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Problem or dilemma?

...a problem is a situation in which a gap is found between what is and what ought to be. ... How a problem is framed depends on who is doing the defining.

...Dilemmas are messy, complicated, and conflict-filled situations that require undesirable choices between highly prized values that cannot be simultaneosly or fully-solved.

Larry Cuban, How Can I Fix It: Finding Solutions and Managing Dilemmas. Teachers College Press, 2001 

Dr. Cuban's definitions come back to me fairly often when educators talk about tech issues. In short, he says problems can be solved, but dilemmas only managed. Here are just a few examples:

Our media specialists want access to a management program (ARD) so that they can take control of computers in the labs during instruction (look at student screens, freeze monitors, share the instructor's screen, etc.) Our techs see this as huge drain on network bandwidth, slowing the network for the rest of the building's users.

A classroom teacher wants to video, digitize and then upload as a videocast his classes so students who are absent or want to review can download and watch the lesson. The tech director is concerned that students' privacy rights (and board policy) will be violated if students can be recognized in the videocast.

The building techs are upset because another program has been adopted by a curriculum area without any involvement by the technology department. Not having new computer applications vetted by the department for compatibility and need for maintenance has been a long-standing source of frustration, no matter how many reminders are sent to department chairs and administrators.

I would categorize each of the above scenarios as dilemmas - conditions that can only be managed, not solved because they involve conflicts in values. Because of individual priorities and "problem frames," it is impossible to deal with these issues so that everyone gets what she/he desires.

So how are these situations best dealt with? Personally, I like using my advisory committee (or a task force) comprised of all stakeholders effected to fully air the issue, suggest actions, and make a recommendation. Does everyone always like the result? No. But everyone knows why it has been made and has had a chance to have had their concerns heard. (See also, Ending the Range War handouts in .pdf.)

Sorry folks, that's about the best we can do - other than putting tranquilizers in the school's drinking water. Get Cuban's little book. You'll gain from it.




Budget handouts

Yes, the set of handouts you have all been breathlessly waiting for! Available now (just in time for holiday giving) at:

Remember - all my writing has been approved by the FDA as a non-addictive sleep aid. 



Reading on the job


Librarians reading on the job was a hot topic for discussion this week on LM_Net. Tere started it with a posting that included these comments made by other staff as she was reading a children's book during the school day:

Well you would have thought, I was lying down taking a nap. Everybody that walked by my door (my desk is right by the door ) made a comment. "I'm going to give you a job." "If you've got time to read, I've got something for you to do." Etc. Next time, I'm going to go hide behind the stacks to read!

A few responses were similar to Allan's:

I don't give a hoot what people think of me or what I am doing. When I have received a remark about "wouldn't it be nice if....[one could read books all day]?" I have responded. "Yes it is very nice." If I am feeling a little nasty or don't like the tone of the remark, I have responded "I would be more than happy to get you some information about a library school if you are interested."

While many of us have probably wished we could say these sorts of things, we don't. For some good reasons including  job security and our concern over how our profession is viewed by others.

My personal rules about on the job reading have always been to:

  1. Read at my desk (no slouching in the bean bag chairs)
  2. Read with a pen and paper my hand
  3. Read materials related to my job
  4. Read when I could be a role model, such as during Sustained Silent Reading time
  5. Never, never, never be seen leaving my building without a bag o' work (just like the other teachers)
  6. Work with the understanding that perceptions are as important as reality

Librarians have one of the few positions in schools with discretionary resources - time, budgets, and tasks - so therefore need to be transparent about how they "spend" all those resources, especially their time.

Mark wrote:

I made it a point to always be busy, to be seen to be doing something.  (It was NEVER of case of having to find something to do, it was a case of which job was most pressing.)  I did this because its the kind of person I am, but also because of the extremely negative comments I heard about a predecessor of mine who was often seen reading the newspaper, or a book, "on the job".  Sadly, the general public or faculty will never understand that keeping up with current events, what's new and valuable in literature, non-fiction, professional journals, etc. is part of the job... their view will always be 'I never have time to take a breath.. how come he can sit and read all day?' or 'We didn't get a raise this year, and were short a math teacher... and we pay him to sit and read?'  Now, imagine those thoughts in an administrator's head.

It's a sad world where reading = slacking, but given the lack of respect schools and society show for professional growth and development of educators, I suppose it isn't surprising.


How did we manage to look busy before there were computers?