wasting bandwidth since 1999

Tag: bureaucracy

A Flaw in the System

In his short Monday morning post, Seth Godin discusses how a lack of responsibility and communications is a major “flaw in the system” of a big company.

Here’s the first half of his entry1 with a few adaptations (in bold) that might just fit a hypothetical overly-large school district.2

A good teacher says, “I know that this is a serious problem, it’s hurting our students and we can do better, but I can’t do a thing about it because it’s run by a different department.”

A version of this might conclude with, “And I don’t even know the name of the person who’s responsible.”

This is a sure sign of systemic failure as well as a superintendent who is not doing the job she should be. When smart people who care get frustrated, something is wrong.

Gee, I guess in some aspects school systems are not that much different from big business.

1 Apologies to Seth for using more than what would be considered fair use. I would hope he understands the context.

2 Strictly hypothetical, of course. :-)

Guidelines for How You Must Use Social Media

As with educational institutions at all levels, our overly-large school district is trying to figure out how to handle the use of social media channels, by staff members as well as students.

So, as often happens in a large bureaucracy like this one, our administration is writing some regulations and guidelines that will cover all the bases. Every one of them!

In looking through a first draft of a set of guidelines for employees, now being passed around for comment by our public relations department, I’m not sure the people involved have a clear understanding of what social networking is all about.

It starts in the definition section where they offer examples of “social media applications”: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and… Wikipedia? Never seen that last one linked with the others but it’s in the picture below so…

Then comes an interesting section spelling out some reasons why schools might use social media.

Reinforce messages. Targeted communications. Educate stakeholders. Promote good news.

All one-way, us to them, broadcasting of information, which is pretty much how our system uses it’s Twitter feed and Facebook page, mostly as a link to press releases.

However, that’s just not the way social media works. It’s all about an exchange of ideas, encouraging feedback, and even criticism, from the people in your network.

Elsewhere the document also lays out some “best practices” for the use of social networking, which turns out to be a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the strange.

Like suggesting that negative or controversial comments not be deleted in one place while in another declaring that the school system reserves the right to remove any post for any reason in another.

Of course, that second part will be difficult to accomplish since our district doesn’t host any social media tools for us to use (outside of our closed Blackboard system) and I doubt Facebook or Twitter will pull down a nasty comment about the superintendent upon request.

For an example of the strange, the same section recommends a convention for schools to use in naming their social networking accounts: ASPS, Happy Valley ES, Mrs. Smith’s Class.*

That’s pretty clunky! And my first thought was a Twitter name like that would really discourage retweeting or @ references. The name alone would eat up a big chunk of your 140 characters.

Anyway, there’s more and much of it also needs work. It will certainly be interesting to see how this document evolves, especially to see if it really becomes a set of “guidelines” or turns into a regulation.

Stay tuned. After all, they did ask for comment.

* ASPS = AssortedStuff Public Schools :-)

Image: Social Media Landscape by Fred Cavazza, from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons License

Rearranging the Cubes

I’ve worked in the central office bureaucracy of our overly-large school district long enough to know that one thing bureaucracies love to do is reorganize themselves.

It’s pretty much a given that when the leadership at the top changes, the org chart is going to get rewritten not long after. Financial problems tend to accelerate the process.

Last week, our big boss announced a reorganization of our department, an event which triggered a lot of hall chatter and pretty much killed all useful work for a few hours.

On top of that we also have rumors about when we get physically moved to a new building and about additional restructuring supposedly coming soon at the upper levels of the system.

So, will all the shifting boxes (real and figurative) and changing titles actually provide a better organization for all of us who work around here and improve whatever it is we do?

Who knows? At least the boss came up with a new structure that’s substantially different from the old one, one factor that is often necessary to produce major changes to the way people work.

However, another thing I’ve learned about reorganizations is that it’s very hard to disrupt the informal organization chart that exists within any group.

Anyone who’s been in the system long enough has already created a network of contacts they know will help them get their job done and they’ll probably continue using that network despite what’s written on the official chart.

They also know the people to avoid, the ones who will only make things more difficult.

I wonder if anyone considered those informal connections when writing the new org chart.

Anyway, the bottom line question in all this administrative shuffling of offices, people, titles, and organization charts is whether it will actually improve teaching and learning?

That will likely take quite a while to determine. And I wonder if we’ll have any answers before the next reorganization comes along.

Getting (re)Organized

Just before I left on vacation, the superintendent of our overly-large school district announced a major reorganization of central office.

That is, yet another major reorganization. By my count this will be number three in the past ten years, and that’s on top of the two or three departmental shuffles our little office has also been through in that time.

First, we went from the schools being divided into four organizational areas to three. I think the purpose was to reduce administrative expenditures. A few years later, we got a new superintendent and he divided the schools into eight organizational areas. But each had a much smaller staff so I guess the costs didn’t changed much.

Now, our latest superintendent, on the job about a year and a half, is planning to rearrange things into six areas (or clusters or regions – not sure of the name this time). He also plans to add a whole new department for staff development and training (which is actually way overdue) and move a bunch of offices into a new building.

In the end, however, I doubt these big organizational shuffles really mean much to the people working in the schools. Teachers and administrators who have been in the system for a few years have already figured out who to call when they need help. Or who to ignore. For the most part, they could care less about job titles or org charts.

Maybe, instead of moving around offices, people, and titles based on recommendations from high priced consultants, the people running our bureaucracy should try something different. Start by looking at what works. Find out how people go about solving real problems. Then, organize everything around that structure.

Of course, I wasn’t consulted in this matter anyway, but I do wish the school board and superintendent would answer one fundamental question about the changes: How will all this administrative shuffling of offices, people, titles, and organization charts improve teaching and learning?

No, I don’t expect an answer.

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