Tuesday, September 27, 2011

1-to-1 Laptop Learning and Quid Pro Quo

A strange element of our human nature is that we tend to feel that something that has no cost to us must therefore have no value. The legal term quid pro quo means “something for something.” It is the way contracts are usually executed with one party giving something in exchange for what they get.

As our school was considering how we would implement one-to-one laptop learning in our secondary school, our vendor advised us of their previous experience. They cautioned that the districts that asked the least of their students resulted in having the greatest number of student abuses. Those schools that provide laptops to their students at no cost often have big problems with students vandalizing or abusing the school property. They advised us to ask for something from every student.

This was a troubling suggestion. We have a higher rate of poverty than some other area schools. Many of our parents do not have extra petty cash available for another school fee. But we believed the advice we were given--that some students would not value something that was given to them at no cost.

We decided to charge a $25 technology fee for all students who wish to take their computers home each night. The fee is optional and can be waived if a student agrees to return his/her computer to the office after each day of classes. The fee is used to cover the normal wear and tear that happens when teens use school property.

To avoid putting an extra fee on our disadvantaged households, we also allowed for some students to perform school service in lieu of paying our technology fee. Students are allowed to come in before the school year starts and help clean the building or do groundskeeping for four hours in exchange for their laptops. This enables them to avoid the $25 fee, take their laptops home each night, and yet still provide something in exchange for what they are receiving.

We have not had a lot of service volunteers, but the few students who have opted for the school service waiver have been diligent workers who earnestly did their time. As a result, we have experienced very few problems with student vandalism, damage, or abuse. We cannot prove the exchange made the difference, but we believe it is working.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Everyone Knows Who the Boss Is

I heard a horror story from a friend. She was telling her boss when she was planning her vacation and when she would need time off. Her boss expressed concerns about having enough people on staff at any given time--a legitimate concern. However, she also expressed her equally legitimate concern about when her greater family would need her, and he replied, “You will take your vacation when I say because I am the boss!”

Yikes! I have been an administrator for 20 years, and I have served 15 years as a superintendent of schools--the chief executive officer for the board of directors for a public school district. In all that time, I have never had to remind a single staff member that I had executive authority over them. I always felt it was crystal clear to them without any reminders from me.

It must have been a very insecure person indeed to feel so inferior that he had to point out to one of his charges, “Look at me! I am somebody important! And I can tell you what to do!”

The point is this: employees know who the boss is. They know what it means. They generally respect the person in that position, and they often defer to their boss’ ideas.

So as an administrator, you need the feedback of your subordinates and staff to be your most effective. Do you cultivate this? Do you encourage the input of employees? A good boss not only asks for opinions but also compliments dissenting ideas.

When you are attending a team meeting, do you jump into the conversation right away? Do you try to steer the meeting? Or do you hang back and let people bring forth their thoughts before you weigh in? The boss’ opinion can be a sledgehammer at the table. Make sure you use it judiciously.