Tag Archives: Support

Stop the Downturn: Data for Student Support

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

For many years I have been involved in student support planning. As an EdTech professional, I am heavily involved in managing and using student data. Student assessment data is normally used to make lists of students that need support.

The ideal scenario, is that students get the help they need BEFORE the grade falls below the recovery level. There is normally a point in the term where the grade cannot be recovered. The mean will be too low. If the school uses a few final exams to determine the final grade, the situation is even more dire for students who have early downturns.

Here are some recommendations for making certain that you are using student data correctly, and promptly, to support those who are beginning to have unfavorable results.

Set the Bar High

I start my trend analysis at the C+ level, or “average”, level. I look for students who have a C+, and see if they had a C+ the week before. This can be done fairly quickly in a spreadsheet with live data sets.

Students who have moved from a C+ to a C, a C- to a D, etc., would all need a weekly review.

This seems tedious, but I firmly believe interventions need to happen as early as possible in the process.

Do not Assume Students are Lazy

I am often guilty of assuming a student is simply not trying hard enough, or not paying attention. I think this is a very common initial reaction to falling grades.

Every student deserves to have the benefit of the doubt. Take the time to look at least 1-2 weeks back in the grading. Look for courses they are not struggling in, and see how the assessments differ.

Most importantly, take time to engage the student. Ask them about the situation, and listen for clues. Many times teenagers seems cagey, but they simply may not be able to articulate the problem.

Check the Class Average

Class averages often hold insight into student issues. If you have a class, and the average is 80%, and the grade distribution is on a normal curve, then prepare to have many students struggling.

That bottom group of students is going to be fighting all term for a low B or high C (80%-76%). This does not mean they need extra support, but it does mean that they need to be using their time very efficiently. The margin for error, and laziness, is very low.

Also, do not jump to make the class easier. Some topics are tough, and they should be.

Convert Standards Grades to Numbers

This is an internal process. Students and parents will not see the conversion. This is not about creating a 100 point scale. This is simply a better way for administrators to quickly review data. You can use any scale you wish.

If you have only three standard’s indicators, and you are only grading against four standards, you would generate 12 data points, per student, per assessment. That is 216 data points per 18 students, per assignment.

Assigning numbers to letters, using a simple find-and-replace function, would make it possible to run common mathematical analysis.

Require Regular Comments

End of term comments are nice, but they are useless for a true support intervention process. Teachers need to be required to tag assignments at the student level when those assignments indicate a downturn.

Many administrators are often sitting in a room without the teacher trying to understand the data. Simple comments bring clarity to assessment data. This is true even in standards-based environments.

I would even argue semester and trimester comments are useless. Action needs to be swift, and data needs to be updated weekly.

Require Teachers to Update Grades Often

Obviously, without data, no action can transpire. Data needs to be updated every 5-10 school days. If a teachers gives 4 significant assessments in a month, and updates their grades only once every 4-6 weeks, how far will the grade(s) fall before an intervention can happen?

Keep in mind there is a gap between the time the issue is discovered, and the engagement with the student(s). Every day matters. Make a point to be the annoying administrator who is sending “gentle reminders” about grading and data updates.

 

 

 

 

Tech Support Problems, Apathy, & Solutions

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Recently I was reading a Technology Directors’ forum, and noticed that a few very well established schools were explicitly looking for people to assist them in improving their technology support system (Help Desk, Help Tickets, etc.)

Reflecting on how I design and implement such systems, I began to wonder if these schools have looked at the core foundation issues that cause problems in systems that support a variety of tech-ecosystems and networks.

Why Does Anyone Need Tech Support in 2018?

The question may seem obvious, but this question should be asked every year: Who actually needs support and why?

Why do teachers need someone to come to the classroom to help them? Is the equipment old and/or inconsistent? Is the classroom design too complicated? Does the classroom equipment not work well with the teacher’s issued device(s)? Are students unable to use or manage their devices? Are the deployed software and services too difficult to master?

For example, if a school is running Google Apps for Education or Office 365 for Education, is the school running these newer solutions using and old model? That would cause many problems for end users. End users would be trying to follow an internal plan, that conflicts with the external supplier’s solution. Google and Microsoft are external suppliers, and they do have  recommended implementation plans. In this case, the school has created a problem that will now need support.

The truth is, tech support and training are not the same thing. Asking support staff to execute tasks that an employee is required to do is a massive use of support time. The support staff is not the end user. Meaning, the support staff person is not a teacher. This means they will be very mechanical about explaining how things work, but possibly not very practical. Many issues are strictly job related, and require training from peers, not IT support staff.

The goal of anyone who is planning technology support, or facilities support, should be to eliminate the need for support. Expanding support around problems, will simply make those problems worse. Problems need to be eliminated to reduce the need for regular support.

Why Do Tech Support People Seem Apathetic and Annoyed?

Tech Support is actually a proper career. There are people who choose to be, and are employed as, tech support engineers or specialists.

In most schools tech support is usually an additional duty. Schools often have employees who are systems engineers, data base specialists, etc. assigned to do tech support. Why? Because, after all, if you have an IT job you can help people with IT. If that logic were true, every biology teacher could teach physics, and possibly serve on an ambulance as an EMT.

