Happy feedback… and more on student feedback

I couldn’t beleive when I read this response to one of my posts in class, and I am doubly thrilled that it lead to more writing…

As an Instructional Technology Specialist with just one year of experience, I find your discussion so very helpful. Thanks so much for this valuable resource. I am particularly interested in your use of focus groups. Do you have additional thoughts in this area?

Wow. Thanks for the positive feedback, Ada. It is great to think that this work is doing someone (other than me) some good rather than simply fulfilling an assignment requirement.

As for focus groups… I don’t know that these things would all be considered focus groups, but while I am an opponent of bureaucracy – and even of decision making by committee – I am very much a proponent of respecting and tapping into the experience and creative energies of those around you, which in addition to strengthening your own data gathering and analysis capacities also has the added benefit of helping the others involved to find a stake in – and ownership of – your decisions.

For instance, as a site technology coordinator, I would take any important decisions to our tech committee, which was a multi-disciplinary committee of representatives from each department in the school. In some cases this was the department head, and in some cases a more technically inclined person was appointed by the department head. This was fine, because any major decisions also went before the department heads and administration at their bi-monthly meetings. This is not to say that these committees made decisions for me (and certainly not in the way that committees often make the least active, most conservative decisions because no one wants to take responsibility for a change or risk), but rather that I was able to get input from the perspective of an expert in each department before making my decision, to engage them in dialog about difficult or controversial decisions, and thus be better prepared to present a final decision that they were more ready to accept. (Now many decisions also had to be taken to the budget and appropriations committees, who did sometimes have a little more decision making power, but once I was able to justify a decision in terms of the previous committees desires, these last two were almost always a slam dunk.)

At the district level I saw the disaster that came from failing to do this, and how my few efforts to solicit input from teachers as part of my decision making process could make such a big difference to them – and to my decisions… it sometimes became perfectly clear what decision to make in a situation I had been stewing over myself.

At the county level, where I now have much more freedom to do things the way I think is best than I did while managing a grant at the district level, I am once again beginning to reap the benefit of better serving our customers (the schools) by including representatives in our planning processes. Though I have done my share of (what I think was) swift and decisive “paradigm busting”, I have at the same time created a committee (more of a focus group really) for nearly every project I manage. In fact, I think this has made it possible to make the changes that I have because it is absolutely clear to my superiors and colleagues that the changes are necessary.. thanks to input from those “in the field” who will be using our services. Of course, only five months into the job, many of these changes are still underway – or only in their beginning stages – and it remains to be seen how successful they will be.

So, this is not particularly research based, as posts in this class go, but since you asked, I hope this articulation of my experiences might be of some value.