Monday, February 28, 2011

What I learned from West Wing

I was in love with The West Wing. I was actually a late comer to the show but caught it from time to time and although I enjoyed it on TV I found it difficult to keep up with the stories as I missed episodes when the network moved it around. So, my husband and I borrowed the seven series from the library over a matter of weeks and watched it from beginning to end and we were both hooked. I loved the punchy dialogue and the sense of dynamism that came from most conversations being held on the move. Some series were better than others and the first three were definitely my favourites but as die-hard fans we needed to see it through to the new administration. If you haven't seen it I highly recommend you source the discs and give it a go. It's well worth a watch.

In today's post I thought I'd bring some of the lessons I learned from The West Wing series. These are applicable in life but here I've applied them to the administration of ICT projects in school.

Lesson 1: Know the opposite argument as well if not better than you know your own.

Before any debate or difficult policy launch president Jed Bartlett would sit in the press room and be hammered with difficult questions from staffers to try to prepare him for the opposing arguments in order to solidify his position and galvanise his positive arguments. Why? Because if you know the arguments your opponents are going to present you can formulate responses in a calm unemotional way. You remove the defence response.

This is very important in ICT projects for two reasons. Firstly, it seems the arguments against any ICT innovation are adamantly held and there is often an emotional response by those who propose these arguments. Secondly , there is an "us vs them" attitude to ICT projects in that staff and parents believe that "them" - the ICT integrators and strategy makers - those that use and understand ICT - do not understand "us" those who find ICT difficult or invasive or "more work". Requiring those in positions of power or influence in ICT to know, research and understand the opposing arguments to the implementation of ICT programs into school in order to develop empathy and prepare unemotional arguments for these positions.

Lesson 2: Never respond to bad PR

In one episode assistant chief of staff, Josh Lyman, finds a website dedicated to critiquing him. Against all advice he starts to post to the site to try to explain his position and straighten out misconceptions. He was flame bombed by the members of the site.

Responding to bad opinion is dangerous because it can often devolve into emotional and irrational exchanges. Keep the objective in sight. Push out information about positive goals and positive feedback and expect that the bad PR will dissolve as results are seen and

Lesson 3: Post hoc ergo propter hoc - "After it, therefore because of it."

This phrase is used ironically to represent the fallacious belief that because an event follows another event, it happens because of it. This can be used within ICT projects to add a sense of perspective when analysing the results of a program or pilot. Ask yourselves the question… "Was the perceived change of student engagement or success BECAUSE of the program or just AFTER the program?" It's important to design data collection and analysis to take this into account when assessing a pilot or program.

Lesson 4: Crackpot Day

The West Wing had a day each year called "Cheese Day" in which the public and special interest groups were allowed to voice their opinions to the staff and the staff, in turn, had to listen to grievances. The day was called "crackpot day" by some of the characters and was greeted with vitriolic lack of enthusiasm from the staff. In ICT strategy it's important to have our own "crackpot day" but maybe we can call it something more complimentary.

It's easy to get caught up in our own research, exchange of ideas, PLN (private learning network) and forget to let other, less technology savvy, people input into strategy. This is valuable because the free exchange of ideas engenders enthusiasm for the resulting programs and staff and students have great ideas or may be using resources in a way not expected by those who understand how things "should" be used. Design every ICT strategic team so that there is regular input from those not in the group and each new idea needs to be fostered and enjoyed and discussed rather than immediately dismissed. Through this exchange schools and strategy grow.

The last and possibly most important lesson I've learned from the West Wing series is that green apples smeared with peanut butter are a taste sensation. Seriously, try it!

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