We Need More Col. Potters

My Dad, shown left in the image above, in Korea with "Doc". Dad served in the Korean Conflict and was decorated.

Next to me in a workshop we were both attending, a technology-enabled classroom teacher pulled out her Clear USB thingamajig (granting her unfiltered access to the Web), plugged it into her personal netbook, and proceeded to get on about the work of the workshop. As she texted on her HTC Incredible phone running Android OS, I couldn't help but marvel at her technology prowess. Can you note which actions were in violation of school district policy?

1) Using unfiltered Internet access.
2) Connecting a personal laptop to the District network without appropriate forms on file.
3) Using a personal mobile device during work hours (ok, ok, she was on her own time but such habits are not lightly set aside!).

As Richard Byrne (Free Technology for Teachers) points out, there are various ways to respond to this real life scenario. He describes it in this way, which certainly caught my attention as a watcher of MASH from the time I was a child:
The first five seasons of the hit television series M.A.S.H. featured two characters that exemplify the two ways that teachers generally respond to school policies that don't make good instructional sense. Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce (from a fictitious town in Maine) known as Hawkeye is a brash surgeon who often finds himself in hot water because of his "it's easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission" attitude. The thing about Hawkeye is he's good and he knows it! 
When he saw an Army policy that stood in the way of giving his patients the best possible care, he just ignored the policy so that he could give his patients the best possible care. The polar opposite of Hawkeye was his tent-mate Frank Burns. Burns was an Army man through and through. For Burns following Army policy was always job number one even if it meant that following policy stood in the way of giving his patients the best possible care.

We can probably summarize these approaches quite simply as 1) The Practical Approach and 2) the Legalistic Approach. George Lakoff, author of "Don't Think of an Elephant," uses the concept of frames to describe how our worldview impacts our behavior (e.g. Strict Father vs Nurturing Parent).

As Richard points out in his guest blog entry on Wes Fryer's Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog, you have to be focused on delivering "the best possible learning experience for your students." Social media tools, of course, are under fire in today's schools. We wouldn't care except our collective gut as teachers tells us they SHOULDN'T be since they enable powerful learning experiences for our children.

Michele Martin (The Bambo Project Blog) puts it this way:
The problem with organizations, social media and the idea of control is that organizations are focusing on controlling access to social media. They act as though their company-owned computers are the only way an employee can get online...Controlling access to social media is increasingly becoming a fool's game--a waste of time and effort. And it's not only a waste of YOUR time, but a waste for workers, too. If 22 years of parenting have taught me nothing else, it's that the greatest goad to human ingenuity is telling someone "you can't do that." Considerable time and creativity will be expended in proving you wrong.
When I asked the young lady wielding personal technology in the service of education, she stated, "I'm not going to wait for the District to grant me access to web sites that would benefit my students." This "get 'er done" attitude has always appealed to me...a "goad to human ingenuity" for this teacher. If I were her principal, I'd want her on my team!

As a classroom teacher, and later as the campus technology coordinator and Instructional Specialist (Reading/ELA/Technology focus), I remember thinking and saying, "Our campus needs this now...why should we wait for the District?" In the intervening years, it would be hard to imagine that technology would evolve from wired access to free and/or commercially available wireless access that any teacher could carry around in their purse or pocket.

As a technology administrator, I have to ask myself, which kind of leader will I be? And, does it have to be defined by such stark opposites, such as Hawkeye and Burns, nurturing parent or strict father?

As I approach middle age, I'm leaning towards a different, transcendental approach than the two roads diverging here. Maybe, the approach is symbolized by the character on MASH played by Harry Morgan--Colonel Sherman Tecumseh Potter. Wikipedia describes him in this way:

Col. Potter was a talented leader and surgeon. He led mainly by example, always doing his best and encouraging others to do the same. He was at times willing to ignore the letter of regulations in order to abide by their spirit. Easygoing by nature, Potter understood the realities of life in a MASH unit, and the need for jokes, pranks and recreation to boost morale (occasionally joining in with the tomfoolery himself). When he found out about Hawkeye and B.J.'s gin distillery, he offered advice on how to improve its yield, explaining that he had such a still while stationed on Guam during World War II; he even stated that he had received a Purple Heart as a result of the still exploding in his face.

In that spirit, I might have said to the young teacher, "You know, you can use PDAnet to tether your phone to your computer, giving you access to the Internet without using Clear. That might save you some money." Yes, I guess I'd rather be a Col. Potter. But such wisdom comes at a price and having to put up with folks that want to be one thing or another no matter the cost to learners, K-12 or adult.

Maybe my preference for Potter comes from my Dad, who appreciated him from his perspective.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

Comments

Ian Snyder said…
I always keep my eye open for a new post on your site. I really enjoyed this post. I find myself in the camp of waiting for the district (tenured after this year). I remember year one I tried to get EPALS.com unblocked, and was really perturbed when IT said it would allow to much SPAM. Now heading into year three I am asking them to look again. I feel I am cheating my students if I don't fight for the best tools. Being in a behind-the-times rural district there is always much fighting to be done with anything related to tech. Thanks again for your post!
Ian Snyder
http://ateachr.blogspot.com
Mr. Byrne said…
Hi Miguel,

Thank you for extending the metaphor. I agree, when we're looking for leadership qualities, Harry Potter is a good model.

My friend Harold Shaw also extended the metaphor by adding that we need some BJ Hunnicuts who support the Hawkeyes and sometimes stop Hawkeye from doing something foolish.

Richard

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