When people are spending most of their time away from their primary role, or outside of their primary comfort zone, they can develop a sense of resentment. In addition, people working outside their primary role will tend to make more mistakes doing other tasks. These mistakes often lead to public and unprofessional language exchanges. The cycle leads to further demoralization, and creates an environment of apathy.

The Way Forward

Over the years I have developed a few simple rules to handle support issues:

  1. De-personalize the process
  2. Divide-and-Conquer
  3. Follow-up Often
  4. Predict the future

De-personalize the process

The worse thing you can do is use personal email for tech support, or facilities support. There are some systems that work with a group email address ( eg. helpdesk@myschool.com).

However, even those systems trick the end-user in believing the email is going to a person. Email request systems, at least professional ones, route based-on criteria; or get posted in a list until a person delegates the work to someone.

The basic rule to follow is to use online forms or support groups (like Google Groups). Make certain individuals are not connected by name when they give support. Never allow teachers, or other stakeholders, to use personal email addresses for routine support.

Divide-and-Conquer

Support needs to be assigned to the person best suited for the job. Although some support can be generic and auto assigned, it is best to have routing system to send certain requests to certain people. For example, I have a form that has PowerSchool as an option. If someone selects PowerSchool, the request goes to the best two PowerSchool support people on staff.

Follow-up Often

From the moment a ticket is submitted, the end-user should automatically get a confirmation their problem is in process. When the problem is solved, they should get a notice. If their problem is pending for some reason, they should get another notice. If the issue is not solvable, the end-user needs a personal email, phone call, or face-to-face visit to explain in detail what is happening.  Complaints from end-users are often regarding a lack of communication.

Currently, my support form tells each user what their number is in the queue. This small feature has been very well received.

Predict the Future

This is not as mystical as it sounds. Support issues should be collected as data. This is another reason email is a bad option, unless the emails go into a categorized database. Patterns emerge in the data. Patterns can be used to find the next problem.

Sometimes technology fails in a single instance, but usually technology failure happens in batches or waves.

If you would like to know more about building custom and free Support Systems with Google Apps and Office 365, please contact me at: tony.deprato@gmail.com  . 

The Hero’s Journey

Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.” ~ Jodi Picoult

It was a typical beautiful and sunny morning in Brasilia. Teachers from the American School of Brasilia were preparing a churrasco, a Brazilian barbecue, to show their appreciation to the maintenance, cleaning, security, and support staffs for their daily contributions in support of the work of teachers, students, and our school’s educational program. This special day was filled with family activities, games of futebal, food, conversation, laughter, and relationship building.

It is days like this that we are reminded of the importance of community and the difference a positive and supportive culture can make in the lives of all members, particularly students and their education. With all due respect to Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, perhaps we can redefine the meaning of the Hero’s Journey to one more representative of Jodi Picoult’s vision where heroes are everyday people making a positive difference in the lives of others. Whether it is an act of kindness, a sacrifice for a stranger, a demonstration of empathy, or to simply listen, the seemingly small gestures of everyday heroes often lead to significant and meaningful differences in the lives of others.

Each morning, I see our guards welcoming every student by name, personalizing the start of their day and making our students feel special. I see the cleaning staff cleaning the walkway in the courtyard, seeing to every detail and taking pride in the appearance of the school. A few weeks ago, members of the maintenance department and support staff were on their way home after a long day when they heard that a water pipe had burst in the chemistry class and, without hesitation, dropped everything to return to school to spent three hours of their evening to ensure class could resume as normal the next day. Schools the world over can share similar stories about those special people whose daily actions, which often go unnoticed, make a difference in the lives of others. It is this ideal of daily contributions towards community building and the development of relationships that makes a school special.

The French existentialist, Simone de Beauvior, touches on this subject in her book, All Men are Mortal. In the 13th century, the main character of the novel, Fosca, attains the status of immortality. For several centuries, he travels the world, reads countless books, meets fascinating people and falls in love many times. Fosca has a life that a mortal human could only dream of. He has the opportunity to achieve anything a person could wish to attain.

But, there is a problem. Fosca’s immortality becomes burdensome as he is unable to find happiness, an idea further explored by Derek de Lint in his film about the novel: “Fosca is haunted by events from past centuries, living with the same mistakes over and over again, with war, cruelty and injustice. He must question whether immortality and love can exist at the same time or whether true love and commitment are only possible through the limitations of life. He eventually begins to desire mortality as a basic necessity for human happiness.”

Fosca desperately searches for meaning in his life but his immortality robs him of it. What he finally understands is that it is the finiteness of the human condition that forces us to embrace our lives and to live each moment with passion. And where is meaning to be found? This is a seemingly difficult question to answer. Fosca does not find meaning through power, studying, reading, position in society, travel, or the accumulation of wealth. Madame Beauvoir leaves the reader with the notion that everything in our lives, everything we strive for, everything we accumulate is meaningless with one exception: the relationships we have with others, the lives we touch and the lives we are touched by.

If a meaningful life is defined through relationships and our efforts to make a even a small and positive difference in the lives of others, then it is fitting to confer the title of “hero” to those dedicated support staff members working in all schools. Through small acts of kindness, our colleagues attain what Fosca desperately failed to achieve through immortality. Through their commitment to support the work of teachers, students, and parents each and every day, those individuals who oversee security, maintenance, cleaning, technology, business and secretarial affairs, contribute to building community and enhancing the lives of others in essential and significant ways. They are our everyday heroes.

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)

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