A while ago, there was an advert on television for a breakdown recovery company that claimed to be the fourth emergency service. It was criticised by the coastguard service, who stated that they in fact held that post. However, in school, there is definitely an emergency service without which much of our day-to-day work and smooth efficiencies would crumble.
These hardworking professionals rarely get the credit they deserve as they beaver away quietly in the educational wings, in their often overly warm and poorly lit recesses. These heroes casually save the day for everyone – from the head, staring blankly and in abject horror at a scene in their office, to the frazzled teacher on a deadline with a class heading back to their room and no clue as to how rectify the carnage and rescue the planned lesson.
These heroes, decorated not with medals but with multiple lanyards and an arsenal of keycodes, memory sticks and encryptions, are, of course, the IT crew.
All of us as will at some point need the expertise of this unflappable cavalry. I remember an occasion when I opened up my central computer and saw nothing but a black screen of despair. There is no panic in education equal to that of realising you have potentially lost the entire school’s data and a career’s worth of work.
In my current role, the IT team act as guides, helping me to navigate the complexities of systems I’ve never worked with before. They are ever-patient, ever-helpful and awe-inspiringly adept at hiding their despair that I cannot seem to operate much more than an email or a Word document without crashing the system.
They have magic in their fingertips too. Whenever I’m battling deep frustration and delivering a crisis-laden Luddite rant about “Why, why, why can I not get this to work?”, they appear, sleeves rolled up, lean over my shoulder, do exactly what I just did and somehow coax the recalcitrant equipment into biddable compliance.
Always back up your work
Their mantra of “Always back up your work” seems to fall on deaf ears. Much of their time is spent attempting to rescue lost files from crashed laptops or retrieving what they can salvage from memory sticks that have been dropped in cups of tea or accidentally run over in the car park (true story).
Whether on the phone at a centralised location or working directly in your school, this group of superheroes deserves far more credit than they are afforded. They are not averse to scrabbling around under tables, wrestling with snaking cables and awkward plugs. They are not fazed by standing on ladders to reprogramme the humming and baffling-to-all-others server. And they are masters at remaining calm in a crisis and not alarming the jittery and terrified staff they are working with.
They calmly ensure that events run smoothly, that conferences are audible, visible and organised, and that they are never without a roll of gaffer tape or cable covers. They lurk in the background, often in dark colours apart from the flash of the latest tech gadget they’ve treated themselves to, happy not to be front and centre but knowing that they will be the focus of all attention should something go wrong.
When the audience claps at the end of an event, I often glance at the tech team who have facilitated the day. Without their expertise and cable-charming, much of what was delivered would not be able to be shared. They are the facilitators of education, sharing just as much as those who are listening and speaking on the day – the co-pilots ensuring the flight of the conversation and the pathway of the day is maintained and that everyone enjoys a smooth landing. When microphones malfunction, slides are jammed, music won’t play or wi-fi codes won’t work, it is the IT crew that swings into action to rectify the situation and restore order.
They are amused and frustrated in equal measure by the often antiquated and inadequate infrastructure they see in schools that claim to show children the potential of IT. They are the first to point out how IT can enhance learning and ease workload pressures, and are always eager to encourage those staff and students who want to learn more.
I remember having an ancient laptop that was actually older than one of our IT apprentices. He was utterly enthralled by my museum piece of electronics, but nevertheless managed to hook it up to the system and convince me that maybe now was the time for an upgrade.
They are the builders not only of electronic networks but of confidence, too. Great IT support can encourage even the most reluctant of IT novices to embrace and run with new technologies. While there is much talk about artificial intelligence and the rise of IT in replacing teachers, we must not forget that technology is only as powerful and effective as the people who are using it.
With this in mind, we need to recognise and celebrate the contribution of our IT teams. They are the advocates, the facilitators, the guides and the teachers who help us to steer our course through the educational landscape. Whether it’s jammed printers, whole-network shutdowns, lost data or simply a whiteboard that won’t connect, these troubleshooters oil the IT wheels of the organisation with humility, support, patience and reassurance. Now, do them a favour and back up your work.
Emma Turner would like to say thank you to Nathan Thirlby, director of IT at Discovery Schools Trust, who inspired this article. He saves her bacon (and her work) on a near-daily basis
Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Trust, Leicestershire