SMALL SCHOOL CHALLENGES
I recently had the opportunity to hang out with 300 of my Missouri (and surrounding states) K-12 technology friends at the Midwest Tech Talk Conference. The great thing about the conference is that we get to hang out with people in similar positions in similar-sized schools. Missouri — and the Midwest for that matter — has lots of small schools with fewer than 1500 students, and many of the people working school tech in those districts work as a staff of one or two
While making my way from one session to the next, I was snatched out of the hallway by a few techs who told me I was supposed to be moderating a small-school roundtable discussion. I walked into a room full of my dear friends who are the army of one in each of their school districts (most of them serving between 300-1,500 students). And the next 50 or so minutes were full of commiseration and idea-sharing. We talked through joys, challenges and solutions for schools. Even if you’re not a team of one, I think all K-12 techs can glean some wisdom with this overview.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT WORKING IN A SMALL SCHOOL?
My first question to the room was: What do you like most about working in a small school? I sat in amazement, as these overworked and underpaid individuals named off a myriad of reasons they stay in K-12 technology positions. Most of their reasons revolved around relationships with their teachers and their kids. “Helping people find solutions to their problems,” or “no two days are the same,” were some common answers. Even though these professionals are singletons in their districts or schools, they find joy in the work.
WHAT ARE SOME BIG CHALLENGES SMALL SCHOOLS FACE?
My next question: What are the biggest challenges you face as a team of one in K-12 technology? The first and most widely echoed statement: “time.” K-12 technology pros often don’t have the time they need to fulfill all of their jobs. They often resort to cutting corners and working long hours. There’s been a responsibility creep growing over the past three years. Schools are beginning to rely more than ever on computers and other technologies to help students learn, stay safe, communicate and keep records. The list of responsibilities only seems to grow. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of some of the challenges techs listed in the session:
- Lack of funds.
- Policies and external requirements (state mandates, insurance companies, etc.).
- Lack of information-sharing opportunities.
- Lack of professional development opportunities (and lack of time to develop one’s self).
- Cybersecurity risks and not enough staff to review logs, apply patches, etc.
- Ad-hoc processes that small schools follow, including teachers and administrators purchasing technology themselves.
- The top discussed topic: LACK OF TIME AND TOO MANY RESPONSIBILITIES.
With all our dirty laundry aired, we decided to take a few minutes to think through ways to make our positions more sustainable and support each other in the best ways possible. Here’s what we came up with:
- Create local groups of K12techpros to meet with over lunch once a month or quarterly. I host a group of five or six schools’ tech pros at my school monthly. We reach out to a vendor one of us uses and ask if they will sponsor lunch. We spend about two hours together sharing best practices. Our teachers get to meet weekly or monthly like this in their professional learning communities. Why shouldn’t we get to meet as well?
- Don’t be afraid to offload some responsibilities to teachers and librarians. Empower them with the tools to fix basic problems students or teachers might have. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to help with simple tasks. Just be sure you’ve built good relationships with them, and be willing to reward them with a coffee or favorite beverage every once in a while.
- Automate what you can: account creation, helpdesk, rostering. Small automations can pay big dividends for your time in the long run.
- Participate in online communities for K-12 technicians. We at K12TechPro are dedicated to providing some great spaces to share information, whether that be through the K12TechPro Community or on r/k12sysadmin. We see the value in connection with one another and understand that a simple post to the larger community can provide you with answers that will save you countless hours.
- Participate in information-sharing. MS-ISAC is a great example. They will provide you with a digest of important cybersecurity threats. This does the job of distilling all the sources of cybersecurity information you might review.
- Train students for help-desk tasks. In many small schools, this provides students with exposure to the technology field and can offload basic tasks from the team of one. In some schools, a student helpdesk gets auto-assigned tickets that those students have the permissions or privileges to handle — screen repairs, projector bulbs, basic break/fix, etc.
- Use contract labor when it makes sense. It’s possible you might have money in your budget to use contract labor (especially ERATE money) for installs and things like Managed Detection and Response. Remember, YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALL!
For all the K12techpros working as an army of one, my heart goes out to you! I hope you have taken some time to unplug this summer and get all your projects done. As you enter the next school year, remember, even though you are on your own, you’re not alone. This community is here to support you. Cheers to the year ahead!