It's Ok to Have No New Projects It's Ok to Have No New Projects

It's Ok to Have No New Projects

by Casey Thompson
Casey Thompson Casey Thompson Web & Digital Media Manager
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"You know what? We don’t have any major new initiatives planned this school year. And that’s ok with me.”
That comment, uttered by a district CTO at a conference I attended this spring, was one of the most eye-opening takeaways from a full-day panel discussion. In a world where change drives everything, it was a little surprising to hear a respected authority speak so confidently about his decision to stand pat.
As the conversation continued, one thing became clear: Innovation doesn’t always have to be the answer. Sometimes it’s ok to “just sustain.” Let’s talk about why.

The Sisyphus effect

Like an iron ball chained around your ankle or a boulder being rolled up a hill, the persistent weight of technology-driven change can wear down even the strongest, most passionate education professionals.
How can teachers find time to develop, refine, and reflect on their pedagogy when their non-instructional time is taken up with perpetual training for new apps, devices, or email systems? How can students possibly maximize potential in the absence of a stable learning environment?
We have more than enough turmoil in education. Flip-flopping state and federal mandates, an average superintendent tenure of only 5-6 years (just shy of the average tenure for private sector CEOs), and all-too-frequent budget shortfalls throw wrench after wrench into even the best-laid plans.
Change is important. Necessary, even. But it works best when accompanied by an adjustment period. When your people have time to master a new approach, stretch their limits, and feel the benefits of your most recent change, you’ll find them far more receptive to the next one.
It typically takes a full school year for everyone in the district to get comfortable with a new system, process, or workflow. Depending on the scope of the change, you might be looking at three years or more before significant pockets of proficiency start to emerge.
Knowledge, experience, and confidence beat out the flashy new thing every time. When the technology department steps back and says, “We’re going to use this year to get better at what we’re already doing, instead of trying to tackle anything new,” you can almost hear the district’s collective sigh of relief.

The “sustain mode” checklist

Of course, the deliberate decision to not pursue any major change doesn’t mean the tech department gets to lay back on a beach somewhere. When you clear your plate of new hardware installs, software implementations, and device rollouts, you can turn your attention to the areas in need of more resources and support. Here are a few ideas based on what’s trending:

1) Focus on privacy and security

Phish your staff. Ask your internal identity theft victims to share their stories at in-service meetings. Record and/or distribute brief, easy-to-consume training opportunities throughout the year. We’ve seen all kinds of positive results from a wide variety of strategies throughout the country.

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2) Identify new interoperability opportunities

Have any of your providers released new APIs or been certified on new data standards since the last time you checked? Have enough teachers crossed critical usage thresholds on grassroots apps or programs to justify some official integration efforts? Where are the biggest pain points for dual data entry across your systems? These are good questions to ask when faced with a more flexible school year.

3) Take a look at your dataflow

Are the right people getting the right information at the right time? Do they know what to do with it? Can you reduce the number of places they have to go to find it? Now’s a great time to review the status of your data-driven strategies.

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Take a breath

Insecurities can often result in leadership teams chasing after the next big thing just to keep up appearances. If you find yourself in a place where you feel empowered and supported, consider setting aside a year every now and then to build upon what you’ve already done.
Sustain mode might just be the breath of fresh air your district needs to take the next step toward becoming the destination for new families and high-performing employees alike.

Casey Thompson Casey Thompson Web & Digital Media Manager
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