Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Fix-It Fine Line

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about bad apples. After reading a comment from Mark Samberg, I felt it was important to address the idea of being the fix-it person. Mark points out, "There's definitely a balancing act here," and I agree.

Yes, a media coordinator should help facilitate instruction and sometimes that moves the media coordinator into the role of technician. We want to be helpful and provide teachers with the best possible service so they can provide quality instruction. The issues come when you find that you act as a technician 25, 50, 75 percent of the time. I ended up letting those tech issues take over, and to be honest, I ended up submitting work orders to our tech department for a large majority of those (and I am fairly competent at troubleshooting).

There were two incidents that really let me know I had to find the balance. The first was so astonishing to me that I thought if I ignored it, it would go away. I was in the midst of teaching a class, and I don't mean in a circulating, helping students way. I mean in front of the class providing instruction. As this was happening, I could see in my peripheral vision a teacher standing off to the side. I kept teaching, and as I did so I could see her getting more antsy by the minute. Finally, I asked what she needed. She had a computer issue and wanted me to fix it right that minute. Ummm, not going to happen. I was teaching a class. There were so many many different ways she could have handled this: tell my assistant, send an email, leave me a note, etc. Instead, she wanted me right that minute while I was with students. Talk about not valuing me as an instructional leader.

Another defining moment was at the end of the school year. I was in the middle of some overwhelming task when a teacher sent a student to get me to help with a VCR. I relayed that I just could not make it right that minute. Once I made it there, what I expected to find was a VCR that was not connected properly. What I found was a VCR that had the eject button pried off and a videotape stuck in it. Long story short, I could not fix it and asked the teacher to borrow a VCR from a neighbor. She really wasn't happy with this and multiple students later told me that she told that class that she always did her job and it would be nice if I did mine. First, I did not learn VCR repair in graduate school, and if you can find that as part of my professional standards, please show it to me.

These were two defining moments that changed my approach to tech repairs. I knew something had to change. Basically, I streamlined the process. First, I stopped taking requests for tech repairs verbally, on a post-it, in the parking lot, or outside the bathroom. This was just not effective and if I forgot, people just got mad. With the help of the district tech department, I created an email stationary already addressed to me requesting specific information: Date of request, Room #, and a SPECIFIC description of the problem. These messages came to my inbox in a different color. As soon as they were dealt with I would move them to another folder. This allowed me to keep track of issues I had handled. It definitely made me more effective and efficient. The hardest part was getting everyone to use the new system. If someone mentioned an issue to me in passing, I made sure to tell them to submit a tech repair, otherwise I would forget. Ultimately, if the did not submit this tech repair, I did not touch it. That is a hard line to hold, but it is so worth it in the end. I no longer had to put my hands on every machine. The blue screen of death was an automatic work order for the district tech department. Sometimes I could send them directions on how to fix the problem or tell them to see someone on their hall who could help them. I began to see patterns which allowed me to create tutorials (how to change your printer). Also, if I could not get to their room due to my teaching demands, I submitted a district level work order right off the bat. I knew my response time would be delayed and very likely one of our technicians could get to it sooner than I could .

All of this allowed me to recognize their issues, help when I could, and most importantly, allowed me to focus on collaboration and instruction. Once you work out the kinks, you find that everyone benefits. By changing my approach I was able to help teachers, but it went beyond making sure their equipment was functioning. If teachers really want a technician, districts should hire someone actually trained to perform those jobs. I was trained to be a collaborator, a teacher, an instructional leader, but no one ever showed me how to change laminating film or how to take apart VCRs to extract videotapes.

Take a critical look at how you handle equipment/technical repairs. How can you make the process work for your school in a way that allows you to grow your media program into something that helps students learn and achieve?


  1. I had a similar experience with laminating. After a teacher sent a student with a huge stack of things to me in the middle of a lesson I sent them back to class and said I turned it on for her when she gets her planning it would be hot. She proceeded to complain about me in front of the entire class. Of course they came and told me. I had to address it and she tried to guess which student told me instead of admitting she was wrong. Ugh

  2. I had a lot of similar experiences Jennifer. In my district SBTC (school-based technolgy coordinator) is a stipend position. People forget it is not my "real" job of Teacher librarian. I have a full fixed schedule of classes daily. For years I wanted to quit the SBTC position but would end up taking it anyway as there was no one else in the building to do it. It was NOT required! I could have said no but I felt for the good of the school community I should continue.
    My class instruction has been interupted numerous times by students carrying notes of technology issues. Sigh. Some I acted on, but most I sent a written/verbal message that I would come during "my planning" time to assist them. People did get better about interuptions.
    I also began to tell teachers that good quality/timely technology maintenance was becoming a union issue. In my opinion a full-time technology person (combined hardware/software & instructional technology integration) is needed at every site. In these tough economic times you won't see that happen until classroom teachers, parents, the whole school community raise their voices.

    My opinion. If you want working technology and teachers to implement technology effectively you need proper support. Maybe we could spend a little less on standardized tests and ever "new" teacher evaluation systems then channel that money where it is REALLY needed. ;) Not an "expert" but actually physically working in a school building on a daily basis should give me some "reality cred"

  3. In our district, there is a person designated as the ITS (Instructional Technology Specialist) who is responsible for trouble shooting and simple repairs. I did that job for years and it was overwhelming. Last year I finally gave it up and the teacher in charge of our Mac Lab took it over and she has the time to do a much better job than I did. It's taken a little while for everyone to understand that I no longer do the repairs, but nobody has been rude or ugly about it. The best part: NO AMTR (except the media section (honestly, it was the AMTR plus being co-testing coordinator that made me finally decide to give up the position.

    I have been fortunate that teachers are pretty respectful of not interrupting me when I am teaching. They have also learned that my memory is horrible, so emails work so much better.

  4. Thanks for sharing your workorder idea and for illustrating yet again why we need to advocate for our positions and our libraries. It is amazing to me that no matter how far we've come in terms of our standards and our necessary roles in the school setting, we're still being seen as the "fixer of all things that plug in." You're correct that our degrees at no point include any sort of troubleshooting, really. I thought the disappearance of VCRs and overhead projectors might eliminate some workorders, but we quickly replace those issues with iPad trouble, data projector woes and people who still do not understand that the plug in the back of the monitor sometimes gets bumped loose and the monitor is not actually "dead."
    I appreciate that you found a way to balance your willingness to facilitate teachers being able to continue to "provide quality instruction" and yet attempt not to impede your own ability to provide that same quality of instruction in your own role. It is still a battle to balance and to "people manage," but your tech request stationary is a huge step forward in this process. Thank you!!