and maybe another one in late July). This will help you plan your summer accordingly. (e.g. Dear future me, this is you from a year ago. School is about to start and here are the things you tend to forget about, so please take a moment to read my email. I promise it will make your start of school less stressful. Love, past self.)
  • Review calendars. Get a good idea of what the calendar looks like for the beginning of school. This includes teacher work days and other no-fly zones. We often think we have more time than we do during the back-to-school weeks. This leads us to put off things until closer to the start of school — when in reality we don’t have the time. 
  • Review rostering systems. Check over Clever and any other rostering solutions before the school year starts. Make sure they’re running and your students and teachers have the right access to textbooks and e-resources. This will help lift some of the stress of the transient population movement. 
  • Go easy on yourself. Give yourself some grace and take care of the people around you. If you’re running a department, maybe bring in some of your co-workers’ favorite foods or drinks during the beginning of the school year. 

While back-to-school season might not be easy due to some things out of your control, there are a few things you can do to smooth out the rough spots at the beginning of the school year. Hopefully your school year is off to a great start and you have weathered the storm with grace. 

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