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Complicated relationships: educators and internal operations

When I was in grade school, we erased chalkboards, read textbooks, and carried backpacks. We went to recess when the big hand on the clock met 12, and we took tests by scribbling in blank circles with a No. 2 pencil.

These days, the life of a student is more complicated; the life of a teacher even more so. While technology has improved many aspects of an educator’s life, it has also introduced new challenges. Instead of the simple days of paper tests and correcting wrong answers with a red marker, teachers are required to post quiz notifications on Blackboard, upload exams to iPad apps, and circulate aggregated grades and performance through websites and databases. So who is making sure all this technology and all these applications are running smoothly?

Introducing the guys downstairs

Just like in other industries, it's the guys downstairs. A school district runs smoothly—software operating, phones ringing, faxes faxing (ok, maybe not faxes)—thanks to their internal operations staff—the ones who can make it work— the IT team and the AV guys.

These folks live in small closets off the main corridor or in tucked-away basement rooms past the staircase. Skeins of red and blue wires hug the corners of desks, and extraneous electrical equipment sits propped against the walls. One guy can’t even take a proper lunch break because the 5th-grade teacher on the third floor discovered his personal cell phone number, passed it out in the faculty room, and assured her colleagues he was the one to call for any and all help. These tech-savvy folks are the lifeblood of the building, of the school, of the teachers. Everyone knows they’re important—but I’m here to tell you how they’re critical.

    Hear Kristin talk more about the importance of employee-to-employee relationships at Relate Live San Francisco on May 11th.

I’ve visited these basements, stepped over those wires, heard the cacophony of phone rings over cubicle walls. I’ve seen the buzz and the chaos. I’ve felt the palpable tension when a system goes down, but then the inevitable release of relief when the bug fix is successful. The vaguely-recognizable people that live behind these doors make 'smooth operations' their mission. Because then, when you walk upstairs or out the door—everything is operating as it should be. Teachers are lecturing, students are learning, and the school is fulfilling their mission.

The relationship effect

Whether they notice it or not, the day-to-day life of a teacher or student is directly connected with these internal operations. It’s a complicated relationship; a ripple effect. If your teachers and administrators are happy, they will deliver a better product to their customers, the students. To put it clinically, there is a statistical correlation between employee satisfaction and the successes of their output. To put it emotively, happy teachers teach better.

To put it clinically, there is a statistical correlation between employee satisfaction and the successes of their output. To put it emotively, happy teachers teach better.

If Mrs. Barry’s printer in Room A16 is broken, she can’t print out her pop quiz to distribute to students. While the students might be happy about that—who ever really loved a pop quiz?—they lose out on a small lesson that day. While it may seem minor, those kinds of situations stack up and have a direct effect on the student’s learning and education. At the same time, Mrs. Barry’s frustration from not having a working printer swings her mood to a negative place, and she botches her lectures for the rest of the day. These situations may seem relatively small day-to-day, but once you pull back and compare the negative interactions versus the positive interactions, the results of a student’s education via a teacher’s effectiveness are astronomical.

Your complicated relationship is just like mine

Let’s take a step back, and look at any organization. Every business has goals by which they define success, and they achieve those goals by setting tangible milestones that will drive them to that success. A school has a mission statement to empower their students through education, and they need to set specific performance indicators to achieve that goal year after year. A retail company might want to open six more stores across the state, and a tech company might be gearing towards an IPO. All of these may differ in size and stature, but the bottom line is this: You must look across the business to ensure every single piece and every single person understands and believes in those goals and knows how they fit into it.

An educator and an IT team may not be the flashiest of relationships to examine—but it demonstrates the importance of intentional relationships and their effect on an organization. It is critical to look inwards and promote happiness there—because the waterfall effects of that happiness will drive you towards your ultimate goals.

Kristin Kwasnik manages Zendesk's education and non-profit customers. She's a big believer in treating employees as good as you treat your customers.