Re-wiring the IT department: part 1

This fall I took up the post of Director of Educational Technologies at Mulgrave School in Vancouver. Mulgrave, a co-ed K12 independent IB school, was an early adopter of ed tech and one of the first schools in the province of British Columbia with a 1:1 laptop program (for grades six through 12) and school-wide wifi. The whole thing–the technology and the pedagogy it supports–needs a major upgrade, however, and that will mean dramatic changes for the IT department and significant professional development for faculty and staff. The latter is my bailiwick, but the IT department also reports to me. And it’s in the IT department that I’ve decided to begin for without the infrastructure to support innovation and development of best practices we’re going to be lost.

The challenge here is to take the team from a group of maintenance experts and turn them into creatives. They’re a good, hard-working group and take pride in their service record. But that’s just it: they’ve have had nearly all their time taken up by just keeping things going. The budget I’ve inherited is likewise locked into maintaining an increasingly outdated assembly of both physical and human resources. But I have no desire to build the best school network in existence, much less maintain an aging one; I want to build the best one that doesn’t yet exist. And that will take some powerful creatives.

I can’t yet say just exactly what this all looks like and what these creatives will have to make though I think I’m pretty close–more in future posts. I can say we can start right away shifting the way we think and see ourselves at work. One of my first moves was to close the IT department an hour a day so the team could start working on projects without the usual interruptions that come in a school of 750 students. Think of it as a mini version of Google’s 80/20 innovation model. I also wanted to send a message to the school community, but also to IT team itself, that the IT team is not entirely at the school’s beck and call, that IT needs and deserves time to plan, create and assess, just as teachers do. The move has been well-supported by teachers and administration and as far as I know has not caused any real difficulties for anyone.

Secondly, I stole a page right out of Behance’s book and laid down our energy line on a big bulletin board in the IT department foyer. 


I have a box nearby full of index cards, coloured markers, highlghters and push pins. Anyone on the team can grab an index card and add whatever is taking their energy and resources at the moment. Cards get colour-coded: blue for maintenance projects, green for creative projects and pink for fires we need to put out. The line is self-organizing; we never meet to discuss where to post the cards but just let users move them around as they think best. Completed projects get moved below the horizontal blue line.

The energy line is the first thing anyone sees when they come in. For those calling on the IT department for help and service it makes visible all the work the IT department does day-to-day, work that often goes unseen and unappreciated. For the IT team, it’s a bit of the same. But the colour coding also vividly illustrates a.) how much of the day is taken up by just keeping things ticking and b.) how few of us are putting high energy into anything we do. The image above shows the enrgy line on day one, when I first set ut up. Here’s what it looks like after a week:


We met today to talk over how we might off-load some of the maintenance and free up some more creative time. I don’t think the IT team has ever had that sort of conversation before.



  1. Reply
    Joe Campbell November 1, 2011
  2. Reply
    Shauna Ullman November 3, 2011
  3. Reply
    mreakin November 5, 2011

    I’m loving these posts on creative productivity. You’ve got me thinking about and testing out ideas to get the most out my time.

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