I feel compelled to contribute to this discussion which has taken on a far wider frame, but which raises underlying issues that should be addressed.
I've been in IT for a long time, most of that spent in 'industry' and I've had the opportunity to work alongside a variety of other professions including accountants and lawyers. I can say without reservation that I have never worked with a more insecure lot than Teachers, no other profession that I have ever encountered has carried such a enormous chip on their shoulders. Do not get me wrong, I've met some wonderful teachers, but what is it about the teaching profession that they seem to have such problems recognizing and respecting the role that other professionals play in schools.
Modern schools contain a variety of professionals. These people have careers too. Maybe they leave an organization in the 'widgets' industry and join the new organization in the 'education' sector. Depending on the school they join they may be switching from private to public sector. They haven't changed profession, simply employers. Let's say they were a 'widget' engineer and they are brought in to look after the schools 'widgets'. OK so now they are a 'widget' engineer working in a school... They will discover that they are now considered to have 'left industry' even though they are still a part of the 'widget' engineering world and collaborating with their peers. But a bigger surprise will be that they now have a new label... 'non-teacher'! They are now defined by what they are not. Welcome to the apartheid of the school work-place.
IT is at the heart of most organizations today. Whatever sector, organizations are reliant upon their computers for core functions such as finance and administration – salaries paid by computers, letters, emails etc. Added to which are any needs specific to the organizations aims – in the case of a retail organization, sales to their customers – in the case of a school, education of their pupils. It is right therefore that IT be aligned to the aims of the organization, but as can be seen IT in retail is not limited to sales in shops just as in schools IT is lot limited to the classroom. The IT infrastructure in a school has to meet the needs of the whole school, teaching and non-teaching.
IT facilities are expensive, not just to install but also to maintain. The visible aspects such as computers in classrooms are of little value unless backed up by the unseen elements such as network cabling, switches, servers etc. Then there is the necessary cycle of replacement, none of this kit lasts forever and it costs a fortune to maintain a cycle of replacement. Then there is the cost of fixing things that break, paying for all that software licensing, consumables like ink cartridges and toners, staffing and whatever contracts are necessary with external contractors.
It's very easy to understand how people can develop over simplistic views of IT – most of us have computers at home, a computer enthusiast may network several computers together to share files, the internet or printing, an ICT
teacher may network a room of computers as part of a project. It's in understanding how much of a leap it takes from that to networking hundreds of computers. Layers of complexity are added in order to address security and central management. Once you get to this kind of level things become very complex and contrary to popular misconception whilst the interface for the end user has been getting increasingly user friendly at the back end of networks things are getting ever more complicated. The 'out-of-the-box' network is a myth.
The vast differences in scale between schools also adds to the confusion amongst teaching staff about the relative complexity of IT, scale is everything. In small schools some ICT
staff may have been used to being involved in the day to day operation of a network, in a larger school these responsibilities are necessarily handed over to IT professionals. Once a networks size takes it past certain freshholds additional complexities are necessarily introduced.
Professional IT skills are just that, backed by training, qualifications, experience. IT professionals who hold accredited industry certifications are required to recertify regularly, those who are members of professional bodies have to maintain CPD. To take 2 years out of IT is to make your skills out-of-date.
Schools are therefore bringing in ever more highly trained/experienced computer professionals. As network management becomes the preserve of experts conflicts arise with teachers who have traditionally considered themselves the 'experts'. These teachers need to realise that scale and complexity of IT infrastructures in schools are now increasingly such that they can no longer expect to be able to understand it fully and they need to respect the expertise of others.
A schools IT infrastructure is there to serve the whole organization not just the ICT
or Media Studies department, not just teaching and not just teachers. Managing a network is at the core of what a Network Manager does, but usually his responsibilities extend beyond this. An NM is usually a manager of staff, a prioritiser of workloads, juggler of budgets. One thing is usually for certain, your Network Manager isn't idle when you aren't supplying him with additional work!
The NM is usually responsible to the schools senior management and pursuing agendas agreed with them, to which you may or may not be party. Priorities are usually agreed, at least to some extend with some kind of steering group/committee. In well run schools plans usually extend several years ahead allowing the school to plan for all the relevant issues of costs and implications. ICT
strategy is usually guided by some kind of steering group/committee. Decisions are made and plans laid often years ahead. There are usually significant restrictions on resources which have to be accommodated, primarily financial. Difficult decisions have to be made and sometimes blanket choices about standardisation are necessary for the good of the organization.
Committees are imperfect but they allow a variety of voices to be heard. In my experience many school ICT
committees are unrepresentative and pander to the whims of one or other specific department at the expense of the rest of the school. More often than not the deciding factor on plans is cost in all its forms – not just the cost of implementing something but the on-going cost of maintaining it and supporting it. These committees have to make difficult decisions, but ultimately it is usually the committee or in exceptional circumstances senior management who make the final decision – not the Network Manager. Blaming a network manager because he has a differing opinion which is more highly valued in this area of expertise than your own is unprofessional.
As an NM myself I suffer the flack for decisions made (or not made) at this level, which isn't right. I will give you two examples:
Example 1 - equipment identified as going to fail and the impact that this failure will have brought to the attention of senior management – either no decision made or the decision taken to do nothing about it – equipment fails, staff blame NM!
Example 2 – a need identified, proposals/plans made – but either insufficient funds or lack of decision or decision to delay until future date – staff blame NM for not meeting needs!
Example 3 – staff want a technician in every classroom ready to pounce on any problems that arise, to hold hands and mop brows – budget allows a couple of technicians to support half a dozen buildings – response time/support not good enough, staff blame NM!
The reality is that the role of NM is one of the most difficult and thankless in education, it's even recognized as such by the IT industry. Nowadays schools often have very highly skilled and experienced NM's who deserve the respect of their colleagues.
I would suggest you make friends with your Network Manager, treat him with respect and LISTEN to what he has to say – ask questions not demands. Talk to him/her about what you want to achieve and allow them to guide you as to the best way to achieve that. The choice of software comes later and the choice of operating system later still. Ask them about the channels for decision making in the school, make any proposals to the right audience. Respect the opinions of others, respect the areas of professional expertise of others. If you don't get your way don't blame the NM.
Let's all try and be professional here, we do no credit to our relative professions by stooping to exchanging insults. I trust you will all listen to my comments and respect my views.